A prompt from booksaremyfavouriteandbest – starting with A Christmas Carol I’ll recall six books I’ve read, triggered by the memory of Dickens’ wonderful never-fading tale.
1. Straightaway I think of another Christmas story by Dickens: The Chimes, a Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. It comes with magical illustrations. I wrote a post about it because of the opening line of one of its chapters. Exquisite.
2. Goblins remind me of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market illustrated by Arthur Rackham. It’s been said that Goblin Market has sexual references between its lines and was therefore intended for adults. But Christina Rossetti said it was for children, to show the importance of sisterly love.
3. On the other hand, the old fairy tale writers produced stuff intended for adults but it was read to children and that now scares some modern parents, apparently. Here Comes a Chopper to Chop Off Your Head by Liz Evers is an excellent read that reveals the dark side of some children’s stories.
4. A collection of stories from the French Decadent era, also mostly unsuitable for children, is Fairy Tales for the Disillusioned edited by Gretchen Schultz and Lewis Seifert.
5. Both books 3 and 4 have cool illustrations including images by Arthur Rackham who also illustrated Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens which I recently read some of. ‘Becfola’ is my favourite and is accompanied by a picture of her up a tree shrinking away from hungry wolves.
6. Of course thoughts of a hungry wolf take me to Little Red Riding Hood, but then to The Little Red Writing Book by Mark Tredinnick. An excellent play on words. And an excellent writing guide by an Australian writer. I’ve read it again and again.
By coincidence I’ve selected book covers in Christmas colours!
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’ 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.
I love a story with a good moral, the type of story with a bad character who turns good; it’s a formula based on the possibility that no one is without hope. I read such stories to be spurred on. The film Groundhog Day gives me the same buzz: Phil the weatherman is a modern Scrooge who cares for no one and shares nothing. Yet against their will, both Phil and Scrooge learn how good generosity can feel. Of course, my hopes are bridled by the fiction of Scrooge being shown, in one night, the cause and effect of his misery…