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Thomas Bloor

Wednesday, December 19, 2012



There are -  regrettably in many cases it must be said – probably thousands of Christmas songs, and hundreds of Christmas films. If you count Nativities and Christmas card designs, there are also many thousands of Christmas paintings. Books, however – prose fiction, novels and short stories that is – are perhaps less likely to become known for their festive associations.  I can think of very few apart from the obvious Dickens pieces; A Christmas Carole and a chapter from The Pickwick Papers. Perhaps it is the uniqueness of the Scrooge story that has somehow helped spread a blanket of Christmassy connotations over all things Dickensian – Victorian England, snow, urchins, unchecked sentimentality – all seem quintessentially seasonal to  us now.   

Perhaps the curious association of ghost stories with Christmas deserves a mention. A TV adaptation of a ghostly Dickens short story (thus ticking all the Christmas boxes) called I think, The Signalman, was broadcast over a number of years, always at Christmas, when I was a child back in the 70s. I recall finding it deeply chilling with its mysterious, doom-laden atmosphere and the repeated and, to my ears, distinctly odd cry of 'Hello below!' But although ghost stories may be told or retold at Christmas their content is not, generally speaking, specifically relevant to the season.

The reason why novels aren't often viewed as a thoroughbred Christmas experience may be down to the length of time it takes to get through one. Although some page-turners may be devoured at a sitting, and some people are phenomenally fast readers (not me, I lumber through at talking pace), it seems to me that songs (over in minutes) films (a couple of hours) and paintings (up to the viewer, but usually minutes again) are brief enough for any seasonal flavour to last the distance (for good or bad), whereas a novel, ven one centred around Christmastime, might have so much more going on alongside the turkey and the tinsel that any festive element gets subsumed in the mix.

One notable exception, perhaps, is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. For all that can be said, both for and against, about the first book in the Narnia series, there’s no doubting that it is a deeply Christmassy read. Father Christmas even appears in it! Here he is depicted as a rather serious soul, and the presents he brings for the children (assorted weapons and military equipment) are not the usual stocking-fillers, but he is essentially Santa Claus nonetheless. His appearance, as part of a pick and mix ensemble that includes creatures from both Greek and Norse mythology, various talking animals, and a secret police force of wolves, who are a lot like the Gestapo, is part of what, together with its deep strand of Christian allegory, opens the book up to some serious criticism from many quarters.

But I wonder if this may also, by dint of its very oddness, be a part of what gives the story its peculiar power? To be honest, I find it difficult to be objective about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, probably because my reaction to it is based very firmly in my own childhood. The religious allegory, which I was certainly aware of as a boy, has never really troubled me too much. I do remember being surprised, when looking at the book again as an adult, at how old-fashioned the overall tone is, particularly in the opening pages. So I think it must be the images that stick. The lamppost in the snow-filled wood (and the illustration I recall from the edition I read as a boy showed a distinctly Dickensian looking lamppost, too). The cold, smashed ruins of Mr Tumnus’s home following his arrest. And Edmund, stumbling through the snow, willing to betray all he believes in for another taste of the White Witch’s Turkish Delight; a depiction of the irresistible allure of sweet, evil things that must have introduced many readers of my generation to the notion of hopeless addiction to forbidden fruits. And then there’s Father Christmas in Narnia, giving out his parcels containing a sword, a shield, a bow, and so on; gifts that have a distinct flavour of Blake’s Jerusalem about them. I wonder if this early appearance of the man with the white beard and red costume in a fantasy novel had any influence on Terry Pratchett’s Hog Father? Now there’s another Christmas book… 


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