Friday, June 2, 2023
On May 27, as I was finishing George MacDonald's book At the Back of the North Wind, I took a photo of the last page but one (p. 350) because it reminded me of something that I wanted to check later. In the passage that caught my eye, the boy Diamond, at death's door, reports that he has been visited one last time by his old friend, the North Wind personified as a woman:
"Have you seen your friend again?" I asked him.
"Yes," he answered solemnly."
"Did she take you out with her?"
"No. She did not speak to me. I woke all at once, as I generally do when I am going to see her, and there she was against the door into the big room, sitting just as I saw her sit on her own doorstep, as white as snow, and her eyes as blue as the heart of an iceberg. She looked at me, but she never moved or spoke."
A few paragraphs later, Diamond is dead. What this made me think of was one of Whitley Strieber's visitors, a very white personage with very blue eyes, who came to him and said, "I want to talk to you about your death." I knew where to find this episode -- in the chapter entitled "The White Angel" in Transformation -- but I was away from my library at the time, so I took the photo to remind myself to check it later.
On Monday, May 29, I had not yet got around to checking the Strieber story when I found this on p. 30 of Muriel Barbery's The Life of Elves. Clara, one of the two magical children around whom the story revolves, has just been asked a question:
In response, she looked up at him with her eyes as blue as the torrents from the glacier, with a gaze in which the angels of mystery sang.
Like the North Wind in the MacDonald passage, she looks but does not speak; and the blue eyes of the two characters are described in very similar language, with reference to icebergs and glaciers. The "angel" reference is also a link to the Strieber story, and this time I was in my study and was able to check it. I took down Transformation and found "The White Angel." This is from p. 66:
I began to recall what had happened on the night of May 30 . . . . a small being dressed in white came walking quickly across the room. . . . I remember nothing at all of the size or facial features of this person, being, visitor, or whatever it was. All I do remember is an impression of unusual whiteness and light-blue eyes. . . .
The being looked directly into my eyes and said, "I want to talk to you about your death." When we made eye contact I saw only blueness -- the blue of heaven. It was like entering another world.
What happened to me next is hard to describe. An explosion went through my body. And then there was the dread. It was as cold as steel around my throat. I wanted to jump away, to run, to scream, to do anything to get away from that terrible, beautiful blue and those terrible words.
The being obviously sensed this. The blueness sort of snapped and I could see again.
May 30, 1986 -- and here I was looking it up on May 29, one day before the 37th anniversary of the event. As reported in my last post, "Two books featuring magical children in beech trees and invisible dragonfly wings," which also connects The Life of Elves with At the Back of the North Wind, I started reading the former book on May 27, which turned out to be one day before the author's 54th birthday.
Strieber's visitant, like Diamond's, is extremely white, has light-blue eyes, and seems to presage death. Although the eyes are not directly compared to ice, looking into them causes a "cold as steel" sensation.
After typing the above, at around 11:30 p.m. on June 1, I opened up The Life of Elves. My bookmark was on p. 122, the beginning of a chapter. The chapter begins with these words:
Oh, so handsome; so tall and blond; eyes bluer than the water of a glacier; porcelain features in the face of a virile man; . . . Yes, the handsomest of angels, indeed, and it made you wonder how you could have lived until now, without this promise of renewal and love.
This second glacier-eyed character is Raffaele Santangelo, the Governor of Rome. Earlier, in a chapter called (with reference to Santangelo) "The Voice of Death," Clara asks about him, "Is he the devil?" and is told, "In a way, yes, you could say he is the devil, but it's not the name that is the most important" (p. 68). Similarly, Strieber's encounter with his "White Angel" leads him to muse, "I have wondered whether angels and demons might be the same beings in different costumes" (p. 67). MacDonald also strongly implies that some people would see the North Wind character, known by Diamond to be good, as the devil.
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