Since we are isolated and stuck inside during this Christmas season, I decided this year I was going to put together a list of of my favorite Christmas stories. The angle I took in putting this together is Christmas “pairings”, be it in book form or film. These are stories that seem to me to have a connection in spirit and focus, and which have inspired me over the years.
I have come up with 15 pairings of films/books in total, and my plan is to present those films one a day along with a brief reflection on why these stories resonated for me, how I see them fitting together, and what I think they can say to us in a more difficult Christmas season.
Here is my second pairing 🙂
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (2017) and MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL BY SAMANTHA SILVA (2017)
There is a certain irony to the fact that 2017 saw the release of Silva’s Novel, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, a fictional take on a historical figure that narrows in on the years leading up to Dicken’s eventual release of his famous A Christmas Carol. As the story goes, silva original wrote Mr. Dicken’s as a script, and after failing to get any leads eventually decided to turn it into a novel.
At the same time, studios had decided to adapt Les Standifords historical work on Dicken’s into a film, coincidentally slating it for release alongside Silva’s imagined take. Call it a bitter irony in Silva’s case
The world is of course richer having both of these stories to help us adorn the spirit of the season. Where Director Bharat Nalluri takes us inside the life of an iconic figure, Silva’s more imaginative and inventive take on his story immerses us in Dickens as an idea. She stokes the fires of London’s romanticism and the season’s promise while posing questions about the ways in which this romanticism must also make sense of the darkness and the struggle. If Nalluri’s vision, along with the book that inspired it, takes us through the pages of the historical narrative, Silva takes that story and turns it into poetry.
A few years ago, Jen (my wife) and I had a chance to return to New York for a few days during the Christmas season. This time around we took the opportunity to drive towards the Catskills in Northern New York, following the never ending stretch of Broadway that gradually leaves the majestic view of Manhattans skyline in your rear view. Ahead of you lies the promise of escape and renewal.
Along this drive, two of the towns that you pass through are named Irvington and Sleepy Hollow, which are of course named for the iconic author who wrote in relationship with Dickens and is often credited as being the true inventer of the Christmas we know and recognize today. His idealizing of the traditional “English” Christmas that Dicken’s helped bring to life was the tonic that an impoverished America seemed to desire at a time when Christmas as an idea was all but dead. An old relic of a divisive time in societies history when Christmas used to signify the worst parts of humanity. What Irvington helped to do was reshape the season as one of hope.
If there is one thing that this film and book inspire, it would be this idea of hope. As Silva imagines the voice of Dickens, we hear him cry out amidst the imagining of these ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, “I am not haunted by ghosts, but by the monsters of ignorance, poverty, want! Not useless phantoms that frighten people into inactivity. I do not abide such nonsense.” The story of his most famous book’s creation, which parallels Dicken’s own life and experience, is one that includes much sadness and regret. It would be impossible to encounter A Christmas Carol or any of its subsequent adaptations and reimaginings and miss this fact.
And yet what lies at the heart of Dicken’s story is also a message of hope. As Silva suggests at the beginning of her book, “A good biography tells us the truth about a person; a good story, the truth about ourselves.” And so much of her imagined story mirrors the real life truths that we see in The Man Who Invented Christmas. For Silva, much of this hope comes from the ways in which Dicken’s own life eventually revolved around the reality of his children. “Children were an act of optimism- sheer belief that the future will outshine the present.” But Christmas is actually about more than this. It is about rediscovering the child in all of us, no matter our age. It is about reinvigorating the imagination. For Dicken’s this came through story, the same kind of storytelling that inspired America (and Canada for that matter) to literally reinvent itself through the pages of Irvington’s hope filled imagination. As one could say about Dickens, “Every book you’ve ever written is a book about Christmas. About the feeling we must have for one another, without which we are lost.” For Dickens, stories were powerful. For me, Dicken’s story, be it as history or poetry, is equally powerful.
“Words were inadequate, but all he had. He didn’t know where they came from or why, but it was how we told one another what the world was and might be. Who we were, and might become. It was the only magic he had. Everything else was faith. He felt blessed and grateful.”