“Dusk at the end of winter, and two men crossed the dooryard of a palace scarred by fire.”First line in The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
It’s time for my final post about the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. I’ve been rereading the entire trilogy, and this post is me answering some of the questions from the Reader’s Guide at the back of my edition of The Winter of the Witch. If you missed the first two posts, remember to check out my discussions of The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower.
As this is an in-depth discussion of the trilogy, there are obviously going to be MASSIVE SPOILERS so make sure you’ve read all three books before proceeding.
Sacrifice plays an important role in The Winter of the Witch. We see Morozko sacrifice himself for Vasya, Vasya sacrifice herself for her family, Solovey sacrifice himself for Vasya, Sasha sacrifice himself for Russia, Konstantin sacrifice himself for spite, and so on. What do you think the author is saying about the significance of sacrifice?
Well, she’s probably saying that sacrifices are necessary and that they aren’t all bad. In a book that revolves around Christianity, there’s also a biblical interpretation to put on all those sacrifices. The whole idea from that is that one person sacrificing himself will save everyone else, which I think is especially relevant in regards to Sasha’s and Konstantin’s sacrifices, also because they’re the only ones who actually die from their sacrifices. Out of the examples, they’re also the ones who represent Christianity, and maybe that’s a point Arden wanted to make? They embody their faith in that way as they fight against evil, showing the religion’s worth. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s possible at least.
Discuss the ways in which Vasya and Morozko’s relationship has changed over the course of the Winternight Trilogy. What are the roles they have held in each other’s lives, and where do they stand now?
Well, from Vasya’s perspective, her relationship with Morozko is at first based on him being this powerful force in fairy tales meant to moralize children. Morozko’s relationship with Vasya, on the other hand, starts with him intending to use her to gain his strength. There was very clearly a power imbalance there, and I think it’s this balance in their relationship we see tip back and forth throughout the trilogy. Like in The Girl in the Tower, where we see Vasya become more at ease around Morozko (enough so that they kiss!) but he still plays the role of rescuer. Whenever Vasya is in trouble, she calls Morozko as if she had him on speed dial. That still places most of the power with Morozko, although Vasya is the one commanding him. She’s only doing so because she can’t solve the problems herself like we see her doing in The Winter of the Witch. That’s not something to build a relationship on, which they also both realize.
In the final book, we finally see them become equals. Vasya starts the book by fending for herself because Morozko is gone, and that was very healthy for her development. The whole book is also just Morozko being weak and having to rely on Vasya so their roles switch. Vasya becomes the rescuer and takes some power for herself that isn’t dependent on Morozko, so they no longer have that power imbalance. Now they are just two individual, magical beings who love each other.
Why do you think Konstantine is so obsessed with eliminating Vasya? Do you think his fixation on her is a result of hatred or passion? Is there a difference?
In Konstantine’s case, there is no difference between hatred and passion when it comes to Vasya. He’s a priest so he isn’t allowed to have such feelings for Vasya, and he knows this! Instead of blaming himself, he turns his frustration and hatred on Vasya because surely, SHE is the one bewitching him. Looking at his feelings as a “fault” of his own would have him questioning himself and his entire belief system, and he hates Vasya for making him doubt. It’s actually a trope I really love, especially when we get the priest’s POV, and as I read it for the first time, I was also constantly thinking of the similar scenario in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I love that movie.
How does the loss of Solovey impact Vasya? Did she need to suffer this loss in order to fulfill her destiny? How do you feel about his return? Did it seem too convenient? Was it necessary?
Yes, Vasya did need to suffer this loss. She needed to stand on her own completely to realize her own power, and I also don’t think she would have gotten through to Pozhar if she already had Solovey. And about his return? It definitely wasn’t “necessary”, and it’s not a thing I would have missed if it didn’t happen. They were at war. Sacrifices are made. But then since Sasha also died, I’m okay with Solovey coming back. I think what I’m trying to say is that I was very indifferent about it (please don’t hate me, Naemi).
At one point it is said, “Medved’s great gift is disorder, and his tools are fear and mistrust… Until he is bound, you cannot trust anyone.” How does Vasya earn the trust of the many chyerti and people she encounters? Is there a key to how she wins them over to her side in spite of the chaotic atmosphere Medved has created?
First of all, I think Vasya appears very humble and respectful when she deals with the chyerti, and that is always a good strategy if you want to make a connection with someone. Second of all, I also think this quote above is very important. We’re told that one of Medved’s tools is mistrust and that Vasya therefore can’t trust anyone, but isn’t that exactly what she should? Her not trusting people would just help Medved, so she meets people and chyerti with trust and fearlessness. We see her trusting Pozhar and Ded Grib (a.k.a. the superior character of this book) to lead her, and while I don’t think she purposefully does that to counteract Medved, I think it’s why she succeeds in the end.
Do you think Konstantin is warped by Medved, or was he already corrupt and therefore an easy target for the Bear’s puppetry? By the end of the trilogy, do you think Konstantin is more of a villain or a victim?
I talked about this quite extensively in my discussion for The Bear and the Nightingale, so it’s a very appropriate question to use as a sort of conclusion to that debate. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Konstantin is warped by Medved and that’s what transformed him into this villain we see especially in this book. However, he also has certain qualities that drew Medved to him, and because of those, I doubt him being considered “a good person” was ever an option, even if Medved hadn’t found him. He’s too proud and too vain, which are undesirable traits, sure, but not traits that make someone worthy of the label of villain.
Then we could also talk about the choices he makes because it’s your choices that make you who you are, right? And that is where you can see a little bit of that victim role because he’s not able to make his own choices free of manipulation. Sure, a person with a stronger psyche could resist Medved but that is not who Konstantin is. He still ends up breaking free in the end and realizes he’s being used, and he makes the choice to do something about it. So I’ll admit that Konstantin was a villain, but I’d much rather just call him weak.
So that was the last of my posts where I discuss the Winternight Trilogy, and I hoped you enjoyed reading them. Writing them definitely only affirmed my love for this trilogy. What do you think of this final book? What are your thoughts on Konstantin: Villain or victim? Let me know all your thoughts about this book in the comments!