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Points of Light Christmas Edition: Christmas Vacation

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Welcome back to  the last entry in our holiday retrospective.  Well, the gifts are open, the turkey’s eaten, and the family’s gone home.  The post holiday blues are settling in, so let’s take a minute to reflect and laugh at the insanities of the holiday season.  And what better way to do that then with one of the greatest Christmas comedies ever- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

The Plot

Clark Griswold, the hero of the Vacation series, has set his sights on a perfect, ‘old-fashioned family Christmas.’   As such, he attempts to create perfect family moments like going to the woods and finding a tree (without bringing a saw), decorating his house with thousands of lights (that don’t light), and bringing his entire family to stay with them (despite the fact they all hate each other).  But Clark continually puts on a cheerful face, knowing that he has a major surprise planned- a pool.  However, he needs his annual bonus to cover expenses, and it still hasn’t come.  Clark attempts to focus on the holiday, but the stress of constant failures, the arrival of his hated cousin Eddie, and the cancellation of his bonus, finally pushes Clark over the edge, which causes Eddie to kidnap his boss so Clark can insult him to his face, and the police to swarm Clark’s house, which still leads to a celebratory Christmas ending.

What Writers Can Learn: Parody, Conflict

Christmas Vacation is regarded as one of the best Christmas comedies, and for good reason.  The events that happen in the film, while exaggerated, are still familiar to anyone that has gone through the holiday.  We all want to remember Christmas as a wonderful time we spend with loving family, and that’s often how it appears through nostalgia.  But in truth, Christmas is always filled with stress- the preparation, dealing with relatives that you don’t care for, and being forced to pretend to be happy.  Through Clark’s actions, we are literally given a view of the ideal of Christmas verses reality.  Some of us can certainly remember people that get too into the holiday, and drag others into creating something that they don’t particularly want.  And all the events that Clark deals with- the tree, the lights, his family and bonus- while exaggerated, still have enough truth in them they we can relate them to our own lives.

But we also see the conflict take its toll as well.  Clark represses most of his stress throughout the failures of the holiday, but he does crack under the presence of obnoxious cousin Eddie, and the cancellation of his bonus.  But strangely, this manages to be work as a victory for both the ideal and realistic Christmas.  Clark may hate Eddie, but he doesn’t hesitate to help out when he learns that Eddie cannot afford presents for his children.  Clark’s breakdown shows him that his perfect Christmas is over, but it also prompts his father to remind him that past Christmas’s weren’t perfect either.  And finally, the kidnapping of Clark’s boss also forces to realize the impact his decision has had on his employees, and in an apology, reinstates the bonuses, and allows Clark his dream of a pool.  In that way, the film makes a unique resolution of its conflicts- saying that the realistic elements of Christmas are true, but that we can still come close to what we see Christmas to be through our actions.

Further Reading  

The Vacation series also pokes fun at other vacation aspects, from road trips to Europe.  Those looking for more Christmas style hi-jinks would do well with Home Alone, which also shows the difficulty of a family vacation at Christmas.  And with that, we end this year’s holiday retrospective.  Happy Holidays, and best of luck in the New Year.

Points of Light Christmas Edition: Hogfather

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Welcome back everyone.  This week, we continue our look at Christmas literature by seeing a story that goes out there.  And I mean out there.  Like giant space turtle out there.  Today, we examine a story we’ve mentioned on this site before as one of the best Christmas stories/satires ever- Terry Pratchard’s Hogfather.

The Story

On the Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork, the people are celebrating Hogswatch, a holiday with surprising similarities to Christmas.  However, their version of Santa Claus, the Hogfather, has vanished, due to the efforts of the Auditors, who dislike human imagination and belief, and the efforts of Jonathan Teatime, an assassin hired to eliminate the Hogfather.  However, Death has stepped in to temporarily replace the Hogfather, performing his duties in order to keep belief going.  At the same time, Death’s granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit is drawn into the mix as the lack of belief for the Hogfather has created excess belief, resulting in new beings being created simply by naming them (the God of Hangovers, The Eater of Socks, the Veruca Gnome).  Susan must discover the reason behind the Hogfather’s disappearance, and then save him or the Discworld will never see another morning.

