Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas in the Blue Castle

Christmas is coming, people! It's time for my most cherished holiday ritual, which, of course, is reading books. As the holiday gets closer, I'll revisit some of my favorite Christmas scenes in literature. I've already started reading Little Women out loud with my husband. I'm thinking, like Sarah from Pink of Perfection, that it might inspire my Christmas this year. (Can I convince my family to perform amateur theatricals?) But there are so many literary Christmases that I want to take part in. For the rest of the month, I'll occasionally be posting about the Christmas scenes that I love, and maybe I can manage to have a holiday that includes aspects of all of them.

(1896 illustration of Little Women by Frank T. Merrill.)

I'll start with the Christmas scene that I think is the most romantic: Valancy's Christmas from L.M. Montgomery's 1926 novel The Blue Castle. This is one of my favorite books ever, and I plan to write about it at great length later. (Spoilers follow. Well, one spoiler, anyway.)

For now I just want to say how much The Blue Castle makes me want to spend Christmas on a lake in Ontario. Maybe in Bala, the town in Muskoka that is supposed to be the inspiration for The Blue Castle. (They have an L.M. Montgomery museum! Let's all go.) But I doubt that any real place could be as solitary and beautiful as the cabin on (fictional) Lake Mistawis where Valancy and Barney live, the little house that is so perfect that Valancy names it after the place she always dreamed she would live, her imaginary "Blue Castle." This is what it's like on Lake Mistawis in winter:

"Days of clear brilliance. Evenings that were like cups of glamour -- the purest vintage of winter's wine. Nights with their fire of stars. Cold, exquisite winter sunrises. Lovely ferns of ice all over the windows of the Blue Castle. Moonlight on birches in a silver thaw. Ragged shadows on windy evenings -- torn, twisted, fantastic shadows. Great silences, austere and searching. Jewelled, barbaric hills. The sun suddenly breaking through grey clouds over long, white Mistawis. Icy-grey twilights, broken by snow-squalls, when their cozy living-room, with its goblins of firelight and inscrutable cats, seemed cosier than ever. Every hour brought a new revelation and wonder."

(This is a frozen lake in Japan, not Canada, but I found it on this wonderful Blue Castle-themed board on Pinterest.)

Okay, yes, I live in Florida, and I wear a sweater when the temperature gets below 70 F (21 C). But I'm pretty sure that if I were ever surrounded by such wintry loveliness, I would be exactly like Valancy: snowshoeing through the woods and skating on the frozen lake, too happy to catch a cold.

Valancy's life with Barney out on Lake Mistawis is her escape from the rest of the world, especially from her terrible family. But even if you don't need to escape from anything, there is something to be said for spending a holiday the way Valancy does: alone in a cabin with the person you love (and a couple of cats). Barney and Valancy celebrate Christmas with a dinner of roast goose, which they share with their cats, and a bottle of dandelion wine, which I hope they finish themselves. It sounds so relaxing:

"They had a lovely Christmas. No rush. No scramble. No niggling attempts to make ends meet. No wild effort to remember whether she hadn't given the same kind of present to the same person two Christmases before -- no mob of last-minute shoppers -- no dreary family 'reunions' where she sat mute and unimportant -- no attacks of 'nerves.' They decorated the Blue Castle with pine boughs, and Valancy made delightful little tinsel stars and hung them up amid the greenery."

(Christmas at my parents' house, where it does snow occasionally.)

The Blue Castle Christmas isn't exactly my ideal holiday, as I would like to see my family, and also maybe have indoor heating. But it's close.


  1. Oh, I love doing this. My favorites are the Little House Christmases, especially the one in On the Shores of Silver Lake, though I love the first Christmas in the Big Woods too. I think my favorite Alcott Christmas is in Jack & Jill.

    I have The Blue Castle on my TBR stacks. I had never heard of it before I started reading blogs - I only knew LM Montgomery from the Anne books.

    1. I love the Little House Christmases too. I'd forgotten about the Christmas in Jack and Jill, but I just looked it up, and it is wonderful. That Christmas tree!

    2. The horns filled with candy always made a big impression on me!

  2. Such a wonderful book. I only read it for the first time last year - cannot believe I waited for so long. It is such a sweet and beautiful book. I want to re-read it now!

    1. I read the Blue Castle for the first time last year too. It changed my life! Well, not really, but it did get me to ask my family to stop calling me by my embarrassing childhood nickname, and it also made me put living in a lakeside cabin on my list of life goals.

  3. I live not too far north of Bala. We have not only central heat, but indoor plumbing, electricity, and all sorts of modern wonders ... wow .. and in 1929 they had many of those things as well ... and quite frankly, their cottage would have been quite cozy, and a wood stove/fire puts out a lot of heat. Just sayin'