Christmas Reads: ‘The Polar Express’ by Chris van Allsburg

By Georgia Bower

‘The Polar Express’ presents a Christmas-themed paradise experienced by a boy in awe of a Christmas miracle unfolding before his eyes. Published in 1985, it is a classic children’s fantasy book written by narrator and illustrator, Chris van Allsburg. ‘The Polar Express’ was later adapted into a successful film in 2004. With the help of van Allsburg’s artistic eye as an illustrator, his narrative vividly depicts the boy’s surroundings through compelling imagery centred around wintry themes. The majestic Polar Express is personified and portrayed as powerful; it embarks on a journey through the wilderness to find true believers. The Polar Express is described as, “wrapped in an apron of steam,” the imagery of which adds to the mysterious, magical feel of the book. Descriptions of the delicious draw in the reader, such as the “hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.”

The voice at the heart of the book is that of a faithful believer in Santa Claus. There is a reassuring element, a certain warmth to the boy’s unwavering, glowing festive spirit. The first-person narration develops a personal feel which evokes the reader’s hope for the boy’s wish to hear Christmas to be fulfilled. The fantastical is blended with reality when the boy returns home with the special silver bell from Santa. This moment seems to be tangible proof that the incredible adventure did indeed occur.

‘The Polar Express’ begins and ends with the motif of the sound of Christmas, tying the narrative together into a neat bow adorning this gift of a book. It is this intriguing notion of the sound of Christmas that stands out to me as the core strength of the narrative, making it unique. There is a sense of camaraderie associated with hearing it, as though the knowledge that Santa is real is a special secret. The book aims to inspire children to resolutely believe in Santa, similar to the protagonist, by attuning their ears to the sound of Christmas and holding on tightly to their metaphorical silver bells forever.

Photograph (edited to add text): Peter Shanks via Flickr

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