 

What Writers Can Learn: Satire, Nature of Belief

The Discworld novels, as mentioned before, are full of satire and pokes at the ridiculous nature of society.  Hogfather is no different, as many of its pages poke fun at the traditions of Christmas.  The Hogfather himself is a symbol of how Hogswatch has evoled, having begun as a pagan god of the morning and changed over time as Hogswatch itself has.  Christmas has undergone the same progression from pagan ceremony to Christian holiday.  The commercial aspect is mocked as well, done best when Death makes an appearance at a store.

The store’s cheerful sleigh display is destroyed for the much rougher (but more realistic) true sleigh, and as he sees the children, Death questions why the store complains when he gives the children their gifts for free (as the Hogfather is supposed to do).  There is also a little girl who asks for a sword, despite her mother’s insistence she wants a doll.  Christmas morals are also examined- how children are more selfish then we like to let on (though a story where a little boy wants a toystore horse, is instead giving a handmade replica and is bitterly unhappy), and the story of the Little Match Girl (who supposedly dies in the snow so that people are grateful for what they have), who is instead saved by Death, as ‘there is no greater gift then a future.’

But Hogfather is also a way to view the peculiarities of belief.  As mentioned before, belief is what keeps the Hogfather active, and the lack of said belief causes other beings to pop on in his place, a comment on the human quirk of assigning unexplainable tasks to fantasy creatures (the Tooth Fairy, for example).  However, the nature of the Hogfather himself shows a much greater example of the need for belief.  Susan, following the adventure, questions her grandfather on what would have happened had they failed.  Death explains that the Discworld would not have been lit by the sun, but by a flaming ball of gas.  He further explains that humans need fantasy to be human, and beings like the Hogfather are a way to introduce ‘the little lies’ to children, so they will believe the ‘big lies’- justice and order.  Susan is shocked, but Death asks her to put the universe through a sieve and try to find a single, physical grain of those qualities, and yet humans continue to act and believe that there is a cosmic order and logic to the universe.

Further Reading 

The concepts of belief, and further satirical attacks on humanity are explored throughout the Discworld series, as are other stories featuring Death (recommendations include Reaper Man and Soul Music).  And be sure to stop by next week for our final holiday outing.

Points of Light Christmas Edition: The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Season’s greetings once again, as we continue our look at holiday classics.  Last week we explored the Christmas horror of the Krampus, and this week, we continue that theme with one of the most well known holiday mashups- Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Plot

Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, a land that is literally all about making Halloweeen.  Jack and the other monsters work each year to create the perfect holiday, but Jack has grown bored with the same thing over and over.  He stumbles across the Hinterlands, an area of the forest that borders other holiday worlds.  Jack finds the doorway to Christmastown, and is enthralled by how different it is from the scares of Halloween.  Jack brings some of it back home, but it unable to truly grasp the ‘science’ of the holiday.  However, his enthusiasm convinces him that he can perform Christmas as well, and he gets the other denizens of Halloween to aid him.  But the monsters don’t understand the idea of the holiday, and make toys and gifts designed to frighten children.  Oblivious, Jack kidnaps Santa and delivers the toys, only to be shot down and lament his poor choices.  However, the experience has reinvigorated Jack’s creativity and love for Halloween, so Jack returns to save Santa from the clutches of the Oogy Boogy Man.

What Writers Can Learn; Obsession, Finding Purpose

Most fans love Nightmare for its design, songs, and imagination.  And with Burton’s mind, Danny Elfman’s songs, and its unlikely inspiration (Burton saw the mix of Christmas and Halloween decorations while shopping), these are all great reasons to enjoy the film.  But for writers, the film is a great example of two classic themes.  First, we have obsession, and a kind we can easily see around the holidays.  Jack is someone that is tired of the demands of his life, and living in a world that is a reminder of everything he has grown bored with.

