Raymond Briggs: The Snowman is not really about Christmas, it's about death
The beloved children's book, and subsequent animation, has been hijacked by festive sentimentality according to its author
Adam Sherwin is Media Correspondent at The Independent and an award-winning writer who specialises in covering the entertainment, broadcasting, music and popular culture industries. Previously Media writer and diarist at The Times, he was a co-founder of the Beehive City media and entertainment website. As regular contributor to BBC London 94.9 Radio station, he was named Music Business writer of the year at the awards of influential music industry site Record of the Day in 2006.
Tuesday 11 December 2012
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without another showing for the heart-melting fantasy about a boy whose snowman creation magically comes to life.
But The Snowman was actually about death and should never have become a festive favourite, Raymond Briggs has revealed, after complaining that the film adaptation of his story was hijacked by Christmas sentimentality.
The illustrator who wrote The Snowman in 1978, has finally consented to produce a sequel to the enchanting animated story, The Snowman and The Snowdog, which will be broadcast by Channel 4 on Christmas Eve.
The original Oscar-nominated Snowman, famed for the scene of the boy and his snowman taking flight to the swelling choral ballad "Walking In The Air", has been screened every Christmas by Channel 4 since 1982.
Yet Briggs, 78, a self-confessed “miserable git” with a Grinch-style attitude to Christmas, said that his story, which depicts the snowman melting in the morning, was designed to introduce children to the concept of mortality 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. “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.”
The animated version of The Snowman, which appeared four years after the book’s publication, inserted "Walking in the Air", a motorcycle ride and a visit to Santa at the North Pole.
Briggs said: “I thought, ‘It’s a bit corny and twee, dragging in Christmas’, as The Snowman had nothing to do with that, but it worked extremely well.”
The writer, whose 1973 bestseller Father Christmas, presented Santa as an irritable old man, grumbling about delivering presents in the cold, remains indifferent to the festive spirit.
“I’m not a fan of Christmas, although I support the principle of a day of feasting and presents, but the anxiety starts in October: how many are coming? Are they bringing grandchildren? How long will they stay?”
Briggs is however content with the Snowman sequel, which resurrects little Billy’s melted playmate and introduces a mischievous pup with odd socks for ears.
“It would have been cashing in to do it before,” he said. “Now it won’t do any harm, and it’s not vulgar and American. I’ve never touched a computer, or anything like that.
“CGI makes everything too perfect, but they’re sticking to the old ways. I’m a notorious grumbler, but I found nothing to grumble about.”
The 24-minute Snowman and The Snowdog costs £2 million, and is made up of 200,000 individual drawings. Many of the artists worked on the original film and have sought to maintain the look of Briggs’ drawings. Digital snow and lighting effects have been added, although it’s unclear if the producers dared to tell Briggs.
The sequel is accompanied by a mobile phone game. “Huge amounts of money have been generated by The Snowman,” Briggs said. “I’m not interested. I read it’s sold three million copies, but publishers bandy about numbers that aren’t usually true. I don’t spend anything. I don’t like going abroad – the Gatwick airport hellhole.”
The writer did once find a kindred spirit. “I went once to Roald Dahl’s birthday party so I must have read something of his. He was fairly curmudgeonly.”
Other Christmas Grinches...
Don’t expect a Lady Gaga Christmas single. In 2010 the singer bit the head off a Santa doll thrown on stage at the O2 Arena, declaring “I hate the holidays! I’m alone and miserable, you f***ing dumb bit of toy!” The offending item “was pregnant ... with chemicals not meant for children.”
Jim Lea, Slade’s bassist, has had it with their perennial, Merry Xmas Everybody. “You don’t start singing Happy Birthday to someone two months before the day. Please don’t start playing it again yet. I’m no Scrooge, it’s just that I’m sick of the Christmas hysteria. I never dreamt it would still be played 30 years later.”
Ozzy Osbourne would rather fall of his quad bike than the wagon on December 25. “When you’re a practising alcoholic, Christmas is just another day,” the rocker argued. “Fortunately a few years ago I broke my neck coming off my quad bike and I was in a coma for Christmas.”
Overplayed Xmas standards piped into stores annoy customers and staff, the music consultancy Open Ear found. Instead, "A Very She & Him Christmas" by Zooey Deschanel and M.Ward was the ideal soothing alternative soundtrack for businesses and bars.
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