What if Winter came and never ended? We now know our world and our climate are changing, and the outcome may be already beyond our control. Joan Aiken imagined a time where our actions, as in the old stories before science gave us the alarming facts, would bring the wrath of the Gods or Nature down upon us; now the reality of our future is not so different.
One poetic but salutary summing up of the possibilities of increasingly wild weather conditions was given in the Beaufort Scale, a weather system devised by a Royal Navy officer, later Admiral, Sir Francis Beaufort, which shows by detailed observation increasingly worsening conditions at sea, and on land. Joan Aiken was very taken by its descriptive language and desperate message of foreboding and adapted it into a song for her play about a family trapped on a tiny Winter-fast island about to disappear into the snow and the Northern Lights…
Joan Aiken allows a bit of fun with the earlier verses and rhymes, suggesting a moderately accepting frame of mind, an observer who notes the changing conditions and takes precautions, ‘canoes return to port as…’ but Beaufort’s description for Force Twelve is simply one word – Devastation – and here we understand that everything is finally out of our hands – we may as well try and count the flakes of snow.
Kaye Webb the inspired and inspiring Editor of Puffin Books commissioned Joan Aiken to write this play in the 1970’s, and it was produced at the Young Vic Theatre. She wrote in the introduction to the Puffin edition:
“Joan Aiken’s stories are all touched with magic…so it is not surprising that she has written plays about mysterious, lonely places… and here a group of children come to the island named after the deadly ‘Winterthing’, the time when the island is so swallowed up in winter that it disappears from mortal sight.”
And of course this is not just a story, we do need to pay attention to the changes going on around us, for as Joan Aiken also wrote :
…and maybe take action before it is too late?
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More about Joan Aiken Plays can be found here
Illustration by Arvis Stewart from the Holt Rinehart Winston edition
Music by Joan’s son John Sebastian Brown