But suddenly, he is thrust into a world that is bright and colorful and full of joy.  He not only brings this home, but tries to grasp to understand it and then make it his life.  We can all relate to feeling enthralled by the Christmas season and its colorful spectacle.  But anyone that has seen houses over decorated and people trying to outdo each other with gifts and parties knows that it is easy lose yourself to it as well.  But Jack’s attempts go farther- he tries to make his own Christmas before he understands it.  He recruits monsters, who only know scaring people, and happily accepts the frightening toys and decorations they make.  Anyone could tell Jack that he’s missing the point, but he simply accepts it because they resemble the things he’s seen.  Therefore, the movie stands as a metaphor for getting lost in Christmas spectacle and missing what makes it work.

But the greater purpose of the story is as a story of a mid life crisis and renewed purpose.  While all the monster of Halloweentown love their work, they require Jack’s creativity to truly shine.  And Jack has been doing this since Halloween began, so it is easy to imagine how draining the experience has been for him.  It has made him feel bored and unsatisfied with his life, but he has no way to leave the holiday he is in charge of.  Therefore, he is going through what can be called a midlife crisis- where he is wondering about the point of his life, and whether or not he can continue with it.  But the discovery of Christmas gives Jack the total opposite of what he’s been doing and lets him feel that he has something new to design again- in other words, it’s his new car.  But obviously, Jack’s creativity doesn’t fit the Christmas setting, and he is literally shot down in flames.  But as he lies among the ruins, he realizes that despite his failure, he has performed to the best of his abilities and has enjoyed his work for the first time in years.  Feeling reinvigorated, he promises new ideas for next Halloween.  For writers looking to sculpt a character full of self-doubt that rediscovers purpose, this is a perfect arc.

Further Reading

For those that enjoyed the style and themes of Nightmare, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice carry it on in spades, while James and the Giant Peach, a Burton production, carries on the stop-motion style and features a cameo from Jack.  And for those that enjoy more weirdness in their holidays, come back next week as we hitch a ride on the Great A’Tuin and visit the great city of Ankh-Morpork.

POL Christmas Edition: The Dark Servant

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Season’s greetings from the Lightrider Journals!  Today we continue our version of Christmas traditions with the annual Christmas Point of Light series, where we focus on Christmas stories that provide young writers valuable tools in their development.  This year, we begin with a story that not only highlights writing, but actually one of those young, inspiring authors.  In honor of the release of Krampus, the story of the Christmas devil, we straddle the line between horror and holidays, with Matt Manochio’s The Dark Servant.

 

The Plot

 In Hancock, New Jersey, the morning of December 5th is rocked by a car accident and abduction of a high school jock.  But this is only the first, as further kidnappings follow, including a high school Heather, a grade school student, and the son of the chief of police.  While the police strive to find connections, all they come up with are bags of sticks left near the crime scenes, and reports of a huge, hoofed, bear like creature.  The chief’s youngest son, Billy, does make a connection- the Krampus, the ancient twin of Saint Nicholas from German folklore.  And indeed, he is right, as the Krampus has come to Hancock to punish the worst of its naughty children- unless they can repent.  Billy and his school crush Maria, must race against time to find the Krampus before it kidnaps again.  But Billy must also come to terms with just what it is that brought the Krampus to Hancock- and his part in it.

 

What Writers Can Learn- Dialouge, Homage, Morals

 The Dark Servant works as a wonderfully twisted Christmas fable and succeeds as a fine debut in a number of ways.  To begin with, Manochio avoids one of the easiest traps for a first time writer- crafting smooth, realistic dialogue.  While I am certainly not claiming to be perfect, my experience with other new writers shows that dialogue can be a challenge.  Often times, writers try more to sound well-written then realistic, and either explain too much or sound stiff and tin eared.  While there are a few missteps, Manochio avoids this trap.  He characters talk like real teenagers and adults, and while the Krampus itself can speak like Freddy Krueger, its dialogue effortlessly flies the distance between scary and funny and back.

