Six Degrees of Separation: From ‘The Snow Child’ to ‘A Thousand Ships’

Six Degrees of Separation is hosted by Kate at Books are My Favourite and Best. The idea, inspired by Frigyes Karinthy’s 1929 short story, Chains, is that everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by just six links. Here, we bring the idea into the world of books.

This month, we start with The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. I haven’t read this, but having looked it up I really want to. Set in 1920s Alaska, Jack and Mabel, haunted by the loss of a child, build a child out of snow on their homestead. When the snow child disappears, a real one appears on their land… The story is inspired by a Russian fairy-tale, and hovers between magic and realism.

My first link leapt out at me. All of the above reminds me of The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner: a haunting folkloric tale of transformation and family, in which sisters Liba and Laya tell their respective stories in alternate chapters – Liba in prose and Laya in poetry.

I take the transformation theme from this book and link it to the Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb. This is a four-book part of the longer Realm of the Elderlings series, but has transformation as a key theme, this time in a fantasy context.

In the Rain Wild Chronicles, the characters journey down a long river by boat. Now this particular boat happens to be magical – but even if it were not, I find journeys by boat somehow enthralling. It’s the way they make you see the world on shore from a different perspective. La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman depicts another boat journey that does that, when the child protagonists end up on an atmospheric adventure through flooded Oxford.

A sideways leap now to a book by the same author: Daemon Voices. This is a non fiction book about writing craft, and the first of its kind that has actually ever gripped me. It is a collection of separate talks, articles and essays given by the author over a number of years, telling vignettes and analogies to unfold his writing process for the reader. I found it both quick and engaging, and really gave me a window into the author’s mind.

On of the vignettes in Daemon Voices that really stayed with me likens the author’s craft to being a person holding a camera. You have to move the camera around the story, trying different perspectives and angles, until finally you find the one that works. This made me think of my current Greek Myth Retelling readathon, in which the retellings look at old myths from different angles. The one that particularly stood out to me as really leaning into those new angles was These Great Athenians by Valentine Carter.

My final link is another Greek Myth Retelling, linked to These Great Athenians by the fact they both comprise a kind of anthology of different voices, rather than telling one story in a linear way with a single set of main characters. This book is A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – a sometimes wry, sometimes heartbreaking retelling of the events of the Iliad.

So quite a wide ranging chain this month, from folklore, through magical boat journeys and non-fiction, ending up on the shores of Troy. Where did your chains take you?

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