Winter’s Tale is a 1983 novel authored by Mark Twain set in a mythic New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. Peter Lake is the main character in the story as the readers follow him from orphan to Bayman, to pickpocket, to housebreaker, to mechanic, and to the allegory of the Jewish Messiah. While on a robbery mission, Peter meets Beverly Penn whom he falls in love with. Although she passed away from a terminal lung disease, she never withdrew from his life. She protected him from Pearly’s men until the very end.
If the novel has a weakness, then it is the frequent thievery motif: Peter and Pearly are criminals, as well as the people they meet. Helprin treats the life of being a criminal as if it adds light to the city. However, in truth, it adds only darkness, as with any type of evil.
Of course, it’s bad to be a criminal. Everyone knows that, and can swear that it’s true. Criminals mess up the world. But they are, as well, retainers of fluidity. In fact, one might make the case that New York would not have shone without its legions of contrary devils polishing the lights of goodness with their inexplicable opposition and resistance (Helprin, 20).
The polishing of the lights that people who practice acts of immorality engage in is with unclean rags, which obscure and block the light. In 1983, the author seemed to be making criminals to be superstars. The practice does not brighten the society, but darkens it with evil behaviors. Maybe, the lionizing of the criminal deeds is of essence for the intention of the book, set in New York City, or it is line with the author’s psyche.
In the book, Helprin, by the use of color, metaphor, and inspiration, demonstrates a very brilliant and creative style of writing. A typical lyrical paragraph from the book illustrates this:
Mouquin’s moved before Beverly’s eyes in a vision suggesting nothing less than a new world, a mute and snowy Russian Easter compressed within the translucent chamber of an alabaster viewing egg, a sort of miniature paradise which, if entered, might be the scene of miracles. She thought, that dancing at Mouquin’s could drive out the disease…and provide a curtain of time and beauty through which she might pass to another side (135).
The words the author uses in this passage, and others within the book, appears to be organic and natural, and as one reads the passage, the creative use of color makes the paragraph itself and the words used therein not to seem as though they are ‘added.’ They appear to be integrally blended to their own meaning, contrary to just illustrating an idea that is insignificant to plot, character, or setting of the story.
The voice that the author uses in this paragraph is somehow lyrical, elevated, and dense that points to the rich literary style of the book and shapes up the clarity of the whole piece of writing. The use of throngs of images and stirring rhetoric evident in the book makes the readers to manifest visually the ideas of the author in their head. After being inspired, the readers then get more involved in reading the book.
In Winter’s Tale, Athansor, the large white horse, which is pictured at the cover of the book, protects Peter from his enemies. He had extraordinary qualities such as he was able to leap in the air and fly when instructed to do so. He also saved characters in the story from death, for example, he rescued Hardesty and Virginia when they were about to drown in the icy water. The following describes one of those instances in the book:
An enormous white horse had come from nowhere, and pulled the mare forward with him as if she were entrapped in a magnetic field. The sleigh hopped onto the ice before Hardesty even knew what was happening, and then they started a wild race. Running in tandem with the stallion, the mare was able to pull the sleigh like a rocket.
The Marrattas bent forward into the cold wind as the two horses, almost an illusion of white and black, attained unnatural speed. The horses were going so fast that they seemed close to shattering the sleigh, which vibrated and rattled until Abby was frightened out of her wits (499).
This is one of the ways that Helprin makes use of magical realism in the book such that the “real” and the “fantastic” are acceptable by the readers as of the same stream of thought. The author’s imagination in portraying this is profuse and at times verbose. This makes the story to have beauty, warmth, and illustrate its shining moments. As illustrated in the above paragraph, the characters in the book cannot be recognized on the street as they are from a more magical realm as created by the author.
There is no end to Helprin’s use of unusual images throughout the novel. He uses beautiful metaphors and similes intended to suspend the reader’s right frame of reference into disbelief. Some examples are given below:
All these things were shaken about within Peter like pots and pans banging about the side of a peddler’s swaybacked horse. The new year was rolling at them as wide and full as a tide racing up the bay, sweeping over old water in an endless coil of ermine cuff (174).
When Beverly joined Peter Lake, it was as if her presence sent darts into Pearly’s flesh, pacifying him with antivenom. But now they were entombed in a nerve dream. A dentist could have worked his wily and expensive arts on them without eliciting the slightest protest (177).
The metaphors and similes are dependant upon context and they relate rightly with the characters, plot, or the setting. Since they are not merely “flowery” or “self-important,” they seem to be referring to something in and of themselves. Therefore, the reader can develop impressive visual images that stir his or her feelings. By drawing the comparisons, Helprin enhances the descriptions that he is giving and thereby leaves no doubt to the reader on what he is trying to convey.
Consequently, the use of images makes the narrative to be incomparable, influential, and majestic. Winter’s Tale, regardless of its sheer length, brings pleasure when reading over every of its enlightening image-filled sentences. The story, centered on a mythic depiction of New York as a kind of a “golden city,” is composed of characters that the author makes to appear to have eloquent epiphanies at each stage of change of scenery.
Helprin, Mark. Winter’s Tale. Orlando: Harcourt, 1983. Print.