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.