It’s Christmas time, and we’re feeling festive. In honour of the Yuletide time of year, today we’re talking about one of the world’s most famous Christmas story books… The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.
The plot you probably know and love follows a rosy-cheeked boy, who decides to build a snowman on a cold winter’s day. That night, at the stroke of twelve, the snowman magically comes to life – much to the little boy’s delight. The pair join forces, and spend the night playing with appliances, toys and other bric-a-brac around the house, all while keeping quiet enough so not to wake the boy’s sleeping parents.
After a while, the two venture outside. They take a ride around town on a motorbike, disturbing many cute woodland creatures. Later that night, they take to the skies, soaring in flight over the boy’s village, then other UK landmarks, including the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Pier.
They then change course, heading out over the ocean. They continue through an arctic landscape and into the stunning aurora, finally landing gracefully in a snow-covered forest to join a party of fellow snowmen. The boy and his new friend even meet Father Christmas and his reindeer, and the jolly old St. Nick gifts him a scarf adorned with a snowman pattern.
The morning after the return journey, the sun has made an unlikely December appearance, unfortunately melting the snowman in the process. Just as we begin to wonder if the whole charming tale was simply a dream, the boy reaches into his pocket and finds the snowman scarf given to him by Father Christmas.
But did you know…
This familiar-sounding tale of friendship, in fact, comes from the animated adaption, which was first broadcast on a fledgeling Channel 4 back in 1982. The 26-minute television special was created by Dianne Jackson, and although is just as charming, varies greatly from the original.
You see, in the original picture book, the boy never meets Father Christmas. While the first half of the story remains the same, all of the Christmas elements of the film were not present in the story. Notably, the boy’s family does not have a Christmas tree in the house. After the snowman comes to life, they proceed to explore the boy’s house.
After they see the family car and play with the lights, the boy prepares a feast that the two eat by candlelight. Here the snowman takes the boy outside again, and they begin to fly. Once the boy and the snowman take flight, they only fly as far as the pier seen in the film. They stop there and wait for the sunrise.
They hurry back, as the sun is rising, and the boy hurries inside again, as in the film. The finale does not show James finding the scarf in his pocket, as they never made the trip to Father Christmas, but he finds the snowman melted in the same fashion.
So why did Dianne Jackson decide to give the tale a festive twist? Perhaps a word with Mr. Briggs might explain a thing or two…
Raymond Briggs, a 78-year-old self-confessed “miserable git” with a Grinch-style attitude to Christmas, said that his story was actually designed to introduce children to the concept of mortality. The snowman melting in the morning was actually all about death, and should never have become a heart-warming accompaniment to mince pies and gift-giving.
“The idea was clean, nice and silent. I don’t have happy endings,” Briggs told the Christmas edition of Radio Times back in 2012. “I create what seems natural and inevitable. The snowman melts, my parents died, animals die, flowers die. Everything does. There’s nothing particularly gloomy about it. It’s a fact of life.”
Well, after that – we’re glad that most people only know TV’s version… And it’s not often you’ll hear us say that!
Image credit: Daily Mail.