15 November 2010

"Snow" by Ronald Malfi

The 2012 edition (Dark Fuse).
Here's a great departure from the stereotypical horror monsters that I've touched upon over the last few blogs.Ronald Malfi's Snow is a haunting and exciting piece of horror fiction that grabbed my attention immediately--what a refreshing, strange novel this turned out to be!

As a recap, since the summer I've talked about vampires, zombies and werewolves, all traditional and hyper-popular horror creatures. Then I delved briefly into stranger creatures, such as giant spiders and aliens. Still old-hat, if you ask me. 

But what if the monster is something beautiful? Something deadly? Something from nature?
Oh, how looks can be deceiving, dear readers!

First of all, I love winter time. I live in Ohio and our winters have the habit of not making any sense--it could rain, slush, sleet, turn to ice, melt, change from 20 degrees to 50 degrees with sun, rain again, and freeze again, all within a seven-day span. Since 2008 our winters have gotten out of sync--they seem to occur later than normal, and then when they do, it's a TON of snow, to make up for lost time it seems. But when there is absolutely perfect snowfall--giant, feather-sized flakes, bright evening sky, and air so clean and crisp you get a rush of adrenaline from it--I fall in love and never want to go back inside again.

So I went into reading Snow wondering how something so beautiful as falling snow can be made deadly.

I realize that sounds a bit off. Winter is deadly. Snow is deadly. And the season is dark, long and depressing. So maybe this was a great jumping-off point for a horror novel, to work with this motif. But for whatever reason I didn't start reading this book with that mentality. I was actually expecting something pretty to happen.

Some of Malfi's writing is indeed pretty. In the middle of something horribly violent he infuses it with beauty, and then knocks your socks off with the action: "A mound of snow burst up from the ground [...] showering the night with crystals. A lion's roar shook Kate to the marrow of her bones and she nearly dropped the torch. The snow rose up and towered over them, three stories high, undulating like the segmented body of a worm. A blade of ice protruded from it and reared up--" (148).

Now, wait a minute here--what is this?

This thing is the mysterious, weird monster of Snow. From the very opening I thought we were dealing with zombies, and was ready to forget the book past page three (even though I have to admit, this is one of the more attention-grabbing prologues I've read in a while, especially from the reading material for my Horror class at Seton Hill) because I have been getting sick of them. (My apologies to the subject of my next post!)

There aren't really zombies in this book. It's a bit more than that. Zombies become a product of the actual monster of the book...which are these weird alien, inter-dimensional otherworldly creatures that inhabit/manipulate the snow to infiltrate the Midwest (they hit a bunch of cities, like 27 of them!) and corrupt the bodies of human beings. It's back with the traditional parasitic host thing which is so popular in horror and science fiction. When these things latch on to people, they are able to indulge in what they really want to do, which is cannibalize each other. Or burrow into your shoulder blades and use you as a finger puppet, if it's not all that hungry yet.

Interestingly enough, the monsters of Snow are unable to use children to feed, so they just cruelly disfigure them. The faceless kids reminded me of the scene in Terry Gilliam's Brothers Grimm where the little girl (I think her name was Sasha?) gets some weird goo on her face, and when she goes to wipe it off, she wipes her face off and looks pretty creepy, her voice reduced to muffled whimpering (since she doesn't have a mouth anymore). And then she is eaten alive by a possessed horse...? It's been a while since I've seen this film so I might be confusing a few things at once. And I tried very valiantly to find a screen shot of this scene, to no avail.  Anyway, I did find it to be weird and freaky to have faceless children running around in Snow. Yecch.

Let's go back to the idea of the snow creatures rendering their human hosts into flesh-eating zombie-like people. I was wondering if maybe there was a little too much monster going on in here, but then I thought about it...are the snow monsters kind of like a variation of the Wendigo, in a way?

The Wendigo (and this is spelled various ways) is a creature from Algonquin myth. Essentially it's a monstrous, demonic spirit that possesses you...and a common trait is that it is a cannibalistic demon. On top of that, it's always associated with northern country (mountains, desolate locations), famine, starvation, and of course...SNOW.

My first encounter with the Wendigo myth was from reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when I was in elementary school. In that version I believe it was two hunters camping out in the wilderness in the snow, and the Wendigo was this spirit that drove them crazy...like running in the snow barefoot until your feet burned up and you screamed and vanished, or were overtaken by the Wendigo itself. But there are many variations of this theme, and they all usually align with ideas of the cold snow and cannibalism.

My mind kind of flits in roundabout ways and I like to find the old connections to myth and folklore, even in modern horror. The monster in Snow is new, and something I've never really read before, but I like to try and find origins in everything.  They say that there's nothing new in literature (or film, or music, or art) anymore when it comes to ideas...just new ways to relate them. I'd say Snow certainly takes some of what we've already known and seen and brings it together in a really unique way.

Work Cited

 Malfi, Ronald. Snow. 1st ed. New York: Dorchester, 2010. Print.


  1. I can wait to read more of your opinions and writing from you! Terrific website! I am so proud of you!

  2. I am intrigued, especially with the use of winter as a catalyst this is one for the reserve list for me!

  3. Great post, Kristina. I loved this book -- and your description of falling in love with the perfect snow storm. I spent a winter in Ohio ten years ago and will never forget the day it dropped to 18 below zero actual temperature. We piled into the car, which had been sitting in the garage, and it made cracking noises. Of course, that was far to the south of you in Lancaster; you probably enjoyed a balmy 17 below. Ha ha.

    Anyway, great post, and I agree with your comments. Malfi's a terrific writer, and I thought the monsters in this one were a breath of fresh (if cold) air.

    I wonder if the wendigo story you mentioned is the atmospheric pieces by Algernon Blackwood.

  4. Oh -- and as to your recommendation, read Jack London. A quick shot of nature as monster would be the excellent yet horrific short story "Love of Life". He wrote another great one about these two guys snowed in together with cabin fever, but I read it during middle school and can't for the life of me think of the title. Bah!


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