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Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a short story discussion 
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 Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a short story discussion
Silent Snow, Secret Snow
By Conrad Aiken
Suggested by DWill. Thanks DWill!

Please join us in reading and discussing another great short story!

As always this short story is available 100% FREE online.

Here it is in the form of a short movie.




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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
Who plans to read and participate in this discussion?



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Sn ... pretations says

Quote:
The story tells of a normal boy's descent into a dream world of snow that he finds preferable to the "dirty", mundane world.[2] The story can also be thought of as a Symbolist rejection of reality.[3] The progressive withdrawal from reality and social relationships, as well as preoccupation with idiosyncratically meaningful ideas could be interpreted as characteristic of schizophrenia.


I thought the boy seemed deaf or autistic. His snow fantasy provides a comforting clean safe quiet world, and it is not clear if he is deliberately making it up as a fantasy or actually hearing something.

The title reminded me of the Christmas carol Silent Night Holy Night

Do you know anyone who has retreated from reality into fantasy?


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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
Okay. I just finished reading this story. Haven't watched the video but I read the story through one time.

I've never participated in a story discussion here before, don't know how it works, but I can type out a few thoughts and observations.

First of all, the postman and the absence of the sound of footsteps made me wonder if Aiken hadn't lifted some ideas from James M. Cain. Cain wrote the potboilers The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. The main character in the latter can't hear his footsteps at one point, and he suspects that he'll get caught for the murder he's just committed. Anyway, I looked at publication dates and Aiken's story was published in 1934. So was Postman, but Double Indemnity came out in 1936, so Aiken didn't crib from Cain.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_M._Cain

I used to have a book of poetry by Aiken so I expected the prose to be very lyrical, and it is. Beautiful writing.

A story about a kid going insane. I'd have to read it a couple of more times to look for clues as the cause of the insanity, but the biggest clue would have to be the long excerpt the boy reads from the book. It's an excerpt from Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus. Oedipal complex, problem with the mother at the end, maybe that's what Aiken was getting at. Or not. Maybe he intended to communicate something else altogether.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oedipus_at_Colonus

At any rate, I enjoyed the story and will look for Aikens' Collected stories.



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
KindaSkolarly,

Quote:
I've never participated in a story discussion here before, don't know how it works, but I can type out a few thoughts and observations.


That's all there is to it. Just read the story and share your thoughts. I've yet to read this story so I'll be back...



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
I saw this on "Night Gallery" starring Radames Pera as the boy and narrated by Orson Welles.

It's about a boy who retreats into his own inner world and shuts everyone else out. But it's a cold, sterile world devoid of anything but him and the snow, the purpose of which is to bury and obliterate the outside world.



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
I think of this story as a tour de force, Conrad Aiken showing us in precise and elaborate detail the disappearance of young Paul Haselman from the world that everyone else inhabits. Geo said the story is one included in an anthology of horror tales, and that seems appropriate, but it's a most unusual horror story, taking place entirely in the mind and using few of the normal props of that genre. There is, though, the mention of "menace" in the approaching blizzard that will obliterate the boy, and this menace blends with the seductiveness of the snow and its hissing voices. The menace seems to imply that Paul is in the grip of a sinister force that lures him into its power with visions of indescribable beauty and the promise of escape from a fallen world of mere physicality and sense perception. We would say that Paul has become severely mentally ill, but to himself he has become an exalted being reaching a mental place far above that of the people he is coming to despise, like his parents, who would try to pull him back to their pointless existence. The story almost reads like a cautionary fable on the dangers of mystical experience.

I think that in the very beginning, Paul has lost contact with reality and that not even the progression of the postman is real. He is not hearing his steps from way up the road, probably imagining the knocks on the door as well.

The horror in the story is that felt by the parents, conventional people who are witnessing their brilliant, promising son become taken over by demons, as they would see it.



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
DWill wrote:
"menace" in the approaching blizzard that will obliterate the boy blends with the seductiveness of the snow and its hissing voices. The menace seems to imply that Paul is in the grip of a sinister force that lures him into its power with visions of indescribable beauty and the promise of escape from a fallen world of mere physicality and sense perception.
Seeing it like that reminds me of the story of the Sirens in the Odyssey by Homer: “Come this way, honored Odysseus, great glory of the Achaians, and stay your ship, so that you can listen here to our singing; for no one else has ever sailed past this place in his black ship until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips.” Paul hears the snow like a siren song, a tempting lure that will lead him to destruction. The main difference is that I did not read the snow as having any agency, since it is just a passive dream in Paul’s head.
DWill wrote:
We would say that Paul has become severely mentally ill, but to himself he has become an exalted being reaching a mental place far above that of the people he is coming to despise, like his parents, who would try to pull him back to their pointless existence. The story almost reads like a cautionary fable on the dangers of mystical experience.
Yes, it is a mental illness, except that milder forms of such escapism are common, so readers may well be able to identify with Paul. Watching television or using recreational drugs and alcohol are examples of things people do which can expand to interfere with real life.
DWill wrote:
The horror in the story is that felt by the parents, conventional people who are witnessing their brilliant, promising son become taken over by demons, as they would see it.

