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Comic Book / The Snowman

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"I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day... and it was on that day I made The Snowman."
Raymond Briggs, author

In 1978, English illustrator and artist Raymond Briggs drew a wordless Graphic Novel about a Snowman who comes to life at Christmas titled simply The Snowman. In 1982, it was adapted to a 26-minute animated film for the then-fledgling Channel 4, and became an instant Christmas classic and the favourite Christmas Special for many Britons. It is now shown on Channel 4 every Christmas.note 

The plot is simple: a young boy (officially named James) awakens on Christmas Eve (or possibly New Year's Eve, the dialog free nature makes it hard to tell) to find a thick blanket of snow on the ground around his countryside home. He decides to build a Snowman which comes to life that night when he wakes up in the night (his parents remain slumbering).


After several escapades, including a memorable motorcycle/car ride around the local fields the Snowman reveals another special ability when he flies the boy to the a snow covered northern forest, with the song "Walking in the Air" playing in the background. There, Father Christmas and a large group of other living Snowmen and Snow-women are having a party. Father Christmas gives the boy the gift of a blue scarf with snowmen on it. Then the Snowman flies the boy home. They part ways when the boy goes back to bed and the Snowman remains standing in the garden.

Come the morning, the boy rushes downstairs to bright sunlight, and hurries to greet his new friend in the garden. However, when he gets to the garden, all that remains is a pile of melted snow and a collection of coal and old clothes. The boy wonders if he dreamt it all but then finds the scarf from Father Christmas in his dressing gown pocket, and breaks down in tears... As does the audience.


Most famous for the song "Walking in the Air", which many a choir (and even Heavy Mithril band Nightwish) has sung at some point.

In 1991, a companion film based on Father Christmas was made based on Brigg's other Christmas piece, both James and the Snowman make a cameo.

30 years later, a sequel, The Snowman and the Snowdog, aired 24 December 2012 on Channel 4. It follows Billy, who has moved with his mother into the house that James used to live in. At Christmas, he writes to Father Christmas, saying the only thing he wants that year is a new dog to replace his old one that had recently died. In the process, he winds up finding a picture of James and the snowman, and decides to build both him and a snow-dog, who both come to life the next morning.

Not to be confused with the unrelated 2017 film, or living snowmen in general.


  • Cool Bike: The one the snowman and the boy take for a midnight ride.
  • Dances and Balls: Father Christmas hosts a large party for international snowmen.
  • Dark Reprise: "Walking In The Air" is heard after the snowman's death.
  • Digital Destruction: In 2002 it was "restored"... by being cropped from 4:3 to 16:9. The vandalized version was broadcast every year up to and including 2012. In 2013 they reverted to the old version.
  • Fish out of Water: The snowman is introduced to various facets of human life by the boy; mostly played for smiles.
  • Flight: The snowman can fly, and takes the boy with him to the North Pole.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • If you look closely, there is a moment when the snowman is flying the boy home, where he looks off to the East (where he can see the sun rising), and looks back forwards with a grim expression... as though he knows what is coming...
    • When the boy rushes downstairs the morning after flying around with the snowman, the look on the parents' faces say that they know the snowman has already melted, and that the boy will be devastated when he finds out.
  • Mood Whiplash: After the lighthearted sequence of the boy and the Snowman visiting Father Christmas, the boy excitedly runs outside to find the snowman... only to find out that the snowman melted overnight, leaving the boy to grieve his friend's passing.
  • No Name Given: The boy in the novel. In the film, his gift from Father Christmas identifies him as "James".
  • Or Was It a Dream?: No, it was not.
  • Polar Bears and Penguins: The "Walking in the Air" sequence showed a pair of penguins living near the North Pole.
  • Santa Claus: Though the sequel identifies him by the more 'British' name of Father Christmas.
  • Scenery Porn: The flying sequence.
  • Silence Is Golden: There is no dialogue from any character, but not that it really need any.
  • Snowlems: The titular snowman can walk, as do the other snowmen.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: The sweet and whimsical story ends with the snowman melting.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The scarf from Father Christmas.

Tropes found in the animated short:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Many scenes were added to the film that weren't in the Graphic Novel.
  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: Both the Raymond Briggs intro and the David Bowie intro imply that the boy in the story is their younger self.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Returning South from the North Pole, James and the Snowman fly over what is recognisably Brighton Pavilion, which is close to Raymond Briggs' home in East Sussex but being on the South coast is not on a route between anywhere in Great Britain and the North Pole. Especially as they approach it from the sea.
  • Christmas Special: Britain's most popular, where it is far more famous than the similarly themed Frosty the Snowman.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Nominated for an Academy Award.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The Snowman sees the sun rising in the east, and knows that he will inevitably melt away when it comes. Knowing of his impending death, he is not afraid, but hugs the boy goodbye and peacefully waits for his fate - with a beatific smile on his face.
  • Leit Motif: As the cartoon is mostly mime and music, the music closely matches what is happening visually.
  • Medium Blending: Starts off with a live-action shot of Raymond Briggs reading the opening text (seen at the top of this page) before switching to the animation.
  • Mime and Music-Only Cartoon: Except for the brief opening narration, and the song "Walking in the Air".
  • Narrator: Via a brief live-action prologue. It's Raymond Briggs in the original broadcast, David Bowie in subsequent rereleases. (The latter was what Americans saw when HBO ran it annually in The '80s, but all VHS and DVD versions use the original intro.) The 20th anniversary release featured an animated intro with Father Christmas (voice by Mel Smith) recounting how he met the boy.
  • No More for Me: A reveler on a cruise ship sees the boy and the Snowman flying by and decides he's had too much champagne.

Tropes found in The Snowman and the Snowdog:

  • Bittersweet Ending: The sequel's ending is a little more uplifting than the original; the snowdog, that was made in the memory of the boy's recently deceased dog, becomes a real dog thanks to the gift from Father Christmas. However the snowman has melted come morning, just like in the original, and never comes back.
  • Polar Bears and Penguins: Played with again with the downhill sled race against a skiing penguin.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The Snowdog. He's adorable!
  • Or Was It a Dream?: After the Snowdog's transformation into a real dog, the boy took it in... only to see it missing when he wakes up. He ran downstairs in a panic, and - to his relief - found it at the back door wanting to go outside.


Video Example(s):


The Snowman

The sweet and whimsical story ends with the snowman melting...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / SuddenDownerEnding

Media sources:

Main / SuddenDownerEnding