Spectres and sentiment

The Signal-man: because nothing says Christmas like haunting and death…

Dear Charlie,

Whoever compiled the second volume of your Christmas Stories evidently heard last week’s rant, because the stories so far have been a) more complete (although there’s still content missing, especially from Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgers) and b) actually include content NOT written by your fair hand! I enjoyed “Mugby Junction” very much, even if I only got two of the stories of the different railway characters (should there be others?). The cast of Mugby Junction’s ‘Refreshmenters’ was hilarious, and you clearly had an axe to grind about the quality of railway station service and food. By contrast, the story of the Signal Man was both sad and really creepy.

I’ve just finished the gripping tale “No Thoroughfare” (written by both you and Willie Collins) which is full of death, wrongful inheritance, unrequited love, and suspicious Swiss characters (I wouldn’t have thought the Swiss a particularly nefarious people, but hey, it’s your story). I wonder if Conan Doyle was influenced by your remote Swiss setting when imagining a fitting end for Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty? I understand that there was also a play that ran concurrently with the book’s publication – I can tell you right now that it’s far better written than most modern movie tie-in books.

It’s interesting that the further away we travel from the realms of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ the less and less Christmas-y the stories feel, and it’s not just because Christmas is behind me and the New Year fast approaching. Indeed, they seem much more in keeping with Halloween with their profusion of ghosts, spirits, abandoned children and sinister characters than with Yuletide good cheer. Goes to show you how much traditions change. Where you would regale your eager audience with a ghost story or two, we tend to opt for the more sentimental side of festive entertainment.

Which is not to say that your stories are free from sentiment – hoo boy, far from it! Forgiveness, redemption, love triumphant, and new leases on life everywhere you turn! There are pages so sweet I’m sure I could wring them out over my morning coffee in lieu of sugar. And I’ve noticed a trend: many of your stories feature your central characters (usually older men) saved through the intercession of children, whether taken in, adopted, or befriended. The redemptive power of angelic innocents is boundless – I’ll try to remember that the next time I see one throwing a tantrum at the mall.

I have one story to go, The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, and then it’s off to see what Mr. Chuzzlewit’s all about.

Happy New Year, Charlie.

Affectionately yours,


Peeved at the publishers

By Charles Dickens and friends, you mean…

Dear Charlie,

I am doing my level best to remain festive, but my feelings towards the publishers of this particular edition of your collected works are somewhat less than charitable at the moment. At first, I was worried about you; your story, The Wreck of the Golden Mary, about a shipwreck and the precarious fate of the survivors, ended with the collapse of the captain and the resumption of the narrative by the first mate. But there’s no rescue, no hint of a happy ending – just a bunch of people slowly starving to death in a couple of small boats. How is this a Christmas story? Were you really depressed that year?

It wasn’t until I looked into the matter that I discovered that you wrote this and several other tales with the help of compatriots like Wilkie Collins. Mystery solved! But because the rest of the story didn’t flow from your hallowed pen, this edition’s editors decided to follow the letter and not the spirit of the task at hand and just left the rest of the story out.

This is lame.

I assume everyone lived to enjoy a hearty Christmas goose, but until I track down the rest of the story I’ll have to live with a vague feeling of unease. At least I need not fear for your mental health, dear friend, but it is frustrating to be reading a ripping good pirate adventure (pirates! I wouldn’t have thought it of you, but I’m very happy you ventured into such exotic territory), for example, and then find a terse paragraph at the end of the first chapter giving me a summary of the events that ensued until you picked up the plot again. I hope that the remainder of this volume and the second include more stories that you wrote from beginning to end, because I dislike being pitched unceremoniously out of one narrative and straight into another as if nothing was the matter.

I’m also unsettled by the advice contained in the forward, not to read the stories straight through, but to dip in leisurely for greater enjoyment (perhaps because you can’t actually read them straight through, since chunks of them have been excised). But it reminds me of a quotation I found recently:

Some books are fast and some are slow, but no book can be understood if it is taken at the wrong speed. – Mark Van Doren

Given that so many of your works were serialized or, in the case of these Christmas stories, came out once a year, in some ways I fear I’m doing you a disservice in trying to read everything you wrote in your lifetime in a single year of mine. Maybe I’m angry with the publishers who disregarded your friends in the name of squeezing everything you ever wrote into a single collection because I’m reading you the same way, in one giant sitting.

I’ll make you a deal. You forgive me for stuffing my face this year and I promise to take snack-sized helpings of your Christmas stories next year and track down the missing pieces in the process.

Merry Christmas, Charlie dear.

Affectionately yours,


A lovely Christmas quotation

Dear Charlie,

I like this passage I read today. It’s from your 1851 story, “What Christmas Is as We Grow Older,”

“Welcome everything! Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places round the Christmas fire, where what is sits open-hearted!”

That’s all. 🙂