The Giant Under the Snow

I learned about John Gordon and The Giant Under the Snow through a Facebook group about Alan Garner, and I'm amazed that I had never heard of this book or this author before, because it is very much my cup of tea. First published in 1968, The Giant Under the Snow follows three children who discover a huge mysterious figure in the woods, with an ageless guardian figure called Elizabeth Goodenough who watches over him. Soon the three friends, Bill, Arf and Jonk (short for Jonquil, which I adore!) are being pursued by a sinister warlord and a terrifying black dog, along with the creepy faceless 'leathermen.'

The Giant Under the Snow is light on plot (it's basically a chase story) but thick on atmosphere. Elizabeth gives the children small backpacks which enable them to fly, and the flying scenes are detailed and evocative, as the three learn to control their new gift and fly over the darkened snowy landscape by night. It reminded me of Penelope Farmer's The Summer Birds, published a few years earlier, and also Alan Garner's Elidor (1965), where the children also become guardians of precious relics. Giant and Elidor both feature the half-demolished streetscapes of slum clearances, a spooky setting for a world between myth and the everyday.

This book slots in very comfortably with other 1960s authors like Penelope Lively who were also exploring deep history and myth. Gordon also wrote The House on the Brink which also deals with an Arthurian figure, so I'm intrigued to track that one down, too.


  1. I bought this as an e-book earlier in the year. Like you, Kate, I thought it was light on plot but I found it thrilling and imaginative and - yes - just my cup of tea. For some reason (Australia? summer? heat?) I love reading books with a wintry, snowy setting. Like John Masefield's The Box of Delights. And despite being Australian, I can't resist British deep history and myth. Much as I admired Patricia Wrightson's attempts at incorporating an invented Australian element to this kind of fantasy, for many, many reasons I could not be comfortable (or get published!) doing it.

  2. I thought this was a very 'you' book! Yes, there is something magical (in every sense) about a snowy setting -- I think my favourite snowy books are The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and The Dark is Rising.