We have reached the end of week 1 in our community wide readalong of Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People. We will be reading The Winter People through June 2 so you still have time to jump in and join us. (Check the full readalong schedule for all of the details.)
We are very excited to welcome Audra as our guest host for the readalong. Be sure to check out and follow her Instagram at Ouija & Audra.
Please be aware this week’s discussion post will contain spoilers for our first section of the readalong.
The Ladies of Horror Fiction team has come up with some discussion questions, and we’d love to hear your thoughts as well!
1. Why do you think so many books involving young kids feature creepy dolls?
Lilyn: Because it’s easy and dolls are naturally creepy but why are there never evil Barbies?!
Cat: I think it’s the uncanny valley, which is common among adults. It’s an interesting subject: that humanoid objects that are realistic but not perfect elicit feelings of discomfort. Children themselves can fall into this as well, as they’re not fully developed human beings, and that’s possibly the reason so many people find them creepy. I don’t experience these reactions personally, but my partner can’t handle lifelike dolls, mannequins, etc.
Tracy: I think the animation of things that cannot possibly have life is fascinating and deeply unsettling. Think Chucky, Annabelle, voodoo dolls (as portrayed in horror). Just another factor of the unknown to get hearts racing. Also the corruption of innocence is a true horror – what better way to portray something that can affect any child.
Toni: Dolls are normally object that children associate with comfort and safety. By making dolls creepy or evil the author is allowing the evil to get close to a child without adults being aware.
Bark: Kids and creepy dolls go together like PB&J and it’s an easy way to feed a kid info if the object is haunted (and, oooh, I hope it is!).
Audra: Kids are more open to the idea of the supernatural, and when strange things happen to them, they are more likely to accept it rather than be afraid. To be honest, I’ve never really understood the idea of dolls—little fake people you can carry around? But they can be comforting to children—a friend when there isn’t anyone around, someone who always wants to do what you want to do, someone you can tell all your secrets to, someone who is there in the night when you wake up in the dark. Filled up with all our thoughts and dreams like that, how could they not come off as a bit powerful and creepy?
Alex: I think dolls represent a form of natural innocence so we can be uneasy around them and its not natural for them to be evil.
2. Who do you think the woman is with the gray braid that Katherine’s husband met before he died?
Cat: I believe it was Ruthie’s mother, as the braided hair was mentioned more than once. “… pictured her mother looking at her over the tops of her drugstore reading glasses, her gray hair pulled back in a braid…” As for the connection between them both, I have no clue.
Tracy: The woman with the grey braid has to be the girls’ mom.
Toni: It is totally Ruthie’s mom.
Bark: No idea but maybe a relation to people who live in the haunted house?
Audra: I think the woman with the gray braid is definitely Ruthie and Fawn’s mom—that would connect their story to Katherine’s. The more interesting question is, what is Katherine’s husband’s connection to her and why was it such a secret?
Alex: The girls’ mom!
3. Do you think the winter people are good or evil?
Lilyn: Chaotic neutral!
Cat: I have my speculation, and I don’t think either description fits them. Good and evil suggests they have very specific intentions, but I think these beings fall into a grey area. Neutral, if I had to define it. It may depend upon if you keep them happy.
Toni: I have no clue. I don’t think that we are going to know until further into the story.
Bark: I think they are probably angry/unsettled spirits that have unfinished business or zombies who have been Pet Sematary’d
Audra: They definitely feel . . . unsettled to me. They are in a place where they don’t belong and there is going to be some disquiet around that. Thought it seems the intention for their return is good, can we be sure of the intention of the winter people themselves? As Jud is wont to say: “Sometimes, dead is better.”
Alex: I think they are good (mostly) but may have a rotten apple in the bunch be uneasy around them and its not natural for them to be evil.
4. Do the winter people have anything to do with the disappearances?
Lilyn: Zombies always are responsible for someone “disappearing”.
Cat: Yes. If I had to guess, they probably steal people when they’re not happy, or something along those lines. Maybe it has something to do with the “gifts” people would leave on their doorsteps. “… everyone in the village started leaving gifts out on their porches for her…”
Tracy: I think they definitely do. My theory is that grey braid mom has to sacrifice people to them to keep herself and her children safe. When she failed this last time, she disappeared.
Toni: So, my horror brain is saying yes, they are stealing all the people. But you never know with the twists and turns that a story can take.
Bark: Ask me next week 😂
Audra: I think they have to be connected, but I’m just not sure how yet.
Alex: I think the winter people are maybe collecting people? For some bigger agenda?
5. Where is the bone ring now? Do you think it plays a significant role in the present?
Lilyn: Dunno where it is now, but yeah probably. Evil dolls and evil jewelry! Horror tropes ftw!
Cat: In Katherine’s possession, as far as I remember. I think it holds a great deal of significance, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Tracy: I think the ring is sewn into the doll mwhahahaha
Toni: I think Katherine’s husband had it. Personally I think that it helped protect Sara’s family when Auntie wore it but at some point became cursed.
Bark: I think so. It’s probably in the doll, animating it m. I think that because someone put that thought in my head and it will not leave! It definitely has some significance to the story.
Audra: First it was Auntie’s, then Martin found it and tried to give it to Sara who told him to bury it, but he lost it. Next it turns up with Katherine—but how? We’ll have to wait to find out!
Alex: I think the ring IS THE KEY TO IT ALL
Here are some of our favorite quotes from this first section of The Winter People:
The first time I saw a sleeper, I was nine years old.
If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?
I couldn’t take my eyes off the casket. Just the right size for a girl like me.
The fox looked at him; suddenly for two whole seconds, it wasn’t the animal’s eyes that gazed dispassionately at him, but Sara’s.
Mimi and me don’t go in the woods. Not ever. We don’t want to get eaten.
Do you have any favorite quotes from this section? We would love for you to share them!
We are so happy you are joining us for the readalong! And a special thanks to Audra for helping us host this month! Let us know your thoughts on this section in the comments and be sure to hashtag us on social media at #LOHFReadalong so we can join in and share!