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‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’ by Conrad Aiken, read by Jon Padgett

Greetings from the cyber-silence, Teeming Brain readers. As you may have noticed, this site has been on a long pause — unplanned and unannounced — for about four months now. A number of factors piled up to bring this about, including the necessity for me to devote all of my spare time to fulfilling the main portion of my editor’s duties in bringing together Ghosts, Spirits, and Psychics: The Paranormal from Alchemy to Zombies (a project that I’ll say more about in coming weeks). But now the mega-wave of busyness is starting to subside, and there is time once again for the brain to teem.

I have quite a few items lined up for publication here in coming weeks, including my long-in-coming conversation with Dr. James Fadiman, the final installment of Dominik Irtenkauf’s “Sounds of Apocalypse” article series, a new installment of Stuart Young’s column Sparking Neurones (this one about an interesting angle on Captain America), and a whole slew of links to worthwhile items of interest that have come across the transom during the hiatus.

For now, I’d like to direct your attention to the above just-published audio reading of Conrad Aiken’s classic and wonderful short story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” about a boy who becomes progressively more lost in the blissful isolation of an inner world or otherworld of spectral snowfall, until his disappearance is complete. The reader is my good friend Jon Padgett, who has been acting and performing in various creative capacities for many years, and his performance here is simply exquisite. The opening and closing music is composed and performed by me, specifically for the purpose of accompanying this story. I hope you find the whole presentation as enjoyable and deeply emotionally affecting as I do. There’s a downloadable version of the audio file at Thomas Ligotti Online (which Jon founded nearly two decades ago).

Original music for Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow”

A couple of years ago I composed some original music to accompany a recorded reading of Conrad Aiken’s sublime 1934 short story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” about a young boy named Paul who grows progressively more lost in the delusion of a silently falling snow that slowly envelopes his world.

The music didn’t make it onto my “Curse of the Daimon” album, which bears the moniker of my one-man musical project Daemonyx and will be released in conjunction with my second book, Dark Awakenings, later this year.

But here it is for your listening pleasure:

It falls into two parts. The first, scarcely a minute in length, is intended to set an appropriate opening tone for Paul’s inner and outer world.

The second, about two minutes long, is meant to illustrate the story’s lushly shattering conclusion, in which Paul, after an excruciating interrogation in front of his parents by a doctor who has been called in to diagnose him for his increasingly odd and distanced behavior, flees to his bedroom and gives himself up utterly to that private, swirling world of snowy seclusion and un-birthing.

These passages in particular inspired part two of the music:

The darkness was coming in long white waves. A prolonged sibilance filled the night — a great seamless seethe of wild influence went abruptly across it — a cold low humming shook the windows. He shut the door and flung off his clothes in the dark. The bare black floor was like a little raft tossed in waves of snow, almost overwhelmed, washed under whitely, up again, smothered in curled billows of white. The snow was laughing: it spoke from all sides at once: it pressed closer to him as he ran and jumped exulting into his bed.

“Listen to us!” it said. “Listen We have come to tell you the story we told you about. You remember? Lie down. Shut your eyes, now — you will no longer see much-in this white darkness who could see, or want to see? We will take the place of everything. . . . Listen —”

A beautiful varying dance of snow began at the front of the room, came forward and then retreated, flattened out toward the floor, then rose fountain-like to the ceiling, swayed, recruited itself from a new stream of flakes which poured laughing in through the humming window, advanced again, lifted long white arms. It said peace, it said remoteness, it said cold — it said —

But then a gash of horrible light fell brutally across the room from the opening door — the snow drew back hissing — something alien had come into the room — something hostile. This thing rushed at him, clutched at him, shook him — and he was not merely horrified, he was filled with such a loathing as he had never known. What was this? This cruel disturbance? This act of anger and hate? It was as if he had to reach up a hand toward another world for any understanding of it — an effort of which he was only barely capable. But of that other world he still remembered just enough to know the exorcising words. They tore themselves from his other life suddenly —

“Mother! Mother! Go away! I hate you!”

And with that effort, everything was solved, everything became all right: the seamless hiss advanced once more, the long white wavering lines rose and fell like enormous whispering sea-waves, the whisper becoming louder, the laughter more intensely maniacal.

“Listen!” it said. “We’ll tell you the last, the most beautiful and secret story — shut your eyes — it is a very small story — a story that gets smaller and smaller — it comes inward instead of opening like a flower — it is a flower becoming a seed — a little cold seed — do you hear? we are leaning closer to you” —

The hiss was now becoming a roar — the whole world was a vast moving screen of snow — but even now it said peace, it said remoteness, it said cold, it said sleep.

I can’t read this passage without being transported by its gnostic-esque evocation of world hatred. Aiken’s metaphors for the desire to be unborn, the desire for consciousness to reverse course from its manifestation in subjective personal particularity and escape into the formlessness of prebirth — the rejection of Mother as the conduit for birth, the image of a flower reversing course to become a seed — are magical.

The story also touches on the same intuitional emotions evoked by Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening”; the “wisdom of Silenus” as described by Nietzsche (“The best thing is never to have been born”); Lovecraft’s aching desire to escape from life and space-time into a realm of eternal, transcendent, absolute Beauty (as enshrined with particular force in one of his most egregiously underappreciated stories, “The Silver Key“); Thomas Ligotti’s well-established longing for cosmic annihilation, and even the “black snow” image with which he ends one of his towering literary achievements, the novelette “The Shadow, The Darkness” — all of which are longstanding wayposts on my personal emotional and philosophical journey.

I doubt my brief musical sketch can even begin to approach doing justice to this ocean of mood and meaning, but even so, I hope it provides you with a moment’s enjoyment.