Real life has a way of interfering with even the best intentions. Last Sunday was the last performance (a sing-along) in a week of rehearsals and concerts of Handel’s Messiah with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, which was awesome but exhausting. And my intentions to write to you at some point during the week last week were overshadowed when the company I work for underwent a massive restructuring, from which I’m still reeling. It’s only now that the dust has slowly begun to settle that I’ve been able to extract myself from my funk and, with the help of your Christmas books, remind myself of the important things that one should be focusing on this time of year.
This volume of books includes “A Christmas Carol,” “The Chimes,” The Cricket on the Hearth,” “The Battle of Life,” and “The Haunted Man.” In spite of your protests that short stories aren’t your medium of choice, I think you did a wonderful job fleshing out your characters and plots within the stories’ confines. Scrooge’s encounters with the spirits of Christmas was my favorite – there’s a reason why it’s the work people most often associate with you and the season. The action is lively and continuous, the writing sparkles, and Scrooge’s redemption is believable and welcome.
The other four stories are a bit of a mixed bag. “The Chimes” was probably my least favorite of the group, mostly because I couldn’t quite figure out what happened to Lillian (was the inference that she became a prostitute?), but more than that, I really felt that the person most in need of a strong moral kicking by the goblins of the bells wasn’t poor old Trotty, who was trying his best, but Alderman Cute, who was a pretentious and condescending asshole. “The Cricket on the Hearth,” on the other hand,was adorable, in a very Three’s Company sort of way – lots of comedic misunderstandings, with a final triumph of domestic harmony.
I was worried that “The Battle of Life” would be quite heavy-going, judging from the title and the opening scene of death and bloodshed, but we move quickly to another domestic scene. Unlike those encountered by Mr. Pickwick, the lawyers in this story are much more kind hearted, and couples are united at the end, albeit with an odd little twist. And, finally, “The Haunted Man,” which at first seemed a tale more suitable for Halloween, had me genuinely creeped out. The idea of a man who can remove another’s memories and in so doing change their whole personality was fascinating. And though all ends happily, it was a much quicker read than the middle stories.
So, why aren’t the others more widely known? Until I picked up this volume, I’d never even heard of any of the other Christmas books. What is it about A Christmas Carol that makes it so universally adored? Why is there no yearly production of “The Haunted Man?” Perhaps it’s that it is so obviously tied to Christmas, whereas the others just happen to be set at that time of year? The others have their share of admonitory spirits, men redeemed, harmony restored, lovers united, and moral message of love and generosity of spirit, but there’s something missing. I don’t know what it is, Charlie. Are they simply not as well written? The more I think about it the more it refuses to be pinned down.
I shall continue to ponder while I start the first of two volumes of your “Christmas Stories.” Perhaps I’ll find some answers in some of your later, shorter, work.
Until next time, Charlie, I remain,