Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Debatables: Ominous Winter Scene

The usual monthly Debatable format shall be slightly different this month. Mike Allegra, that talented, and becoming increasingly prolific writer, is off on a month-long fellowship diligently working on his book. This means he does not have the time, nor can he spare the creative pundit, to dabble in quibbling and debating. In his stead, he has asked Jilanne Hoffman, a capable author in her own right, to quibble and debate upon a chosen topic. He likened it to her being a tribute. I promise no life-threatening survivalist tactics will be forthcoming. Instead, I offer a warm welcome for Jilanne. Please feel free to trot over and check out her blog. I suggest signing up her updates and such while you are there. She has a fascinating bio:
Jilanne Hoffmann has been a zoo train engineer and a “real” engineer, but switched to freelance writing 20+ years ago and now enjoys writing stories for kids and adults. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, has read at Listen to Your Mother – San Francisco, and is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. One of her stories is included in a forthcoming anthology (Feb 2019), “She’s Got This: Essays on Standing Strong and Moving On.” She is currently at work on a new adult novel and many, many picture books.

Today’s Topic: What is the most ominous winter scene from a juvie book?

I have selected the passage from the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Edmund meets the White Witch upon his entry into Narnia.

Image result for edmund meets the white witch
That’s right, Edmund–think twice about talking to that lady in the sledge.

Jilanne has decided upon the scene where Scrooge meets up with Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

The same guidelines apply: we each have 300ish words to state our case, and then another 150 to counter argue.

Let the quibbling begin!

First off, a definition of ominous is needed:

om·i·nous/ˈämənəs/adjective:giving the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen; threatening; inauspicious.


For those not familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, the first book introduces readers to the Pevensie children: Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan. Lucy finds her way into the enchanted land of Narnia, yet her siblings disbelieve her.

In chapters three and four Edmund follows Lucy into a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek, and unexpectedly enters Narnia, where it is winter. His paradigm has definitely shifted. A stranger in a strange land, he decides “he did not much like this place.” Tension builds. He can’t find Lucy, he is freezing cold, and wonders how to get home. Desolation increases–that feeling of”something bad or unpleasant is going to happen” is about to happen.

In the distance a sound of bells. They come nearer. What can be approaching? A threat forms. Suddenly a sledge drawn by reindeer driven by a bearded dwarf appears. This is not promising. What’s really startling is the formidable woman seated in the sledge, who holds a wand and wears a crown. Her severe manner startles Edmund into stuttering out his name. She demands information from him. The interview’s only bright spot is the Turkish Delight she provides. But wait! Readers are informed that the candy is tainted with her evilness, creating a craving for more, to the point of Edmund promises to turn over his brother and sisters to this imposing woman to satisfy his craving.

Minutes later, Lucy and Edmund reunite and Edmund discovers he’s been fraternizing with a witch, the dreaded White Witch. Edmund is sick with his realization (not to mention the overindulgence of Turkish Delight).

This scene is truly frightening: a lost child, cold, made more miserable upon understanding how badly he’s messed up. Lewis knows how to capture the fears of childhood, and creates an absolute memorable ominous scene.


I nominate Jacob Marley’s chilling scene from A Christmas Carol. It has always terrified me. Scrooge feels a “strange, inexplicable dread” as bells clamor in his gloomy house and then stop, followed by “a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar….the cellar door flew open with a booming sound…the noise much louder on the floors below, then coming up the stairs, then coming straight towards his door.” I cowered behind my mother as she read, my head under the covers, hoping this ghost would take only her and let me live.

Jacob Marley, a “bristling” specter drapedwith the miserly chains of cash boxes, ledgers, and purses he forged in life,has “death-cold eyes” and a handkerchief wound round his head like a bandage.Although he sits still, his “hair and skirts and tassels were still agitated asby the hot vapor from an oven.” When Scrooge doubts his vision, Marley removesthe bandage, releasing his lower jaw onto his breast. Aghhhh! Dives below theblankets yet again, and stays there.

Marley hears “sounds of lamentations and regret, wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory” outside the window. He joins in “the mournful dirge” before floating “out upon the bleak, dark night.” Scrooge peers out the window and sees “phantoms wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.” Each wore chains like Marley’s ghost. This scene could turn anyone but Voldemort into a philanthropist.

Ah, even in Mike’s absence, quibbling is still a part of the format. So—

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Quibble point #1: Yes, ghosts are scary. Yet, does winter really play into this scene? Ghosts can appear any time of the year. Marley’s ghost is not even associated with Christmas specifically; he’s just the forerunner of other visitors. And is Scrooge actually intimidated? He is doubtful and doesn’t become a philanthropist at that point. A scary scene, but not really ominous.

