Christmas Tales by Charles Dickens: Book Review

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Cover of Christmas Tales by Charles Dickens

3 Stars

I read this for A Christmas Carol but decided to read the rest and see what else Dickens had to say about Christmas. There were a few other little gems, although none were as good as A Christmas Carol, but there were some that I didn’t like at all.

A Christmas Carol was a 4 star book for me. It was entertaining, Dickens made his point pretty quickly, and it was actually kind of funny. That surprised me. I loved this part: “Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of inronmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” I’m glad I read this, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel that if you’ve seen one of the many, many movies, you know what the book is about. There is very little in the book that doesn’t make it into the movies. Read it if you’re curious, but don’t feel you’re missing out on anything if you don’t.

“The Chimes”–2 stars–This was similar to A Christmas Carol, but this time a poor man is shown how much worse the world could be. There aren’t any little flashes of humor, the book got very preachy, it was too melodramatic, and I was left wondering why Trotty, the main character, is going through all this when he’s surrounded by rich jerks who really need to be taught a lesson. I did like this quote though: “There’s nothing more regular in its coming round than dinner-time, and nothing less regular in its coming round than dinner.” Overall, I felt like Dickens was trying to re-do what he’d already gotten right the first time around with A Christmas Carol. I would give this one a pass.

“The Cricket on the Hearth”–4 stars–An older man is given reason to doubt the fidelity of his younger wife. This was a nice, happy little story. It didn’t have much to do with Christmas, but I enjoyed it. Here’s my favorite quote from this one: “And the fact is, that the kettle began it, at least five minutes before the Cricket gave any sign of being in existence. Contradict me, and I’ll say ten.”

“The Haunted Man”–3 stars–An unhappy man sort of makes a “deal with the devil” to forget all his troubles and wrongs and all the associated memories. He spreads this “gift” to everyone else he comes into contact with. He realizes that memories of trouble help make us compassionate and the good in our memories outweighs the bad. This story was decent. Not anything great, but decent. The family of the Tetterbys was funny. One lady at the end gets all Sally Field, “You like me! You really like me!” That sort of cracked me up in that context.

“A Christmas-Tree”–3 stars–This just felt like an essay on Dickens’s Christmas memories. He remembers toys and books he got for Christmas when he was younger, ghost stories told, and the true meaning of Christmas. This also felt like a journal entry in that it seemed to be something that would really only be relevant to the writer. It was fun to recognize some of the books and stories that he mentions, but mostly the language was dense, it was hard to read and understand, and I thought it was boring.

“What Christmas Is As We Grow Older”–3 stars–This one also feels like an essay or editorial. He reflects on how dreams from our youth seem almost real and how the memories of our lost loved one become sweeter. The language in this one is very high-flown, dense, overwrought, and hard to wade through. The good part is that it’s short.

“The Poor Relation’s Story”–3 stars–A poor relation tells about what his life has really been like. I didn’t really get this one at all. I think it was something about rising above our circumstances and maybe even not letting dreams die. I don’t know.

“The Seven Poor Travellers”–3 stars–A rich man provides a nice dinner for some poor travellers on Christmas Eve and tells them a story. The story is one of redemption and forgiveness, which I’m always a sucker for. That was probably what saved this story for me. The framework for the story is boring and pointless.

“The Holly-Tree”–2 stars–A man gets snow bound at The Holly-Tree Inn and reflects on other inns he’s stayed at in the past to pass the time. This was a big, jumbled mess of three unrelated stories in one. None of the stories had anything to do with each other that I could see. One of the stories was cute by itself. It was also kind of fun to read an early version of what sounded like Sweeney Todd.

“Doctor Marigold”–4 stars–A man writes about his life as an early version of a travelling salesman, his wife, and his daughters. This one was very good. I enjoyed reading it. I liked the voice Dickens used for this narrator. He really sounded like a fast-talking salesman. I recommend this one.

Overall, this edition was hit-or-miss, but if you’re in the mood for some Dickens at Christmas, there are a few of these stories I would recommend.

Reviewed December 2008

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