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Meditation on The Polar Express (Mary Galbraith)

In terms of its dominant visual allusions, Chris Van Allsburg’s Caldecott-winning picture book The Polar Express can be summarized as “Rene Magritte journeys to Nuremberg to meet Adolf Hitler”. The sleigh bell that provides the book’s overall thematic thread recalls the mysterious sleigh bell motif found in dozens of Magritte paintings, and the 1930s black steam locomotive intruding into a suburban space evokes Magritte’s famous image in Durée Poignardée (Time Transfixed)1 (see above, right). Even more startling in a child’s picture book, the North Pole scenes in The Polar Express reenact Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 film about Hitler, Triumph of the Will. Yet according to most reviews of the book since its 1985 publication, The Polar Express is a heartwarming and magical story of faith.

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