Moving from picture book format to a chapter book, Morpurgo has lovingly elaborated on Briggs’ original story. But how did the concept to retell such a renowned adventure come about?
‘I got this invitation, and it was an invitation to retell as a novel The Snowman, as part of the 40th anniversary. My first reaction was: “this is absurd. This is an iconic book, don’t touch it.” But then I thought that, actually, it’s rather a wonderful idea, as this is a book that began just with pictures, and I’ve been asked to write it as a novel of fifteen to twenty thousand words.’
Adapting such an iconic book was undoubtedly a daunting task, but Morpurgo decided to look no further than the original for inspiration: ‘I looked at the original with no words, and realised that it was asking if you like, for a new look at it.’
He continues, ‘Those people who have books in their houses - I would say almost all of them - have grown up with The Snowman in their head. I had to be careful because I knew that you could spoil that, you could trample on it in some way or other.’
For Morpurgo, it was crucial that he had Briggs’ seal of approval. ‘It was important that Raymond Briggs liked the idea, which I believe he does. Then I sat down and thought, “Well, I’ll do this.”’
The new tale features the original characters but brings them to a new and older audience. Morpurgo has added some new elements too because he wanted to expand on the original.
‘I had to reinvent where it is set. My version of Mr Raymond Briggs’ story happens on my farm in Devon, on a snowy Christmas. I invent one or two other characters – not to fill it out, but because I wanted to tell a broader story. Not deeper – I don’t think it could get any deeper than the way Raymond did it.’
It was important to put his personal stamp on the novel, says Michael. ‘I’ve told it my way, and I’ve loved doing it. I’ve taken James, the boy in the story, on his adventure which you know, but the adventure isn’t exactly the same as you remember. You will get to know James’ family much better and the place that he lives.’
While the tale is festive and full of charm, it’s not without emotion, and Morpurgo was reminded of this while working on the project. ‘I sat down as Raymond did all those years ago and experienced the story that he invented from nothing. A story that feels simply so happy and so Christmassy but is in fact of course about a child who feels very alone in the world and who invents a friend and has this extraordinary adventure with this friend, imaginary or not. And then the friend goes; and it’s not just any old friend, it’s the friend who he loves dearly.’
Retelling The Snowman wasn’t without its challenges, but Morpurgo clearly enjoyed the experience. ‘When you write a story you get to know the people you’re writing about, and I’ve got to know this snowman and I’ve come to love him. My respect, admiration, and affection for the story grew all the time as I was writing.’
Michael’s evocative and heartfelt writing, combined with Raymond’s original idea, makes this new storybook one that families will want to read together over the festive season. And it’s already left its mark on one reader - actor Colin Firth. ‘Somehow, Michael Morpurgo makes Briggs’ story come true. It’s a delightful magic trick. It has all the wonder of reading The Snowman for the first time.’