That leads into another of the book’s strengths- the knowledge of its material.  The Krampus itself plays into the mythos perfectly, and anyone that knows the creature will see its trademarks- the bad of sticks, its satanic appearance, and its desire to punish the naughty.  But beyond that, the novel clearly patterns itself after a horror movie, and Manochio clearly knows the genre.  The story builds in suspense, slowly bringing us out of the everyday bit by bit, as the Krampus becomes more and more visible.  The elements of blood and gore are not overplayed, the characters are intelligent and fill their roles perfectly, and the Krampus itself is a perfect movie monster- sadistic and witty, but with a clear purpose and goal.

And that goal forms the core of The Dark Servant.  The Krampus exists to punish naughty children, but also to make them repent.  While its victims are trapped, it continually pushes and torments them to admit their sins.  And these sins are not minor.  The kidnapped students are there because they bullied and tormented a classmate to the point of nearly killing herself.  The young boy bullied a classmate and had entertained thought of shooting him.  The Krampus pushes all of them into forced confession, threatening to kill them unless they repent.  But it does show restraint.  It releases the children that do confess, and forces less torture onto the child, even saying there is only so much a child should have to endure.  Only the Heather, who does not repent, is fully punished, and in a way the Krampus’s ‘Master’ would appreciate- throwing her down a lit chimney.  Bullying and suicide are dark topics to go through, and often, they are discussed in a way that comes across as preachy.  But The Dark Servant shows them in a way that is real, and with a grim message- that while the Krampus is a sadistic demon, it is our own evil that calls it- and only our own ability to face that evil that can save us.  After all, Christmas is the time when we are called to be at our best- and to forgive.

 

Further Reading

Those interested in seeing the Krampus on screen would do well to examine the new film, or the anthology Christmas Horror Story, which also features the Krampus, in a more villainous role.   And don’t forget to come back next week, boys and girls of every age, as we travel across the Hinterlands to see a town that more then a little strange.

Points of Light Holiday Edition: It’s A Wonderful Life

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Welcome back to the blog.  In order to combat the post-Christmas blues, I’ve saved my final holiday entry for today.  And I’ve saved the best for last.  So prepare to take closer look at a Frank Capra bomb that became a holiday classic- It’s a Wonderful Life.

 

The Story

 

Prayers on Earth cause God and Joseph to summon Clarence, an angel in training, to venture down and help George Bailey, a man considering suicide.  Through flashbacks, Clarence sees George grow from child to man, a life in which George often gave up his dreams of travel and architecture to help others in his hometown.  Despite giving people a way to build and own homes rather then beg from the wealthy Mr. Potter, George is regretful of his missed chances, which overtake him when money from his business is misplaced and he faces jail.  Despondent, George attempts to kill himself for insurance money, only to be stopped by Clarence.  Acting on George’s statements, Clarence then reshapes the world so that George was never born, resulting in a world where the town is ruled by Potter and George’s friends and family are bitter, unhappy, or ever even came into existence.  Horrified, George begs for his life back, which Clarence gives him.  George returns to accept the consequences, but the townspeople he has helped over the years come to give him the needed money, repaying him for all his years of kindness.

What Writers Can Learn: Lengthy Narrative, Consequence

 

While it took many years of holiday TV airings to become a holiday staple, it is not hard to see the Christmas nature of this film, which promotes selflessness and the kindness of friends and family.  But other then its morality, this film gives writers examples of excellent tools.  First, the piece is perfect as a long narrative of George Bailey’s life.  We are shown George from the time he is twelve, and then almost all of his early adult life.  Even without his teenage years, we are given a clear of the man’s life, and the core of his character.  Even as a child, he displays a strong selflessness, losing part of his hearing to save his brother, and taking over his family business to save it from Potter.  With each age, we see George become a better man and we became more and more enamored with him and hope for his success.

