January 14, 2016

The Invention of Snow

In this installment of my childhood writing, we'll look at my eighth grade response to an assignment that I and many schoolkids experienced multiple times: the composition of an original myth.

I was well prepared for the task, since I'd produced a detailed report on Greek mythology a few years earlier. But in case I needed help getting into the right creative mindset, the worksheet for the assignment provided a whole backstory: "You are in an ancient Greek village. Several natural phenomena have occurred. These have frightened the villagers who want answers that will help them to understand the natural world around them and relieve their fears. You are the local oracle and storyteller. The villagers have come to you for answers."

This assignment was given in March, while I was presumably hoping to soon see the end of another long New England winter, so I expect the choice of natural phenomenon was simple, though my explanation is rather more convoluted.

The Invention of Snow

Long ago, before snow had been invented, winter's precipitation was simply frozen rain. Getting caught out in a storm was painful, and this falling ice did damage to buildings and trees. The gods, up on Mount Olympus, knew nothing of this, for it was never cold, and it never rained on their mountain.

One winter day, Athena was visiting the earth, disguised as an old woman. A kind farming couple, Phaelus and his wife, Pollus, fed her a humble but hearty supper. As they were eating the meal, Athena heard a crashing on the roof.

"What is that?" she exclaimed.

"What is what?" asked Pollus, puzzled.

"That noise outside," said Athena.

Phaelus gave his wife a strange look.

"It's only the rain, old mother," he comforted. "It's frozen, of course."

Athena quickly realized how conspicuous she was making herself.

"I am from a warm climate," she lied. "Our rain never freezes."

The farmers seemed satisfied with this answer, and they finished eating peacefully.

After supper, Athena thanked her hosts. She secretly blessed their fields with ever-prosperous crops, and then she was on her way.

When Athena stepped outside, she was pelted with drops of ice. Everywhere she looked, there were broken tree branches.

"Something must be done about this," she thought, hurrying back to Mt. Olympus.

When she reached the gods' palace, she went to see Zeus immediately. She told him about the frozen rain.

"We must invent something more practical and safe," she proposed.

"I agree completely," said Zeus. "I had no idea of the damage that the falling ice was causing. We should call Hephaestus to help us invent an alternative."

Zeus sent Hermes to fetch Hephaestus from his forge. Hephaestus arrived shortly. He brought Aphrodite along. Athena and Zeus explained the problem.

"The new rain should be beautiful," said Aphrodite. "Because the world looks so ugly and dead in the winter."

"And it must be lighter, so that it won't do so much damage," said Athena.

After a little more conferring, Hephaestus went back to his workshop. A few hours later, he returned.

"What do you think of this?" he asked, holding up a large piece of crystal, shaped like the snowflakes we have today.

"Oh, it's beautiful!" exclaimed Aphrodite.

Zeus and Athena admired Hephaestus' work. Suddenly Athena smacked her hand against her forehead.

"Oh, no," she exclaimed. "How could we have forgotten? The rain has to be able to melt!"

The others exchanged embarrassed glances, and Zeus hemmed and hawed.

"The shape is so beautiful," Aphrodite said after a minute.

"Athena, you should weave a star-shape like that out of frost," said Zeus.

Everyone agreed that that was a wonderful idea, so Athena went off to weave the star-shape.

She soon returned, holding the flake gently so it wouldn't melt. It was as big as a hand, and very complex.

The others decided that it was just right.

"But you will have to make so many," said Aphrodite. "Won't it be difficult?"

"We shall appoint someone to make them," decreed Zeus. "And these frost-stars will have to be less complicated."

"Make them small, so they don't have to be so intricate," suggested Hephaestus.

And so it was decided. Athena's daughter Desnowus, who was almost as talented at weaving as her mother, was made the goddess of these flakes. We get the name "snow" from the middle of "Desnowus".

As soon as it becomes cold enough for frost, Desnowus begins weaving snowflakes almost all day long. When she has enough, she glides across the sky, sprinkling them over the earth. That is how snow came to be.

My favorite thing about this story is the name Desnowus. Poor Desnowus, saddled with a ridiculous moniker and an even worse job. I bet she would have traded places with Persephone in a heartbeat.

My second favorite thing is Athena's V8 moment, both because it's silly and because it draws the reader's attention to the problem that a failure to melt isn't the only flaw in Hephaestus's creation. If you're brainstorming less harmful precipitation options, I feel like you can cross off "big pointy crystals" before the prototype stage.

My final criticism, or rather, my third favorite thing: I'm sure it didn't even occur to me to consider the likelihood of encountering freezing temperatures in Greece. The Mediterranean climate isn't exactly known for its snowfall, so this is one natural phenomenon those ancient villagers didn't have to worry about. The frigid, snowy summit of Mount Olympus is another story, but I suppose if a bunch of gods lived there, they'd make some adjustments.

In an earlier entry, I shared the writing process promoted in the eighth grade and applauded the emphasis on revision. The worksheet for this assignment offers some excellent techniques for revising and again distinguishes the rewriting/revision stage from the (copy)editing stage:

eighth grade revision tips

Despite these great tips, which I endorse and practice today, this final draft of my myth is nearly identical to the first. But since we saw in the previous eighth grade post that my attempt at a major revision resulted in a less interesting story, maybe that's just as well.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Electric Literature, Matthew Salesses considers racism in fiction: "No novelist thinks herself racist. Yet sometimes I find myself enjoying a novel one moment and then spending the rest of the book reading to see whether the novel's depiction of some character is racist or trying to say something incisive about racism." (Thanks, Andrea Blythe!)

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