Song Analysis

Winter’s Carol

Tuesday 16 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

"Winter’s Carol" has originally been written by Tori for her musical The Light Princess, in which it appears as a three-part song sung by the cast. But in 2009, she recorded the song with her band and included it on her first seasonal record, Midwinter Graces.

The song focuses on the Celtic folklore of the winter solstice and makes references to the Holly King and Summer Queen. Actually, Tori mingled three different Celtic tales related to this Pagan celebration.

The holly is a Pagan fertility symbol because it stays green all winter and thus symbolizes life in the middle of darkness. In Pagan folklore, the Holly King represents one half of the year and the winter solstice (called Yule in Ireland in ancient times) symbolizes his reign. As the summer draws closer, he weakens and cedes his throne to his counterpart, the Oak King. Also, Celtic folkore accounts the sun to be born of a trinity. Each one of these incarnations of the sun tries to kill the next one and symbolizes the cycle of seasons through the marriage of the Earth (Britta) to the sun. The period between the marriage of the Earth and the Sun lasts approximately nine months.

At last, a third legend is that of the May Queen and her counterpart the Queen of Winter. The May Queen symbolizes the Great Mother or Mother Earth : she’s fertile and makes the nature blossom. The more the summer draws closer, the more she makes everything blossom. When the fall approaches, she disappears and cedes her throne to the Queen of Winter, often seen as a crone, an old woman who bring darkness and cold weather. When Beltane (the Celtic celebration of the month of May) arrives each year, the two queens battle and the May Queen sends off her rival for another six months.

In "Winter’s Carol," the Holly King doesn’t battle the Oak King but instead marries the Summer Queen, which is the equivalent of both the Earth (Britta) and the May Queen. The Holly King reigns in winter but the Summer Queen will soon ascend "with the sun." The Holly King and the Summer Queen have a "final kiss" because midwinter occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year. From this point on, the days shorten and the sun retires ‘in darkness,’ so to speak, it is the peak of the winter season and in Pagan folklore, the year is considered as reborn.

Also, in Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses could meet on the winter and summer solstice and this point survived in Celtic mythology. Tori’s song tells how the Summer Queen passes the torch to the Holly King before he does the same at the approach of summer. The lyrics also refer to a bunch of other evergreens (trees and plants which remain green throughout the winter) : pine, oak and yew.

Though it is hard to comment the song in relation to The Light Princess since it hasn’t yet debuted on the London stage, we know the story revolves around a lake to which the princess is bound to by a spell cast by her evil aunt (who will be missing from Tori’s musical) and that made her free from gravity, water being the only thing able to ground her. Considering the lyrics, it seems more than likely the passing of seasons around the lake will be important to at least a part of the musical’s narrative. And since Tori cut the song in three parts for the musical, we can make the hypothesis the narrative covers at least a whole year and two winter solstices. We’ll just have to wait and see to verify this.

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