Quibble point #2: Did Dickens write this for children? Wasn’t he actually trying to soften the hard hearts of adults?

Main point: The cold, foreboding setting of the perennial winter forest creates an unpropitious mood. Add in that austere White Witch and her toxic Turkish Delight, and a menacing winter scene designed just for children is created. Lewis imbues an impactful lesson: taking treats from wicked witches can lead to all sorts a serious trouble beyond tummy aches–becoming a traitor is indeed ominous.

Jilanne’s Rebuttal:

Winter plays a HUGE role. Scrooge’s rooms are bitterly cold and dark, like his heart, a stark contrast to generosity and warmth. PLUS Scrooge does fall to his knees, asking for mercy when Marley raises “a frightful cry.”


Ditch authorial intent. It’s like asking Maurice Sendak if he really wrote for children. By the time kids reach the age of reason (seven), they know this story and its meaning: be generous and compassionate toward those less fortunate.


My quibble for you:

Edmund’s not scared. He’s cold and in a strange place, but he spies a bearded dwarf (Santa!), a sleigh, and reindeer. Fun! The queen’s just a brittle genealogist seeking to identify Edmund’s siblings. Plus the promise of a title! Who doesn’t want to be a prince and eat sweets, bellyache notwithstanding? Marley’s ominous promise, OTOH, led me to save my quarters for charity before I was five years old!    


And there we have it–two scenes that should elicit feelings of something threatening or bad about to happen.

Readers: as a child reader, which is more ominous to you?

Let the voting begin–and, of course, comments are always encouraged.

Single Post Navigation

92 thoughts on “Debatables: Ominous Winter Scene

  1. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, this is a good one.

    “As a child reader, which is more ominous to you?” I remember reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at age 8, and then reading A Christmas Carol around 10 or thereabouts. I remember being far more frightened of the White Witch than of Jacob Marley, largely because a) I find female villains more scary than male, and b) because Dickens starts off the story by describing Jacob Marley as being”dead as a doornail” which my child self thought IRRESISTIBLY HILARIOUS. So I couldn’t exactly be frightened of old Jacob, even when he showed up clanking chains and all.

    (I still think it’s pretty funny, to be honest.)

    So I’m gonna vote for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

    • Absolutely gotta watch out for those witches bearing candy? Thanks for the vote!

    • Aha! My question to you, sir, is this: If someone you knew who was “dead as a doornail” came to visit you (as a child) in the dark of night while you were eating your porridge alone before the fire, would you not be terrified? Would you not listen with rapt ears and use that moment as a moral guide for the rest of your days on earth? Don’t let that benign description, “dead as a doornail,” lead your astray! But then, perhaps you were a distractible child who was often led astray by authorial commentary….

      • Naw . . . because, you see, the story ISN’T about a child being visited by a ghost. It’s about an old man being visited by a ghost. Child-me wasn’t frightened of what Scrooge was going through because child-me didn’t RELATE to Scrooge. Whereas I certainly identified, on a basic level at least, with Edmund. That’s why his experience was more frightening to me.

      • Excellent point. Kid lit is for kids. Those silly rabbits.

  2. Pingback: The White Witch vs. Jacob Marley’s Ghost – Debatables – Jilanne Hoffmann

  3. Jilanne is clearly correct! Nothing would be more ominous than meeting death, face to face!

  4. Tara Hannon on said:

    Very good Arguments on both sides. I’d agree with Jillanne. Scrooge’s room looks cold, dark and dank, despite the implied winter fire. And I’d certainly be more fearful of an unwanted presence in my bedroom vs outdoors on a sled. The feeling of being trapped is beyond scary.

  5. I see, Mr CharlesBakerHarris. Point taken. Yes, it’s easier for a child to put themselves into the shoes of another child. HOWEVER, In kidlit writing, we see plenty of books where the focus is on an adult with childlike characteristics that make them relatable to a child. Scrooge sits by the fire in his jammies while eating his evening porridge. He embodies egocentric childlike qualities. To me, this helps him become relatable to a child. PLUS, if child-me put myself in Edmund’s shoes, child-me would have been A-OK with that woman and those sweets. She kinda reminded me of one of my grandmothers……

  6. Becky Scharnhorst on said:

    This was tough, but after reading Jilanne’s comment about Santa and reindeer, I had to agree with her. A chain-dragging, jaw-dropping ghost is much scarier than a sleigh-riding queen handing out treats. 🙂

  7. Oh, this is rich! You two aren’t even pretending to play nice. It’s gloves off, bare-penned quibbling happening here. I hope you make up later, but in the meantime, I have to go with the Marley scene. Edmund’s whole entry into Narnia is posited by the extreme cool factor of finding an alternate universe in the wardrobe. Whereas poor, miserable Scrooge doesn’t even go looking; he is just besieged by Marley and the rest of the ghosts, and all of them are extremely judgey. I’m not saying Scrooge is perfect or even nice, but does that warrant an all-night-long haunting? At least Edmund gets a snack, whereas from what I recall, Scrooge doesn’t even get a glass of tea during his ordeal. I was born on Halloween, so by default, I suppose I find witches a lot less scary than that ghosty Marley. I’m trying to remember which scene I read first as a kid. Pretty sure it was Dickens’s.

