Study Guide

Midwinterblood Memory and the Past

By Marcus Sedgwick

Memory and the Past

It's not even as if she is beautiful, not in the way people usually mean. She's more than pretty, that's what he can say, but it's not that that has caught him. It is simply her face, her eyes. The moment he saw them something clicked. He suddenly realized what it was. He recognized her face. As if seeing an old friend, long forgotten, and that triggered something else inside him. A thought that bothered him. (1.3.25)

Eric remembers Merle. But how can that be? They've never met. Oh, Eric—just sit back and relax. You're about to remember a whole lot of things.

Tor. What is it about the man? His eye is a little unsettling, maybe, but Eric knows there's something else. The man has been nothing but helpful, so what is it that makes Eric feel wary of him?

He brings back to mind the thought that bothered him at Tor's house. He recognized Merle's face.

Recognized. But that's not possible, because he has never seen her before. (1.3.31-33)

Ever had a strong reaction to a stranger like this? It's really bothering Eric. There's nothing in his past that would tell him anything about Tor or Merle, but he just has these feelings about them, like he knows them.

They swim together, far out to sea.

They duck under the surface, twisting and turning, hand in hand where they can, and gliding through the deep, Eric's lips brush her neck, just once. Finally they come up for air. And when they do, they do so laughing.

"This is ridiculous!" shouts Eric, and Merle shrugs, and smiles, as if to say, so what?

Eric tries again.

Merle is a few strokes away. He pulls his way over to her, and tries again.

"Have we done this before?"

Merle shrugs again.

"I feel like we've done this before," he says, intently. "But a long time ago. A very long time ago." (1.10.27-35)

Oh, Merle, you're so coy. Swimming in the sea seems familiar because they have done this before—it's in Eric's past (but in the reader's future). These memories just won't be repressed.

Someone has left him a jar of that tea, and he decides the best thing to do is have a drink, to think about whatever it is he's supposed to be thinking about.

He brews the tea, not really noticing that it has a slightly different taste, that it has become a little stronger.

And so he drinks, and the forgetting begins again. (1.10.56-58)

Memory is a powerful thing. Tor wants to block Eric from remembering his past. Why? So he doesn't see the grisly end coming? Or does he just want to stop Eric from making a connection to Merle? Good luck with that, Tor.

Is it this living nightmare, or is it whatever he was forced to drink in his sleep, that triggers a flood of memories, memories from long ago, of other nightmares?

Nightmares that terrified not just him, but his devout and strict parents, too. Blood-soaked dreams that came night after night as a teenager, dreams that upon waking seem more real than the drab surroundings of his mundane room, his gray house, his ever more distant mother and father. His life.

Blood-soaked nightmares. Of another time. Of another place. Another life. (1.12.15-17)

Eric has had hints that his past is more complicated than he realizes—he's dreamed of living other lives, of being other people, of his deaths and sacrifices. His memories are trying to poke through but just can't quite make it out yet.

They have found a pile of stones, the sort of thing that does not seem very exciting to anyone but an archaeologist.

A pile of stones, but a particular sort of pile, a cairn, and Edward knows that it is very likely that there is a find underneath the cairn.

He has seen one before, and he is impatient. But these things have to be done properly. First the last of the soil must be removed from around the stones, and then the stones must be photographed, and drawn on grid paper, and only then will they be able to lift them, and find out for sure if what they have found is what Edward thinks it is: a Viking burial.

He has a doubt. He has a doubt because the cairn is small, much smaller than the burial sites he has seen before. He worked on one once that was vast. Beneath the stones lay the remains of a Viking longboat, most of the wood long rotted away, but obvious to the expert eye, nevertheless. (2.5.20-23)

Edward is an archeologist so his whole career is basically rooted in the past. Here he's carefully uncovering memories of another time, trying to piece together what has happened. But of course, the real story is much more complicated and freaky than he can imagine.

"This is a story from the island itself," Laura said. "It's hundreds of years old, no one knows exactly. But everything I tell you is just as it happened."

It is an old story, one of love—forbidden love! And tragedy. (5.2.1-2)

The past meets the present. "Laura" tells a story from way in the past, but she knows the details because she lived it—these are actually her memories. The past won't stay there. It just keeps coming up.

I am old now.

I am old now, and the things that happened under the weak light of the snow moon when I was a little girl have drifted far downstream. And yet, when I close my eyes, I see it all before me, once more.

Maybe there are things I have forgotten.

Maybe there are some things, things that have passed from my memory, and now exist nowhere. I am the oldest of the clan, and when I die, my memories will die with me, unless I have passed them on to the memory of others, through story.

So I have. I have told many stories in my life, and those stories that I have told, well, they will live on in the younger ones.

But there are some stories I have never told.

There is one story, one story…

There is one story, which some people know a little of, but of which only I know the whole truth, and I will take that truth with me to whatever it is that lies in wait for us, when we close our eyes for the last time. (6.1.1-8)

Stories are powerful things, and some of the best stories are nothing more than someone's memory. Melle understands the importance of passing on her memories as stories. If she doesn't the tale will die with her and stay trapped in the past. Why do you think Melle has never told this story before now?

Eirikr looks at his queen for the last time, and from all the thousands of memories of their time together, just one drifts into his mind; an image of them bathing together in the summer, at the south of the island. They used to spend as long as they could underwater, sleek like seals, before rising to the surface, gasping, and laughing. (7.2.41)

And this is where Eric Seven's little swimming memory comes from. As King Eirikr waits for death, he remembers all the happiness and love he felt in this moment with his wife. Thousands of memories and this is the one that comes to his mind, so it must have been a good one. It's fitting that Eric Seven would start to remember as he relives it.

"Merle. Understand. Remember the sea…"

She does understand, she senses it, too. Her tears and her trembling cease, and calm enters her blood.

She knows that they both believe the same thing, that if a life can be ruined in a single moment, a moment of betrayal, or violence, or ill luck, then why can a life not also be saved, be worth living, be made, by just a few pure moments of perfection?

She shuts her eyes, and dreams of swimming with him.

Immediately, the rest of the world drops away. (7.5.44-48)

In the end, it's memories that unite Eric and Merle. They've lived through a whole lot of tragedy, but also a whole lot of joy, and as they die, they focus on these perfect moments. Even though their pasts are full of sadness, in this moment, they find happiness in remembering all the good times. Aw.

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