Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 21 (bonus Christmas lines)

There would be no Christmas stories without Christmas, and there would be no Christmas without Christ.  So for this last and bonus post about middle lines, I’ve enjoyed searching for the turning point in the story of Christ’s birth.

We know how the story begins:  an angel announces a virgin birth to come.  But what happens in the middle?

For my journey to the centre of the story in search of great lines that draw me on into the second half, or that throw up a problem that seems unresolvable, I’d have to choose Matthew, chapter 2, verse 8, the King James version for the poetry of it.  Here, Herod is speaking to the wise men, the Magi, telling them to go to Bethlehem.  We know his intentions can’t be good because of all his earlier expressed fear of being dethroned.

Go and search diligently for the young child;  and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

Such a liar!  Fortunately, the wise men were ‘warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod’.  And fortunately, an angel warned Joseph to take Jesus and Mary and flee into Egypt.  And so the Christmas story ends well for Jesus (and badly for other boys, but that’s another story).

Merry Christmas to all of you out there who’ve read my writing this year.  I wish you many literary surprises in 2014!

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Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 20

It’s Christmas, a time of year when half the world is not covered in snow.  Half the world is not even chilly.  Many of us are melting in mid-summer heat.  I had to find a Christmas story that Australians would ‘get’, where the characters were not wearing long sleeves!

Christmas in the Floods by Olaf Ruhen sounds like a true story, if only because it tells of a disaster that could typically happen here at Christmas.  It’s written from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old boy who has been watching the river rise.  It’s not long before dawn and the flood has chased him and his family into the attic.  So at the turning point of the story they are on the roof, the characters not being able to go any higher.  It’s a great movement from ground level upwards.

I went to sleep, but Ralph wakened me.  It was still dark, but there was a little light coming, and I knew there was only one more day to Christmas Eve.
There was water on the attic floor now, and Dad and Ralph wanted us to shift on to the roof.  It didn’t seem as if the flood could come any higher but if it did, they said we mustn’t be trapped inside the attic.  They had rigged up the trestle-table so it was half out of the attic window, and you could climb on it and step back on the roof at the gully between the two gables.

Illustration for "Christmas in the Floods" in The Oxford Book of Christmas Stories
Illustration for “Christmas in the Floods” in The Oxford Book of Christmas Stories

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Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 19

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry is a Christmas Story with a good example of the opening line reappearing in the middle of the story.  It’s a good story, with a twist in the tail.  Its first line is ‘One dollar and eighty-seven cents.’  Half-way through, the reader is again reminded that this was the total of Della’s savings.  Yet, she still wanted to buy her husband a Christmas present, so she sold something precious.  Later, in a more cool-headed moment, she thought about it:

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do – oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”

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Journey to the centre: great middle lines – 18

On an evening not long before Christmas, say the Brothers Grimm, something curious happened to a shoemaker and his wife. In “Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm”, in a short, short story, The Elves, two pretty little naked men arrive to make Christmas joyous for a hardworking yet poor couple.  The Grimms describe in one sentence a scene that tickles my fancy, and must surely tempt any reader to continue to the end:

When it was midnight, two pretty little naked men came, sat down by the shoemaker’s table, took all the work which was cut out before them and began to stitch, and sew, and hammer so skilfully and so quickly with their little fingers that the shoemaker could not turn away his eyes for astonishment.

The Elves and the Shoemaker, illustration from the Girls and Boys Bookshelf, 1920

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Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 17

A few months ago I became interested in the middle lines of a story, which are usually, but not always, the turning point.  I posted on this blog 16 examples of great middle lines, then I went to New Zealand and lost my momentum with novels, not only because I had gone away and come back, but because the novels I read after blog post no. 16 didn’t have great middle lines, or because they were meaningless without adding a substantial whack of the story before and after.

Now, I’ve been reading some short stories about Christmas and have seen some pretty good turning points in their middles.  Four of them are worth blogging about, so between today and Christmas Day I’ll share them with you.  In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, for example, the middle lines of the middle chapter are meaningful.  Perhaps even great.  Here, Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Present, and from this page on he will never be the same:

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”
“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved.  If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”
“No, no,” said Scrooge.  “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here.  What then?  If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, John Leech, 1843
The Ghost of Christmas Present, John Leech, 1843.  Courtesy Wikimedia.

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Grand symbol

Two photo challenges this week have prompted me to think of one family’s Christmas effort.  The WP challenge was ‘Grand’, and Ailsa’s challenge was ‘Symbol’, in honour of Nelson Mandela.  Well, last night, here in Canberra, I found a ‘Grand Symbol’!

Lights are a symbol of hope, always appropriate at Christmas.  And when someone wins the Guinness World Record for the year for the most Christmas lights decorating a property, it’s because they’ve made a grand effort.

Last night we drove to the winning house and I took some photos.  My camera’s not great for night photography and my skills are barely even those of an amateur, but you’ll get an idea of what it must be like to live in the same street with such a winner.  All the surrounding houses were remarkable for their darkness;  perhaps they feel a pointlessness in competing.  This grand display might even be a bit hard to endure night after night through the Christmas period:  there are traffic controls at that end of the street, cars parked up and down all the nearby streets, and of course the multicoloured glow for several hours.

We walked through the garden of lights, entering on the left side of the front yard and exiting at the right.  Strings of LEDs, many of them white, some of them red, blue and green, flashed on and off, not rapidly, but at regular intervals changing the show.  For me, the glaring white was not pleasant and kept me from lingering long amid the display.  It had the effect of mid-summer sunlight on white concrete.  In the past, coloured lightbulbs were warmer and, indeed, more colourful.  But I know, I know, they’re not ‘green’.

Tall pine tree trunk covered in Christmas lights
Christmas lights decorating tall pine tree and hedge, Forrest, ACT, December 2013
Christmas lights decorating pine tree and hedge

However, I appreciate the effort these people have put into their decorations, and it’s important to know that, as each visitor enters, they are asked to donate to the Sids and Kids charity.

Wall of Christmas lights
Christmas star and moon - the natural and the artificial, Forrest, ACT, December 2013
The real and the unreal:  Moon shining down on a Christmas star
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