Friday, December 1, 2017

Christmas Is Coming...

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
(Little Women,
Louisa May Alcott.)

This opening line from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is not only among the more famous in English-language literature, but also takes us straight to the Christmas of books and storytelling and at the best possible time, with 25 December just a few weeks away. (And coming far too quickly, I suspect, for many of us!)

One of the earliest, Christmas-themed books I can recall reading –and also one of the first I chose for myself as a very young reader indeed – was Clement C Moore's classic The Night Before Christmas:

"Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse..."

Only a few years later, I was enjoying The Lion, The Witch, & the Wardrobe, which also features Christmas themes, most notably when Father Christmas gives Peter, Susan and Lucy their gifts of sword and shield, bow and horn, healing cordial and dagger:

"It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness ... And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly berries) and a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest..."

So far, my early literary encounters with Christmas were very much the Northern Hemisphere festival which takes place amid darkness, winter, and snow. So it was fun to read the NZ children's classic, Drover's Road, with its description of a Southern Hemisphere and in this case, rural, Christmas:

Drover's Road series, Bk 2
"All Christmas days at Drover's Road seem to get mixed up in a sort of special excitement : the early mornings and stockings hanging at the foot of the bed ... the long day getting hotter, and lamb for dinner, with mint sauce and peas and new potatoes ... lying out under the cherry tree on the lawn with our new presents, and having afternoon tea there with iced biscuits and Christmas cake. Then dusk coming at the end of the long lovely day..."

(I've featured the cover for the second "Drover's Road" book because it looks like the NZ summer. :-) )

One of the most famous stories with a Christmas setting is, of course, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which the now legendary Ebenezer Scrooge must rediscover his humanity with the help of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

The quote that stays with me from that is not a happy one, but then, I don't believe Dickens intended it to be: 

"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

Another book that was hugely successful in its time (1947) was US writer, Russell Janney's The Miracle of the Bells, which has a famous Christmas scene, in which two of the protagonists, Bill Dunnigan and Olga Treskovna, re-meet by chance in a town that is completely closed down on Christmas Eve. The only restaurant they eventually find open, is Ming Gow's Chinese Restaurant, where the proprietor, Ming Gow, "...refused, obdurately refused, to accept payment for his fare."

But the quote I've never forgotten since first reading the book is this:

"This place boasted that it was a "city of homes." ... No one but a homeless man can understand the utter loneliness of a stranger on Christmas Eve in a "city of homes."

This post isn't intended to be an exhaustive list, so I'm sure – and hope, too – that you'll have other titles to add, but since the Supernatural Underground is a speculative fiction community, I'm going to end with a Fantasy classic, Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising.

Quite aside from being a contest between Light and Dark, the protagonist, Will, must find six "Signs of the Light" before Twelfth Night – so this is definitely a Christmas-centered book.

I won't be back here again until New Year's Day, 1 January 2018, so to those who celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas – and otherwise I hope you all have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday break.


Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night, Book Three) is her most recent book and she is currently working on the fourth and final novel in The Wall Of Night series. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we


Kim Falconer said...

Helen, I love these Christmas story books. My fav is A Christmas Carol.

And I love the dark quote.

I wonder what genre, in the present day context, ACC would fall into. Children's lit, YA Gothic with the ghosts? Dark Urban Fantasy? But it wasn't really written for youth, apparently, but for an upper class (literate) English society in a time when child labour was a huge issue - children working 11 to 16 hour days in factories, hauling coal in the rain and snow, dying ... Dickens was making a political statement, an outrage against the injustice.

Don't you think?

Helen Lowe said...

Hey Kim, I think A Christmas Carol was definitely intended for an adult audience -- and transferring Dickens' popular and literary prestige from his time to ours, it would probably have been dubbed Magic Realism, or Contemporary Realism with Supernatural Elements, and lauded accordingly. :-) And I agree 100% that Dickens was making a political statement but not one that sank his storytelling beneath its weight, which is probably a sign of a master storyteller (in case we had doubts on that score.)

simonpetrie said...

My favourite -- it's only a short story -- is Tove Jansson's 'The Fir Tree', in which the Moomins, awoken unseasonably from hibernation, become convinced that Christmas is some kind of impending apocalypse which must be placated by gifts and a fir tree ...

Helen Lowe said...

I love the Moomins, Simon, but maybe because is a short story I don't believe I've read this one, so thanks for the headsup.