24 January 2014

Review: Charles Dickens' Christmas Ghost Stories

Mass market paperback, 293 pages
Published 1994 (contents: 1836-66)

Acquired May 2012
Read January 2014
Charles Dickens' Christmas Ghost Stories
selected by Peter Haining

"But it is perfectly reasonable, we can conceive, to believe in Caesar, and not believe in the ghost of Caesar."

This collection contains all of Charles Dickens's ghost stories with Christmas connections-- they are all set (or at least published) then. The most famous of these is, quite justly, "A Christmas Carol"; though I've seen many adaptations many times (especially the Muppet one), this was first reading of the story in over a decade. Well, it's quite brilliant. I was amused to note that a couple jokes I'd assumed were Muppet additions were in the original, such as the charity man's mistaking Scrooge saying he'd be put down for "Nothing" as him wanting to remain anonymous, or Mrs. Crachit's list of Scrooge's negative attributes during Bob's toast. I was also amused to note that Dickens digresses from the story to have Scrooge uncharacteristically complain about attempts to close public houses on Sunday, one of Dickens's own hobby-horses. That bit did yield a nice quote from the Ghost of Christmas Present, though: "There are some upon this earth of yours... who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us" (86).

Of the other stories, "The Haunted Man and The Ghost's Bargain" and "The Signal Man" are the best. The former concerns a chemist who spreads a plague of people becoming emotionless, so of course I love it, but it is a creepy look at what a society without sympathy would be like (and it also suggests that we already are one). The latter is a short, creepy ghost story of the best sort.  "The Rapping Spirits" isn't a real ghost story, but it was still hilarious. I found the inclusion of the overlong and unfunny "The Haunted House" somewhat suspect, however (not set at Christmas, and there are no ghosts!).

I think I might try to read this book aloud next Christmas season (if my wife will tolerate it); it seems like the kind of book where that would work well.

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