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,


One comment on “Spectres and sentiment

  1. Blair says:

    Loved the comment about the ‘angelic innocents’ – I’ve yet to meet a child that was either of those things (including my own). Come to think of it, literature and pop culture abound with the motif of the redemptive power of children. I think this might have some basis in fact but I can’t picture a middle-aged Victorian man changing diapers or rocking a teething baby back to sleep singing lullabies… maybe this only works for post-potty-training kids? I wonder what kind of relationship Chuck D had with his own kids. To overgeneralize, I understand that literary geniuses rarely make good fathers. Perhaps Chuck was compensating for something.

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