Yes, and your demon analogy suggests the psychologist as exorcist. But I am having trouble seeing this story as horrifying. It is a psychological portrait of descent into a comforting isolated fantasy world, and not exactly a tale of suspense or surprise. For it to be horrifying there would need to be some suggestion that an external power was manipulating the snow dream, with some possibility of it proving deadly and spreading to other people.


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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
Quote:
Seeing it like that reminds me of the story of the Sirens in the Odyssey by Homer: “Come this way, honored Odysseus, great glory of the Achaians, and stay your ship, so that you can listen here to our singing; for no one else has ever sailed past this place in his black ship until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips.” Paul hears the snow like a siren song, a tempting lure that will lead him to destruction. The main difference is that I did not read the snow as having any agency, since it is just a passive dream in Paul’s head.

That's a great parallel you point out. Odysseus or his men were confronted a couple of times with the temptation to just bliss out, forget about all of this striving. It is also remarkable that the large brain capacity of humans brings with it more potential for dysfunction than we assume is the case with other animals.
Quote:
Yes, it is a mental illness, except that milder forms of such escapism are common, so readers may well be able to identify with Paul. Watching television or using recreational drugs and alcohol are examples of things people do which can expand to interfere with real life.

I have a perhaps curmudgeonly fear of the narcotic effect of young people being tethered to what we call "electronic devices."
Quote:
Yes, and your demon analogy suggests the psychologist as exorcist. But I am having trouble seeing this story as horrifying. It is a psychological portrait of descent into a comforting isolated fantasy world, and not exactly a tale of suspense or surprise. For it to be horrifying there would need to be some suggestion that an external power was manipulating the snow dream, with some possibility of it proving deadly and spreading to other people.

I think if we envision the snow in the way Aiken describes it, filling up the space in Paul's brain as it fills up space in his hallucinated environment, the snow loses the mainly benign quality it has for us and becomes an instrument of insidious terror. The apocalypse that happens in the end is pretty frightening despite its confinement to one person's mind and its mysterious origin. This is not the tone of Poe or Lovecraft. For me, the understatement works a bit more effectively than the rhetorical flourishes often employed in horror stories. I think of the biggest offender being Shelley's Frankenstein, in which the author actually blunts the terror with her statements of how horrifying the monster is, not to mention the whole sentimental overlay that pads out the novel. She should not have expanded the story beyond the original tale she wrote, in my opinion.



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
DWill wrote:
Odysseus or his men were confronted a couple of times with the temptation to just bliss out, forget about all of this striving.
Indeed, to wit: “My men went on and presently met the Lotus-Eaters, nor did these Lotus-Eaters have any thoughts of destroying our companions, but they only gave them lotus to taste of. But any of them who ate the honey-sweet fruit of lotus was unwilling to take any message back, or to go away, but they wanted to stay there with the lotus-eating people, feeding on lotus, and forget the way home." (9.91-97)
This illustrates that bliss is a two edged sword, an experience of ecstatic joy that is morally corrupted, destroying the discipline and temperance needed for success in life.
DWill wrote:
the large brain capacity of humans brings with it more potential for dysfunction than we assume is the case with other animals.
I have never heard of mental illness in animals – it seems a purely human thing.
DWill wrote:
I have a perhaps curmudgeonly fear of the narcotic effect of young people being tethered to what we call "electronic devices."
That is a theme central to The Matrix movie series, which I wrote about in my reviews (1-2 &
3) back in 2004. Those movies were prophetic, given how iPhones have exploded into our society since then, creating a ‘silent snow’ type of effect for addicted users.
DWill wrote:
if we envision the snow in the way Aiken describes it, filling up the space in Paul's brain as it fills up space in his hallucinated environment, the snow loses the mainly benign quality it has for us and becomes an instrument of insidious terror.
And yet it still does not pose a wider threat like a zombie virus, so the emotion is more pity than fear.