However, the narrative also reveals the consequences of George’s actions.  Each of his good deeds is marred by sacrifice.  We see him give up college education, his dream of architecture, then his chances to see the world, his honeymoon, all to keep his family business going, and protect the townspeople.  And while his nobility is admirable, he displays all too human regret and frustration at the loss of those dreams.  We see touches of it throughout it the film, but it is nowhere more apparent then the difficult scene where George returns home after the money is lost.  He is clearly angry and saddened, snapping at his family, complaining about his life, and then finally destroying his models of things he would never build.  We see just how human George really is and despite all the good he has done, he has sacrificed a great deal.  Some have even brought this into the final scenes, where the townsfolk are brining George the needed money.  While it can be seen as the repayment of kindness and how good deeds are rewarded, it can also been seen as another blow to George, since he now has more then enough funds to keep working in a job he never truly wanted.  But regardless of how it seen, this is a perfect view of the consequences of one’s actions and how they affect his life.

Further Viewing

While not a holiday film, Jimmy Stewart (George) had a similar role in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where he plays a junior senator attempting to stand up to the inhuman bureaucracy of government (a film of great use in these difficult political times).  And with that, our holiday journey is finished for another year.  I look forward to seeing you all in the New Year, as I put forth the second volume of Lightrider.  Happy Season to you all.

Points of Light Christmas Edition: A Charlie Brown Christmas

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Greetings once again, as we continue our look at great holiday writing.  Today we examine a genuine holiday classic, drawn from the mind and hand of one of America’s comic strip legends.  Let’s turn the spotlight on A Charlie Brown Christmas.

The Story

It’s the holiday season, and as usual, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed.  He feels that Christmas has become over-commercialized, (thanks to Snoopy’s excessive doghouse decorations and his sister Sally asking Santa for money), and that he cannot grasp the true meaning of the holiday.  Taking advice from Lucy, he agrees to direct the school Christmas play, but is unable to control the unruly and sometimes selfish children.  Charlie Brown decides to get a Christmas tree to better set the mood, but selects a small, barren tree (the only actual tree in the lot) which is ridiculed by the children.

Charlie then beseeches someone to tell him the meaning of Christmas, which prompts Linus to recite the Nativity story from the Bible.  Feeling inspired, Charlie Brown takes the tree home to decorate, but it cannot even support a single ornament.  C.B. leaves in disgust, but Linus and the other children arrive, and are able to properly decorate the tree as C.B. returns, as the group begins to sing.

What Writers Can Learn: Simplicity, Subtlety

Charlie Brown Christmas has aired for fifty consecutive Christmases, and it’s not hard to see why.  Aside from bringing Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cast to television, it is a landmark in the art of simplicity.  Everything about the story feels genuine and endearing, from the basic story (completed within ten days) to the performances (done by young children with little previous acting experience).  As a result, the story isn’t weighed down by excessive details or long winded story telling.  The characters are direct, which makes them seem more like children, and the lessons are quickly stated and shown, which makes it easy to get across, especially in Schulz’s simple and often heartwarming style.

The other great aspect is the subtlety.  As mentioned, the story itself is largely simple, but as such, its points can be easy to grasp.  Charlie Brown is similar to the Grinch at the start, disillusioned with the commercialism of Christmas, and this point is clearly stated without lingering too long.  The other children also display their negative traits quickly.  But of all these moments, the most important is Linus’s reading of the Bible, one of the key moments of the Christmas season.

A scene that Schulz fought to be included, it is easy to say that bringing up religion is a difficult topic, and it is.  But the presentation is what makes this the keystone of the special.  The earnestness of Linus’s delivery is a major part, to be certain.  And while the religious aspect is undeniable, it is also true that Christmas is a religious holiday, and for those that celebrate that aspect, this is what the holiday truly means.  But most importantly, following Linus’s speech, there is silence.  No urging is given to the viewer, no demands are made.  We are simply left to our own devices, to take the words and apply them as we see fit.  In that, we have the greatest example of subtle writing- assuming the audience is smart enough to grasp the meaning in their own way.

