Apparently Charlie Dickens only had a few ideas regarding Christmas. They are as follows:
1. ghosts, ghouls, or goblins
2. a large, poor family
3. someone who is either sick, dying, or dead…preferably a small child
4. a miserly old man
Nearly all of the eight stories in this collection feature at least one of these themes. On a number of occasions, it felt as though Dickens was forcing them into the story.
While I realize that it is not fair to judge Dickens by this collection alone, the poor quality of these stories was shocking. Like most, I was familiar with ‘A Christmas Carol’, but I had never heard of the other seven stories that make of this collection. There is good reason that I hadn’t. Again, to be fair, they were not necessarily selected because they were some of Dickens’ best work, but because they deal with Christmas in some way.
This was a very short article describing – you guessed it – Christmas festivities. Not bad, but nothing noteworthy.
‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’
This short story was about a gravedigger who is working on Christmas Eve, which I am sure Dickens considered tantamount to blasphemy. As he is toiling away late in the evening, he is confronted by a group of goblins, who, based on Dickens’ description and the accompanying engraving, strongly resemble court jesters. They take the gravedigger deep into the earth, possibly to one of the outer circles of hell, although this is not clear. Then they proceed to show him various people celebrating Christmas, as they feel he should be doing. They end by showing him the family of the little boy whose grave he had been digging. The gravedigger wakes up the next morning in the graveyard and is so freaked out that he just leaves. People speculate that he was taken by goblins (the natural assumption) and stories abound about his exact demise.
Dickens’ was not quite there yet…something was missing.
‘A Christmas Episode from Master Humphrey’s Clock’
This was an extremely short story about a man who befriends a deaf man on Christmas. A deaf man…that’s close, but not good enough. Come on, Dickens. Tug at my heart strings.
‘A Christmas Carol’
A tiny, dying boy who can only walk with the aid of a crutch…bingo! This was generally well written, and it featured the most character development of any of the stories in this collection. It was also funny. The same cannot be said for the other stories.
‘The Haunted Man’
Boy I hated this story. It was about the length of ‘A Christmas Carol’, maybe even a little longer. However, it was convoluted and disjointed. Much of the problem stemmed from ill-defined characters coupled with poor use of names. Dickens would refer to the numerous characters in this story by more than one name, making it very difficult to understand what was happening.
As far as I could tell, everywhere that this old man – a professor – went, he sowed discord and strife. For some only partially explained reason, this man was haunted by a doppelganger ghost…a doppelghoul if you will. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a young lady who seems to spread cheer. She is a maid for the professor. Because their paths were inadvertently similar one evening – with the geezer always a few minutes ahead of the girl – this young girl catches the brunt of the ill will that resulted in others due to the presence of the old man. The professor realizes this and sets out to make it up to her…sort of. Along the way, he encounters a ragamuffin orphan (bingo!), an old dying man, and a young student who appears to be faking an illness (at best he is milking his recovery time for all that he can). The professor also encounters a Cratchit-esque family, sans dying/crippled child. The old man, who doesn’t really appear to be particularly mean or bad, has a “change of heart” and miraculously the story concludes with essentially every character sitting around the professor’s table.
Ham fisted to boot.
‘A Christmas Tree’
This story was the most bizarre of this collection. Dickens spends most of the essay describing a decorated Christmas tree. A tree that is adorned with bulbs, string, pictures, scary porcelain masks, books, dolls, trains, and a slew of characters from The Arabian Nights, which Dickens apparently loved. About 10 pages into this 16-page essay, Dickens begins describing places or people that are haunted or visited by ghosts. He spends little more than a paragraph on each person or place. The result is a ridiculous, unimaginative listing of haunted people and places. Feliz Navidia de los Muertos!
‘What Christmas Is, As We Grow Older’
In the same style as ‘Christmas Festivities’, this essay describes a Christmas celebration, centering on the elderly family members in attendance.
‘The Seven Poor Travellers’
Dickens describes a Christmas dinner that he planned with the expressed intent of inviting some travelers that were boarding close to his house. Luckily this was rather short.
Most of the pieces in this collection were uninteresting, unimaginative, and really quite awful. Some of them made very little sense. At best they felt like toss offs by Dickens, which I suspect they were. Read ‘A Christmas Carol’ and avoid these other stories entirely.