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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
Robert Tulip wrote:
quote]And yet it still does not pose a wider threat like a zombie virus, so the emotion is more pity than fear.

Much of the horror genre, though, pertains to things that are really not likely to happen. That distance from actuality accounts for our ability to find zombie apocalypses entertaining. A child transforming into autism or another mental illness cuts closer to the bone. That really does happen. The horror here would be felt by the mother upon hearing her child cry, "I hate you!" She knows those words mean much more than the fits of temper common to children.



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
Despite Paul's insistence that he is well;, To the reader of 'Silent Snow, Secret Snow' and the adults examining him, there is clearly a problem of isolation. Paul is reverting to a life in his own mind. Escapism. It is a horrifying story, not because Paul is directing his actions. nor is it a horror born of parental short coming. It is a horror because it reveals the maelstrom of an unbalanced human brain.

Paul controls nothing, his subconscious is rebelling in the way it sometimes happens. In reading the wiki page on Conrad Aiken, I learned that his father shot and killed his wife, then himself. What a thing for a child then adult to learn to deal with. I had never heard of Aiken but now I have a respect for what must have been a very complex mind.

He brilliantly demonstrates that complexity with 'Silent Snow'. There was at the time very little understanding of mental disorder of which he had to endeavor to come to terms with. What a haunting life we live, when we live the internal life of unconditioned mind.

The first time I ever considered suicide I was a boy of about ten. I talked to a friend of mine about it briefly at the time. his eleven year old brain told me I was nuts for thinking death was preferable and I never mentioned it again for forty two years. Yes Robert, I know someone who retreated to fantasy. It is a weird pit of utter despair, it is a maelstrom.

There is a comfort zone, it is post-depression and pre-mania, it is a delicate and difficult swirl to tread, especially to a conditioned mind, because there are real horrors with every potential joy. No matter how successful one can be in life, for some, there is no happiness.



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
Taylor wrote:
Despite Paul's insistence that he is well;, To the reader of 'Silent Snow, Secret Snow' and the adults examining him, there is clearly a problem of isolation. Paul is reverting to a life in his own mind. Escapism. It is a horrifying story, not because Paul is directing his actions. nor is it a horror born of parental short coming. It is a horror because it reveals the maelstrom of an unbalanced human brain.
Interesting to cross-reference our last story, Poe’s A Descent into the Maelstrom, which could also be read as a personal parable of mental illness, the isolation of an unbalanced human brain sinking into depressive fantasy. It is a disturbing idea that most would rather not think about, much less discuss in public, and yet I suspect far more common than we usually admit. So Secret Snow is a good entry point for such a discussion.
Taylor wrote:
Paul controls nothing, his subconscious is rebelling in the way it sometimes happens. In reading the wiki page on Conrad Aiken, I learned that his father shot and killed his wife, then himself. What a thing for a child then adult to learn to deal with. I had never heard of Aiken but now I have a respect for what must have been a very complex mind.
To say that it is his “subconscious” may place a specific analytic fix on the story, reading what may be a genetic illness of the brain as an involuntary response to suppressed trauma. We do not know if Paul has suffered any trauma that causes his retreat into the snow world as a return of the repressed.
Taylor wrote:
He brilliantly demonstrates that complexity with 'Silent Snow'. There was at the time very little understanding of mental disorder of which he had to endeavor to come to terms with. What a haunting life we live, when we live the internal life of unconditioned mind.
I’m not sure the understanding of mental disorder is really that much better today. In the past, religion had an important role in creating community identity and inculcating values, which could have had some protective function against wayward thinking and isolation. But since religion has its own fantasy component, it has been subject of rational critique, often leaving people to their own devices, meaning an overstretched medical profession is left to pick up the pieces using medication, since actually speaking with people is so expensive. These days Paul would be straight onto Ritalin or some other drug to mask his depressive symptoms.
Taylor wrote:
The first time I ever considered suicide I was a boy of about ten. I talked to a friend of mine about it briefly at the time. his eleven year old brain told me I was nuts for thinking death was preferable and I never mentioned it again for forty two years.
Thank you Taylor for sharing your personal story. Australia has a suicide epidemic especially among indigenous people. A few people close to me have killed themselves, which I have found very traumatic. For myself there is such a vast amount I want to accomplish in the world that such a thought is not something I entertain.
Taylor wrote:
Yes Robert, I know someone who retreated to fantasy. It is a weird pit of utter despair, it is a maelstrom.
Silent Snow presents the retreat to fantasy as a sort of universal parable. The terrible thing is that many people who claim to have the strongest opposition to fantasy are themselves unwitting victims of it. We’re all living in our own private Idaho. This returns me to my favourite topic, the meaning of myth. For Paul, the snow has a sort of mythological function, creating meaning to push back despair and emptiness. For the broader society, our shared values exercise a similar role of warding off the abyss, with varying levels of coherence. Belief in the Blessed Virgin Mary is like secret snow, with the problem that its acolytes have public power, and their fantasy bubbles up as mental disturbance manifested as abuse.
Taylor wrote:
There is a comfort zone, it is post-depression and pre-mania, it is a delicate and difficult swirl to tread, especially to a conditioned mind, because there are real horrors with every potential joy. No matter how successful one can be in life, for some, there is no happiness.

