Of serendipity and television

Dear Charlie,

prompt copy

The NYPL houses the only prompt copy of “A Christmas Carol.”

Happy New Year, my friend! I hope you had a lovely Christmas, ate too much Christmas pudding, and had a chance to eavesdrop on some performances and readings of A Christmas Carol. I hear Neil Gaiman’s reading in New York in mid-December was pretty amazing. He used the original prompt copy you used when performing your readings of the work (and he dressed up as you as well, because Neil Gaiman is awesome).And just as I was beginning to feel all left out, I was reminded that I do, in fact, live in the 21st century and not the 19th, which means that about a gazillion people put it online and that through the wonders of technology I can listen to the performance as many times as I want to! Huzzah!

But that’s not all.

secretmuseumIn an extra-weird Christmas-y burst of serendipity, this Brain Pickings article goes into more detail about that prompt copy and performance, which is housed in the New York Public Library. This august institution also houses your cat’s paw letter opener I mentioned in an earlier letter to you. Well it turns  out that poor old Bob’s preserved foot is featured in a book called The Secret Museum by Molly Oldfield, which, oddly enough, I got for Christmas. And Molly Oldfield introduced Gaiman at that reading. Is your brain hurting as much as mine? Is it just because I spent a year reading your works that I’m now hyper aware of your influence? Or has everything always pointed back to you in some weird six-degrees-of-Charles-Dickens kind of way? You’re sneaky, Charlie, very sneaky. I like it.

turveydrop

Even old Mr. Turveydrop, master of deportment, makes an appearance.

But as odd as all that is, that’s not why I’m writing to you, since my Christmas was unusually Christmas Carol free. I did, however, start watching the BBC’s 2005 adaptation of Bleak House. I just passed the half way point and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I was surprised and pleased to find so many of your wonderful secondary characters included, like Caddy Jellyby and Prince Turveydrop, albeit too briefly. It made me realize just how many characters there are in the story, how many are absolutely essential to the plot, and how much fantastic detail you put into even the minor ones that can never be conveyed in an adaptation unless it was two or three times as long.On the other hand, there are things that a TV adaptation can do that make up for the necessary omissions. There’s so much fabulous non-verbal acting going on here that conveys paragraphs of subtext. When Esther is talking to Mr. Jarndyce in the Growlery, for instance, the dialogue may be lifted straight from the page, but you can see in a single glance that Jarndyce feels more than paternal affection for Esther (a fact that thickheaded me didn’t pick up on until much later in the book). Skimpole comes across as sketchy right from the outset, which is interesting. Gillian Anderson’s Lady Deadlock, too, conveys buckets of information in the twitch of an eyebrow or pursing of the lips. And Charles Dance is an inspired choice for Tulkinghorn.

bleak_house_hdtv_laudanum_a

Gillian Anderson plays a wonderfully constrained Lady Deadlock.

And there’s some great stuff that’s been added, too. Guppy, here, is way more stalker-y than he seemed to be in the book, lurking on the sidewalk outside Esther’s home like a creepy lost puppy. It makes his dogged determination to find the letters more believable. And the scenes showing Mr. George carefully priming and aiming various firearms is a wonderful piece of visual misdirection.

boythorn

Dear BBC, I’m sorry, but not casting Brian Blessed as Boythorn was a HUGE miss.

Should I confess here, Charlie, that as I made my way through your books I often referred to IMDB.com to “cast” the characters before I started reading? I don’t usually do that, but you do have so many characters and it helped to keep them all straight. I did make a few substitutions, however. For instance, I couldn’t help but cast Brian Blessed as Mr. Boythorn (complete with canary, of course) – I mean, how could you not? The TV adaptation doesn’t make him nearly the booming and boisterous presence he’s supposed to be, which is a shame.But overall it’s great stuff, and now that the action is picking up speed, I can’t wait to see everything unfolds. I’m sure I shall write to you again soon, once I’ve finished watching.

Until then my friend, I remain,

Affectionately yours,

Melissa