GOOD BOOKS ARE GREAT CHRISTMAS GIFTS
Picking up from last week's thoughts on Christmas, there is no writer more linked to Christmas (not counting the New Testament writers), than the prolific 19th century author, Charles Dickens.
Dickens was born into a big family and had a big family of his own. He knew poverty personally. He became known for the remarkable characters and situations he created. He was a spokesman for the poor and the dispossessed. He made the "haves" see the state of the "have-nots."
In 1843, his "A Christmas Carol," tells an unmatched story of the rich and poor, the believers and skeptics, as they confront the reality of what the Christmas story is really about.
Dickens wrote several other Christmas stories. He wrote one a year for some years, but none was as popular or successful as his first. One of the most famous of his characters was Tiny Tim. Dickens considered three other names for the little boy before he settled on Tiny Tim. The other possibilities considered were Small Sam, Puny Pete and Little Larry. Millions of readers agree he used the right name. I just can't see Puny Pete or Little Larry saying, "God bless you everyone," with a straight face.
Scrooge's constant "Bah Humbug," was not Dickens' initial choice for that statement. He first had Scrooge's saying "Bah Christmas." Another good change for the master-writer. (For a brief biography of Dickens see the one by C.D. Merriman.)
According to the BBC website, the handwritten manuscript of "A Christmas Carol" is presently on display at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York along with the original watercolor cover of the 1843 first edition. Readers fortunate to be spending Christmas in New York should visit the exhibit.
In a review of the exhibit, Claire Prentice writes that Dickens wrote the classic story in a frantic six-weeks. He began in October 1843, ending in time for Christmas publication.
"The manuscript is a mess," says the Morgan's curator Declan Kiely. "It's a mess because Dickens was trying to get everything down on paper really fast."
"When you look at it, you see him in the full flood of creative energy and excitement right there on the page. When he began writing, he just couldn't put it down," says Kiely.
The story of the miserly Scrooge's redemption, after three frightful dreams, has inspired television, radio, film, opera and theatrical presentations for years. Any of the many editions of the book would make an excellent Christmas gift.
Speaking of Christmas gifts, the late Elmer Kelton's "Christmas At The Ranch," about what Christmas was like in West Texas during the Great Depression is also great reading. Kelton writes Christmas toys "were modest by today's standards because a dollar in those times looked as big as a saddle blanket."
Next Friday is Christmas Day and I will share the last of these Christmas columns. It will be a busy day, but for those who take time to read it I hope it is enjoyable. About some things that happened on other Christmases. What other historic events took place on December 25th?
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