Sunday, December 18, 2011

"The Drifting Snow" short-story review

Even sitting next to a warm fireplace, it’s as cold as a frozen-over hell in here. My plants are dead, my cats appear to have the flu, and there’s frost all over the ground. That’s what you get during wintertime, however. I can’t think of a better story to review now than “The Drifting Snow”. This review of Drifting Snow is taken from the reprint from Alan Ryan’s anthology Vampires (which is a superb collection, by the way). My copy has a (surprisingly not very good) Edward Gorey cover.
 Synopsis: It’s wintertime in (what I assume is) rural Wisconsin and newlywed Clodetta is disturbed by her husband Ernest’s Aunt Mary. Mary insists at all times that the windows be closed, but never specifies why. Ernest chalks this up to the fact that his grandfather died out there many years ago. Clodetta gets a brief glimpse of two people out there, and Ernest and nephew Henry go to investigate but find no one. Slowly the truth is revealed why Aunt Mary is so frightened: Years ago, grandfather had caught a servant girl with one of the brothers, and he booted her out during the freezing cold, not knowing that she had actually been raped. She froze to death, but has returned, as a vampire, during every hard snowstorm since, with grandfather eventually joining her. Henry refuses to believe any of it, and is dead-set on rescuing whoever is out there. He goes out, and then comes back dazed and moaning, obsessed with the woman from outside and determined to go back to her. Will this generation break the cycle, or will there be another snow vampire?
 My thoughts: Re-read that plot synopsis again. Sounds pretty corny and cliché doesn’t it? Although it does employ an atmospheric setting and takes quite a while to reveal what’s going on, no sane person could call this a subtle or atmospheric story. It’s as spelled out and blatant as vintage horror stories get. Hugh B. Cave was more subtle than this! Aunt Mary just comes out and says “She had become a vampire. We all saw her.” (Actual line). Except for not ending in italics, this story commits every sin that Derleth’s detractors throw at him.
 But do you want to know what the funny thing is?
 This story is considered (by people who hate Derleth’s writing) to be his best story! Whaaa!!?? It’s considered a minor classic of vampire fiction, and every article you can find online about the Japanese legend of the Yuki Onna (snow woman) goes out of the way to mention this story as a “subtle variation” on the myth. Pretty funny, as there really isn’t any hint of that, in fact, other than the fact that she adds to her own kind, there really isn’t any indication in this story that the undead servant girl is a vampire at all; she is more like a ghost than anything. Political correctness really has gone too far.
 With a story like this held up as an example of Derleth at his best, no wonder the poor guy’s reputation has suffered! Thankfully, the other Derleth story which is held up even by Derleth’s detractors as a masterpiece (The Lonesome Place) actually is.
Final word: An overrated, predictable, and totally flat tale whose novel setting for a vampire story has been used better since (notably in The Fearless Vampire Killers and 30 Days of Night). Not complete garbage, but you can bet that if there was some random insertion of Lovecraftian elements in this story, then Derleth’s detractors would throw a fit over it like they do all his other works. 2.5/5.


  1. It might have made a good episode of "Inner Sanctum" or "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour". I was twelve when I first read it, sixteen when I read it in a Marvel Comics horror-mag version, enjoyed it both times.

  2. Always thought it was a great story. Something unseen, in the storm, luring people to their dooms...scared me as a kid!

  3. Man, do I ever take issue with this review. This story is so unnerving : neurotic and claustrophobic and maybe hysterical until ... IT'S NOT : it's all that Aunt Mary said and feared and tried so futilely to make the young folks believe. I have read it, over 40 years, probably a dozen times and am always spooked and made uneasy by the perfectly-told plot. What a great short film this story could be.