The B52s wrote:
Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo
Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo

You're living in your own Private Idaho
Living in your own Private Idaho
Underground like a wild potato
Don't go on the patio
Beware of the pool
Blue bottomless pool
It leads you straight, right through the gate
That opens on the pool

You're living in your own Private Idaho
You're living in your own Private Idaho

Keep off the path, beware of the gate
Watch out for signs that say "hidden driveways"
Don't let the chlorine in your eyes
Blind you to the awful surprise
That's been waitin' for you at
The bottom of the bottomless blue, blue, blue pool

You're livin' in your own Private Idaho, Idaho
You're out of control, the rivers that roll
You fell into the water and down to Idaho
Get out of that state
Get out of the state you're in
You better beware

You're living in your own Private Idaho
You're living in your own Private Idaho

Keep off the patio (your own private Idaho)
Keep off the path (your own private Idaho)
The lawn may be green but you better not be seen
Walkin' through a gate that leads you down
Down to a pool fraught with danger
It's a pool full of strangers

Hey, you're living in your own Private Idaho
Where do I go from here to a better state than this?
Well
Don't be blind to the big surprise
Swimming round and round like the deadly hand
Of a radium clock
At the bottom
Of the pool

I-I-I-daho
I-I-I-daho
Woah-oh, woah-oh, woah-oh, oh
Ah, ah, ah, ah
Ah, ah, ah, ah
Get out of that state
Get out of that state
You're living in your own Private Idaho
Livin' in your own Private Idaho



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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Jun 02, 2017 3:08 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
Quote:
Despite Paul's insistence that he is well;, To the reader of 'Silent Snow, Secret Snow' and the adults examining him, there is clearly a problem of isolation. Paul is reverting to a life in his own mind. Escapism. It is a horrifying story, not because Paul is directing his actions. nor is it a horror born of parental short coming. It is a horror because it reveals the maelstrom of an unbalanced human brain.

Well said. I do think of escapism, though, as something pretty innocent, kind of like the summer blockbuster movies that come out. It seems here that there is a real disease process, as you also say. I imagine that a psychologist's evaluation of Paul when he was nominally normal would have described a distant and socially odd person. He's susceptible to something like complete Schizoid withdrawal, and there happens to be trigger, but there seems to be nothing special about it. I don't think Aiken was necessarily shooting for clinical accuracy with this story. For this to happen to a boy of 12 is very rare, but probably every parent is acquainted with the fear of a child suddenly going bonkers.

Because of a fear of autistic withdrawal, many parents in the U.S. are foregoing the MMR vaccine, a refusal that has already produced some resurgence of measles, a dangerous disease.



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Post Re: Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken - a discussion
DWill wrote:
I do think of escapism, though, as something pretty innocent, kind of like the summer blockbuster movies that come out.


I'm all for escapist story telling. Whether it be written or film or what have you. I do like a good yarn or just an honest story and most especially...a good laugh. I guess with 'Silent Snow' I was looking for something sinister and in the process was reading more into it than is really there. I do that sometimes...look for things. Deep Purple wrote a song years ago called 'Chasing Shadows'...I think its what I've done with Aiken.

Robert Tulip wrote:
We do not know if Paul has suffered any trauma that causes his retreat into the snow world as a return of the repressed.


I tried hard to find a driver for Paul's slippage but you are right...there is no indicator. The snow is opaque...its a veil...a mystery. When I relate that to Aiken's personal history I find that Paul's mystery has context.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The terrible thing is that many people who claim to have the strongest opposition to fantasy are themselves unwitting victims of it. We’re all living in our own private Idaho.
.

Its seems to me that the mental thing is very subtle and I agree that a great many are unwitting.


Potato Headism...Is there such a thing? Can it be julienned from myth?. :hmm:.

While I'm being absurd; I've never heard someone complain of being long a nut :blush:



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