Further Reading

There have been numerous Peanuts specials over the years, dealing with other holidays and various events, but few, if any, have reached the heights of the first.  But those of you looking for one last gift, come back next week when we unwrap what may very well be the greatest Christmas tale of all.

Points of Light Christmas Edition: Night of the Meek

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Welcome once again, as we continue our month long look into Christmas storytelling. Last week, we visited a modern version of the North Pole, but today, we’re entering a different realm. A realm between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This week, we venture into the American TV classic known as The Twilight Zone, and its Christmas offering, “Night of the Meek.”

The Story

Henry Corwin, a drunken department store Santa, arrives late and is fired from his position after a parent complains. Corwin then pours his heart out to the crowd, explaining that he drinks in large part because of the squalor and poor condition of his neighborhood and the children in it, and that he cannot truly be Santa for them. Decrying that Christmas is a far purer and better thing then department stores and presents, Corwin wishes that for one night, the meek could inherit the Earth. After being refused entrance to a local bar, Corwin comes across a large sack, which produces any gift asked of it. He then fulfills his wish, giving gifts to the children of his neighborhood and to the men of a homeless shelter. However, a nun calls the police, who then contact Corwin’s former employer, who believes he has stolen the gifts from the store. However, the store manage can only remove garbage out of the bag, and the policeman tells him to leave it alone. Later, Corwin has emptied the bag, and wishes only that he could do this every year. As he returns to the alleyway where he finds the bag, he now discovers a sleigh with two reindeer and an elf, waiting to take him to the North Pole.

What Writers Can Learn- Redemptive, Unique Character Writing, Morals

While The Twilight Zone is largely thought of for supernatural tales, it could often tell more heartfelt stories, and this is no exception. A great part of the genius of the episode can be placed at the feet of Corwin. The idea of a drunken, layabout department store Santa is nothing new, and is often written for comic effect, or to showcase a superior Santa figure. But here, we are made to feel for Corbin, who is aware of his flaws, and drinks out of regret not for himself, but for the poor people he lives with. We see that there is a good man behind the alcohol soaked veneer, who takes his position so seriously, that he weeps when poor children ask for gifts and “a job for my daddy” that he is powerless to give (A great note of consideration must also be given to Art Carney, famous as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, who carried the episode with his heartbreaking performance as Corwin).

But this episode is also excellent in its redemption and moral offerings. Despite his noble intentions, Corwin is at best, a sad figure with little to give the world, and he knows it. Upon finding the magic bag, we see Corwin’s utter joy at being able to make his dream a reality. Even under the face of scrutiny, he stays true to his goal, gifting his accusing manager, an act that convinces the policeman that Corwin should be left alone to accomplish his goal. In that, we see that even the most unlikely of us can do great good, if we are only given the chance.

And now, we come to the morals, the part that makes this required Christmas viewing for everyone. As mentioned, Corwin is a department store Santa. He constantly sees the hustle and bustle of people endlessly shopping and buying and spending each day, then goes home to a world where Christmas is just another day of the year. He sees children that will get everything they want, and children that don’t even get coal in their stockings. Even his firing comes at the hands of a woman who is trying to force the commercial of Christmas onto her son, and it is that very scene that makes Corwin deliver a speech on the truth of Christmas that ranks up with Linus telling the Nativity to Charlie Brown. Because Corwin doesn’t just remind us of Christmas’s true meaning, he stands in the hall of commercialism and reminds all the people, including the children, of those who have nothing. It is a speech that I have placed below, and I dare you watch it, and not weep.

Further Reading

The Twilight Zone had no other Christmas episodes, but those looking for strong moral tales would do well to examine its episodes for them (“The Last Night of a Jockey” is a fine example). “The Night of the Meek” was remade for the 1980’s Zone revival series, but nothing tops the original. And of course, there is another classic tale of the true meaning of Christmas, which we’ll get into next week. But if you want a hint, check the funny pages.