    Awesome job, you two! This was very fun.

  8. Oh Narnia, hands down. It’s BECAUSE Edmund doesn’t realize the danger that it’s so frightening. Marley’s ghost is terrifying, but he isn’t actually dangerous.

    • Spot on, Sarah! I knew I could count on you to discern impending danger and some noisy thing drifting about. Thanks for the vote.

    • Oh, dear, another wayward soul. I argue that in this scene, Scrooge does not know that he is in grave danger of wandering the world for all eternity, finally WANTING to help those only after it is too late. He will be doomed unless he sees and understands this threat. When Marley is done with him, he still doesn’t see the light. He is still doomed. We shake in our shoes because we don’t want to suffer that same fate. We do not yet know that by the time the 3rd ghost arrives, he’ll change. And we, too, can follow suit.

  9. I find this tough, mostly because I find the situations nearly the same level of ominous.

    1. When I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, I found the winter scenes scariest at the times Lucy found Mr. Tumnus gone and when they found the woodland creatures as statues.
    Honestly, though, I thought The Wood Between the Worlds in Magician’s Nephew ominous.

    2. In turn, I found Marley’s ghost a bit gross and a little underwhelming. The scariest part for me was the groaning concourses outside the window.

    I mentally weighed each, picturing what might tilt my opinion to one or the other, and decided the lion, witch, and wardrobe more accurately fitted the requirements.

  10. Hmmm, “B” could stand for “bitter” as votes till fill more soundly towards the correct interpretation of ominous. Oh, was that a*kaching* in the background?

  11. Well, I’m going to have to vote for Scrooge. Right away, it’s scary and ominous, and we worry for him because we know he doesn’t “get it” right away. He goes farther down the rabbit hole, trying to resist the inevitable.

  12. Hi Jilanne… very nice to meet ya!! I do not want to get off on the wrong foot but I am going to have to agree with Cricket on this one. Witches are much scarier than ghosts and in Narnia THAT witch is up to no good where Jacob Marley, the ghost, was there to help Scrooge and he did!! So my vote goes to Cricket… but you make some valid points also! 😉

  13. Yes, and Edmund gets a tummy ache from the Turkish Delights. Maybe that witch is a figment of his dyspepsia, too….

  14. I must admit, I was worried when I brought on a substitute because I wasn’t sure if I’d have to chime in on this debate and and say, “Nope, I agree with Cricket.”

    Well, that was an unfounded fear. Because, as usual, I don’t agree with Cricket. (But I still love you!)

    Marley’s appearance is terrifying and, yes, ominous, not only because his spectral visage is tortured and horrible, but also because Marley shows how an unredeemed Scrooge will spend his afterlife—deformed, rueful, beyond redemption, and eternally chained to the false god he worshipped throughout his adult life.

    Scrooge has to turn his life around in one night and he has to do it alone—without brothers or sisters, a lion Christ figure, talking beavers, or a friendly giant in need of a “hankerchee”. That’s a lot of pressure for that miserly old fart. The stakes could not be higher.

    We all know the basics of the New Testament; we know Alan will sacrifice himself but rise again. We know Lewis’s witch won’t prevail. There’s no foreboding in that story—in fact, there’s lots of fun to be had in Narnia (see talking beavers, etc.).

    But Dickensian England is a horrible, unforgiving place under event the most promising of circumstances. And Scrooge’s story could go either way.

    It doesn’t get more ominous than that.

  15. Hands down, Scrooge…the whole scene is plagued with doom from the start. I never felt that dread with Narnia. I guess what one considers ominous, another considers child’s play…as in Narnia.

    No time to banter back and forth…I’ll leave it to the two of you to battle it out.

  16. Compellingly argued by both of you but I’m with Jilanne on this one. The atmosphere of ACC is just so wonderfully immersive and the tone of Narnia is by comparison way less terrifying.

  17. Actually I’m away from winter on my treadmill. Two minutes longer until sunset! I might be winning this battle (at least).

  18. The gym is stress therapy after teaching English all day. I have to 75 essays on why C.S. wrote a more compelling argument about ominous setting than Charlie Dickens. Need those endorphins.

  19. Pingback: Debatables Recap: An Ominous Outcome | cricketmuse

Comments, anyone?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: