Study Guide

Midwinterblood Visions of Blessed Island

By Marcus Sedgwick

Visions of Blessed Island

He is overwhelmed by the beauty of the island.

His bedroom window looks to the south and to the east. Below him is another small slice of heaven. Pretty colored houses, little lanes, tall birches swaying in a gentle wind, and everywhere flowers.

Flowers.

People are walking in the lanes, they call to each other, and pause to chat at the tiny toy-town intersections. From somewhere he cannot see he can hear music. And singing. It sounds like a dozen voices, a haunting, conflicting yet beautiful melody, to a simple accompaniment of a guitar and accordion. He strains to catch the words, but they are blown away.

The sky overhead is blue, and everywhere there are flowers. (1.4.7-11)

This place is like paradise. Who wouldn't love it here? But this picture of beauty has some ominous tones, too. The flowers are everywhere, almost like they're closing in on Eric. (And wasn't he supposing to be investigating something about flowers? Huh. Guess he'll do it tomorrow.) And don't even get us started on the haunting voices singing—creepy.

"I'm sorry," he says, "it's just that the rest of the world is different from here. People aren't so thoughtful. So generous. It's all rush-rush, no time for please and thank you. It's…"

"I understand," Merle says. "It's different." (1.7.15-16)

Oh, Merle, what an understatement. Yeah, they do things a little bit differently on Blessed Island, but Eric's about to find out just how behind the times they are very soon.

That one had two halves, a very distinct shape, like the two wings of a butterfly, though the western half slightly smaller, giving it a lopsided look. The two halves were joined by a narrow strip of land.

Eric looks at the paper map in his hand. Only the eastern half of the island is printed. Half the island is missing.

Now why, he thinks, would they print a map of only half the island?

That would be stupid. Unless, unless, unless you wanted to keep half of it secret. (1.8.9-12)

Eric's map has some secrets. Interesting. Sedgwick said he modeled Blessed Island off a small island in Sweden named Brännö. Do you notice the same butterfly shape that Eric is describing on this map?

He is halfway up the short but ridiculously steep hill when he stops, for two reasons. First, the slope is just too steep to cycle up, even standing on the pedals in lowest gear. His thighs scream at him to stop, but there's something else. This exertion on the bike makes him think about the cycling he has done so far that day.

He remembers freewheeling all the way to the quay. And then he remembers coming back again, but he can't remember cycling very hard to do so. In fact, he's pretty sure he freewheeled much of the way back. If not all the way. He thinks about all the other places he's been to and now that he comes to think of it, he cannot remember actually having to push the pedals at all, anywhere, not until he came to this ludicrous hill. It doesn't make sense, and for a second he wonders if this is all some extended dream. (1.9.1-2)

This is probably the weirdest description involving the island. Not only is this place a little out of the ordinary, it also seems to have a mind of its own. Is it possible that the island doesn't want Eric to find out its secrets? Is it slanting its hills to make biking easier or more difficult depending on what you're doing?

Within moments he discovers the first secret of the western half of Blessed. The flowers.

He sees just one at first, then a couple. He stumbles on and sees a dozen more, and then, turning a corner in the rocks, hundreds. Thousands.

He knows it must be the Little Blessed dragon orchid. It is as mysterious as its name. A tall stem, with odd, curly star-shaped leaves clinging to it, and the flower itself, a dark purple-black thing, weirdly contorted. He looks closely, and can indeed imagine that it is a dragon's head; there are even little bumps on the upper petal that look like horns, and a long black tongue protrudes from the mouth of the upper and lower petals, like that of a dragon, black with poison and evil.

He goes to pick one, but something stays his hand. Even the scent of the flowers makes his senses swim, and he stands up, deciding to move on. (1.13.18-21)

And here's the famous flower that Eric has been looking for. Again, the description of this beautiful site is also a little menacing—at first Eric only sees a few flowers, then thousands appear. These guys look like dangerous characters, too. The creepy colors and shape are a warning sign; Eric is probably smart to keep his hands off.

"We do things differently here," he'd said. "What need have I of money? We have enough to cover our costs, and you are welcome visitors to our island. That is enough for us. We are always glad of visitors. Our little population has been dropping, you see. We used to be so many more, but not many babies are born on Blessed now." (2.3.4)

More of the whole doing-things-differently bit. Interestingly, though, in 2011, the island does get some visitors, but by 2073, tourism has totally dropped off. Oh, and there aren't babies being born. That's not weird at all, right?

It's an extraordinary place, Edward has decided, and he wonders if it's the sort of place he'd like to retire to one day. Maybe not. It might be a bit too simple, too quiet, even for his taste.

There's always something a little odd about remote places, he thinks. That sense that things happen differently. That's all it is, though earlier that day, a man began to cut the hay in the meadow, not with a tractor and swather, but with a scythe, as if this were 1911, not 2011.

And then there's the sun being up when it should be in bed. That would really mess with his sleep, and presumably it means in the winter it's perpetually dark, in return. That, he knows, he would not like. (2.3.6-8)

Edward, like Eric, admires Blessed Island, but also sees the creepiness that's right in front of his face. Sure, it's lovely there, but it's a bit backward, too. The image of the man swinging the scythe in the fields reminds us of the Grim Reaper coming to collect the dead. And the whole sunshine thing is clearly messed up. The normal cycles of time are a little off at this place.

If he had been God (though he's very glad he's not) and he were designing an island, Blessed is just what he would have drawn. It has two large natural harbors, one at each end of the island, and many other smaller ones around its shoreline. It has a high ridge of hills to the west, a lower one to the east, between them is a valley, which flattens out into the meadow where they are digging—a natural safe haven, and one that the Vikings used in the wintertime. (2.4.6)

Here's a lovely bit of description and foreshadowing. When Melle and Eirik's father returns from his Viking journey in the 10th century, the whole village pulls the boats onto the very meadow that Edward is digging on.

"What do you mean by 'my war'? The enemy…"

"The enemy? There are two sides fighting in this war, are there not? But yes, though we said we will not take part, we have your enemy on our soil anyway. They should not be here, but there are reports of them all along the coast. And they hunt for the enemy soldiers. For airmen whose airplanes have crashed. Just like you. And they will come looking for you, and then your war will come here, to Blest Island." (3.6.31-32)

Obviously, the folks on Blessed Island are pacifists—if the island is part of Sweden, then it would have been officially neutral throughout World War II. Erik recognizes one truth, though: The islanders might not want any part of the conflict, but they can't keep the war and the outside world out completely.

To the side of the house sat a beautiful orchard of apple trees and some pear trees. The grass of the orchard was overgrown, almost touching the boughs in places. Here and there enormous weighty clusters of mistletoe, Baldur's bane, clung to the treetops.

The orchard was heavy, ripe and bursting to deliver. Merle's mouth hung open—she had never seen trees with so much fruit on them before. They hung with clusters of apples, their branches pulled low by the weight. (4.4.15-16)

Eric Carlsson's apple orchard on the western half of Blessed Island really is a sight to behold. Forgive us if we remember another famous fruit tree that held equal temptation: the one in the Garden of Eden. Of course, here we don't have just one tree; there's a whole orchard. And little Merle just can't resist going in to explore.

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