Points of Light Holiday Edition: How The Grinch Stole Christmas

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Happy Holidays once again, as we continue with the holiday edition of Points of Light. For the last two weeks, I’ve been examining different versions of A Christmas Carol. This week, I WILL be moving onto a different story, though I will again return with a familiar story of Yuletide cheer. So strap on your climbing shoes for the top of Mt. Crumpit, as I open up Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The Plot

As this is also a well-told and familiar story, I will be brief. The Grinch, a green monster that lives above Whoville, is tried of the incessant noise and spectacle of Christmas, and makes up his mind to ruin it. Dressed as Santa, he ventures down on Christmas Eve, stealing decorations, presents, and everything associated with the holiday, intending to dump it when he hears the cries of the Whos on Christmas morning. However, the reaction he gets makes him realize that Christmas is much bigger then his stolen loot, and with a new perspective, returns to Whoville, gives back all the stolen items, and joins the Who in celebration.

What Writers Can Learn: Commentary, Hidden Meaning, Personal Meaning

The Grinch is well regarded as a Christmas classic because it works on a variety of levels. At the very least, it is an engaging children’s story, with a happy ending and a simple moral. However, it also works for adults as a commentary. Seuss himself has admitted that there is a part of himself in the Grinch, and he largely wrote it to reconnect with a holiday he felt he’d lost something with. Anyone that’s ventured out into the Christmas season can agree. Each year, we are bombarded with endless decorations, shopping sprees, preparations and celebrations, and enough forced commercialism to make anyone hate the day. That is largely why the book resonates so well. Everyone has been the Grinch at some point- tired of the spectacle, seeing the holiday as nothing more then an exercise in greed, forced cheer, and commercial excess. In fact, one of the few strong moments in the live action adaption is when the Grinch admonishes the Whos for driving themselves into debt each year to buy presents that largely end up in the dump where he lives.

However, the Grinch’s journey, as it should be for the reader, is about seeing past the immediate façade of Christmas. The Grinch sees Christmas as nothing more then baubles and parties, and so that is what he steals. And like those tired of the holiday, he fully expects the day to be ruined because there are no longer any gifts or food to be had, no decorations to moon over. However, instead of anguished cries, he hears joyful singing, as the Who come out to give thanks for the day. Though he is confused, he comes to the revelation that while presents and parties and decorations are a part of the Christmas season, they are not all of it. Christmas is shown as a time when being with friends and family, and experiencing their joy and togetherness is all that truly matters. That’s why the Grinch cannot steal it, and it is the moment that makes the book a work of genius- by turning around expectations and giving a lesson that we realize was evident from the very beginning. That is a trick that only the best writers can accomplish, and the reason Dr. Seuss and his work is so beloved.

Final Thoughts

The Grinch is both a great moral tale and a family classic, that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Writers that are looking to write clever lessons and surprise readers should study it, as well as anyone that wants to write for children the way Seuss did. And readers who want more need go no further then the classic Chuck Jones animated special, narrated by horror icon Boris Karloff. The more recent live action version is impressive for the visuals and some of Jim Carrey’s performance as the Grinch, but it ignores the book’s subtlety for a sledgehammer approach to the moral (see the Nostalgia Critic’s video review (completely in rhyme) for a bigger picture). But it is entertaining enough, and does contain some well done moments. Come back next week, when I end the month and lead into a Christmas with a strong holiday masterpiece.

Points of Light Christmas Edition: A Christmas Carol

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Welcome to the first post of December. As the Christmas season comes down again, I decided that since the first holiday month on the blog went well, that it was time to do it again, this time with a series of Christmas themed entries. Now have no fear, I have no intention of talking commercialized specials like Frosty and Rudolph. Instead, my desire is to examine genuine pieces of Christmas stories, be they literature, film, or another medium. Therefore, let’s begin with perhaps the greatest piece of literature in history- Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

The Plot

As this is a story that has had multiple adoptions and retelling in the century plus time since it’s writing, I will be brief here. This is the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a cold, money-obsessed man who care only for money and for none of the joy of Christmas. But a visit from his deceased partner, who is doomed to wander the earth for his greedy ways in life, precedes a trio of ghosts who show Scrooge the past, present, and future should he continue in his ways. This leads Scrooge to embrace change and become a fair and generous man to all those around him.

What Writers Can Learn: Morality, Symbolism, Social Commentary

There is nary a person that has not grown up hearing some version of A Christmas Carol. Its impact on the holiday cannot be understated- indeed, the book is created for returning Christmas to a more joyous time on both sides of the Atlantic, and giving the weight and meaning it has now. However, Dickens’ tale has deeper roots. Dickens felt for the hard life of poor children and workers in England, and wrote several pamphlets on the cruelty of life those workers had to endure. He himself had lived several months in a workhouse as a child, and had observed the men and women who slaved away there. However, Dickens realized he could accomplish more with his writing then he could with political fare, and created a Christmas narrative to send his concerns out to the masses. Scrooge therefore, and figures like Jacob Marely stand as a criticism on capitalism, and Scrooge’s transformation and the happiness of the poor Cratchits is Dickens’ hope for the redemption of mankind.

Indeed, Dickens fills the novel with symbols not only on mankind’s nature, but also on life itself. Scrooge and Marely clearly represents greed and its destructive ways, and the chance for redemption, while Bob Cratchit is obviously the working man Dickens saw in life and Tiny Tim the poor children he also saw. However, the three Sprits also contain deeper symbolism. The Ghost of Christmas Past is portrayed as bright and shining, often imbibed with the power of ‘truth’. The past itself is often seen through nostalgia, making it seem a far better and simpler time. Yet, it also carries the weight of our choices, and how we must accept what they have led us to.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is joyful and happy, showing not only the emotions we should hold at Christmas, but also how the present seems full of possibilities. However, as the Spirit proves, the present also forces us to look at things as they are now, and the things we must see and judge ourselves by in the world. Indeed, a forceful scene, often cut out of current adaptations, is where the Spirit shows how Ignorance and Want, shown as poor, malnourished children of Mankind, cling to him, and how if they are ignored, will spell they end of humanity. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is the least subtle- a dark, foreboding figure in the mold of the Grim Reaper. Because after all, the future is always shrouded in mystery, save that it contains one thing- Death, which every person fears, and the question of how a person’s life will stack up when they are gone. Therefore this Sprit’s part of the novel is the darkest, and the one just prior to Scrooge’s redemption. It also carries the most weight, perhaps best shown in, ironically, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, where the Spirit tosses Scrooge into his grave (which opens into Hell), laughing and calling out, “The richest man in the cemetery!”

Final Thoughts

The many adaptations of A Christmas Carol have worn out many of the messages, but that does not make it any less of a tool for writers. It takes the hardships of the poor, the evil of greed, and the hope of redemption, and wraps into a Christmas ghost story (a hard enough thing to write as it is). Writers wishing to convey any sort of social message, or a moral, should examine it and see how well these heavy issues can be wrapped in a holly wreath and hung in the minds of men.

As for the adaptations, people with genuine interest should view either the George C. Scott or Patrick Stewart versions, which are closest to the original novel. However, children would be well served by the afore-mentioned Mickey’s Christmas Carol or The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, and excellent comedic versions exist in Scrooged! or Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, which reverses Scrooge into the nicest (and most taken advantage of) man in England, who learns to be greedy and mean. And of course, there is one rather recent version which I will discuss next week. Be warned though- this version carries with it a rather Halloween-flavored hunger…

Also, I will be appearing a the Cranford NJ Public Library this Thursday night for a signing and discussion on Lightrider, so any in the area, feel free to attend. And a congratulations to Emile Wilson, winner of the Lightrider Holiday Giveaway!