14 December 2014

What the Dickens...?

Inventing Scrooge: Dickens' Legendary A Christmas Carol, Carlo DeVito
I can't figure out if DeVito's former English teachers are going to be chuffed that an old student had a book published or if they're going to hide their heads in shame at his awkward sentence structure and downright howlers.

I think if I hadn't read other books about the origins of A Christmas Carol (the material in the annotated version, The Man Who Invented Christmas, and the fascinating The Life and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge), I might have been more forgiving to this book. There are certain interesting facts in this one, such as the origins of Tiny Tim and nephew Fred, Scrooge's and Marley's names—oh, and the John Leech color plates from the original book are reprinted in their glory on the endpapers, but they're marred by simplistic text, repetition, padding, typos, and a few incredible grammar errors. This is most obvious in the chapter "Fred," where in paragraph 4 it says "In 1824, at the age of fourteen, Charles took Fred in when he moved into a three-room apartment..." Wait. Charles moved into an apartment at the age of fourteen? No, it was Fred who was fourteen, judging by the previous paragraph. In the next few paragraphs, we hear about Dickens' father, wife, two men named Willis and Marcone, and then in paragraph 10, talking about Dickens' post-marital household: "In addition to Mary, young Frederick Dickens...was now a member of the household." Mary? Who the heck is Mary? She hasn't been mentioned in the chapter at all. In paragraph 11 come the topper: "And when Kate's sister Mary [ah, now he explains it] was suddenly seized by a grave illness, of whom Charles was immensely fond..." I read this twice, then read it aloud to my husband, who said, "Wait, he was immensely fond of grave illness?" Egad.

It's stuff like this that ruins a potentially good book. In short, I liked the trivia, but the execution was less than sterling. If you can find this on remainder, I suggest you buy it that way.

12 December 2014

Classic Tales of the Newborn King

The Christmas Book of Legends and Stories, Elva Sophronia Smith & Alice Isabel Hazeltine
This is a thick book of old-fashioned poetry and stories about the spiritual side of Christmas celebrations, first published in 1915 and expanded in 1944 (with a good deal of Ms. Hazeltine's poetry in the process). The book is divided into sections about various aspects of the Christmas story, including "The Pilgrims," "The New-Born King," "The Christ Child," "The Boy Jesus," etc. and is chiefly verse, some from such noted authors as Katherine Lee Bates ("America The Beautiful"), Heywood Broun, Elizabeth Coatsworth, Selma Lagerlorf, Ruth Sawyer, Sara Teasdale, and even poetry from Joyce Kilmer and John Milton. Legends pepper the pages: that of Babouska (in Italy known as Befana), Joseph of Arimethea, St. Christopher, and Bride, there are stories of Christmas celebrations in foreign lands (including an excerpt from Monica Shannon's Newbery winner, Dobry), and there are also several simple playlets for children to present as part of a church gathering. Interestingly enough, one is about the daughter of one of the Wise Men, who breaks tradition by asking to accompany her father (she doesn't, but ends up having visions of the journey).

Even with all the collections of Christmas stories and poetry I have, several of these stories were new to me, or were new versions of old tales. This is a great book to find at a used book store or library sale for those who wish for something more spiritual to read at bedtime or during quiet time, but simple enough to be calming and nostalgic. A happy find.

07 December 2014

Books for Christmas!

Some reviews for the second Sunday of Advent:

The Old Magic of Christmas, Linda Raedisch
I had this on my Amazon wishlist, so was chuffed when I found a copy, brand new, in with the Christmas books at the Friends of the Library Book Sale. I think it probably surprised someone who took a look at the subject matter and disposed of it posthaste.

This is not a book about Victorian Christmases or charming olde world Christmas celebrations: this volume goes back, way back to the pagan era, and the different gods, little people (elves, kobolds, boggarts, etc.), mythic figures, and dark creatures hiding in the winter nights that so frightened and awed the population which fought a never-ending battle against cold and hunger. In its pages we meet witches, the Wild Hunt, dark St. Nicholases dressed in fur and smutched with soot, the Yule Buck and other animals long ago associated with the winter solstice; characters from Nordic legend and German tales, goddesses who later became associated with the Christian story of Christmas (St. Lucy, La Befana), the Yule Lads  who commit mischief and the Kallikantzari who are more sinister. Plants associated with Christmas are also discussed.

I have several books of pagan Christmas lore, and Raedisch still surprised me with Yule tales I hadn't heard. She also sneaks sly, humorous references to present media in the text, which keeps it from being a dry recitation of old legends. A must for those interested in the ancestral antecedents of the modern Christmas celebrations.

A Christmas Story Treasury, Tyler Schwartz
This is a thin but oversized gift book tribute to the now-classic 1980 film that did terribly at the box office (because it was pulled five weeks after release and wasn't available for Christmas) and became a tradition—and a hit—via cable TV. (I saw it for the first time on HBO; by the time I went to the theatre, it was gone.) It's chock-full of color stills from the film, tidbits about the origin of the story and its filming, and eight nifty buttons at the side that you can press to hear actual dialog from the movie. But wait, Red Ryder aficionados, there's more: an envelope in the back that contains goodies like Ralphie's Radio Orphan Annie membership card, a reproduction of the original movie poster, and more.

This book originally sold for $25, but these days you can get it for a more reasonable $10 on the remainder stacks at Barnes & Noble. At that price it's perfect for reliving your memories of Scut Farkas, not putting your arms down, Christmas themes, Chinese turkey, and shooting your eye out!

01 December 2014

Today's Saint...

...is St. Eligius, the patron saint of goldsmiths. Of course, for many of us, he lent his name to the hospital in the television series St. Elsewhere, which, darnit, still isn't released on DVD... (I think they did first season.)

27 November 2014

25 November 2014

Rudolph Day, November 2014

The last Rudolph Day of 2014 features two books:

12 Stories of Christmas, Robert J. Morgan
This is a sweet collection of Christmas stories with a spiritual bent, perfect for reading during the Twelve Days of Christmas. The tales range from nostalgic, such as the story behind a snowglobe that takes a boy back to 1943 when the family car is stolen, and the gentle story of a telegraph girl who searches a hospital for news of her brother at Pearl Harbor, and the story of an unexpected catalog delivery to an impoverished family during the Depression, to humorous, in which a teenage bookworm is persuaded to participate in his aunt's opus of a Christmas play and falls prey to stage fright in a delightful way. There are even romantic tales. My favorite ended up being the last, about the husband of a young couple awaiting the birth of their first child; he's encouraged to build a cradle by his wife, who's tired of him fussing over him. The result is a total surprise!

The volume is peppered with beautiful color photographs that relate to the stories without being actual illustrations based on the text. This is a lovely gift book for those who like heartwarming or spiritual Christmas tales.

An Old-Fashioned Christmas, text by Karen Cure
I almost didn't pick this book up because it looked as if it was mainly recipes, but for only a dollar I did anyway, and was unexpectedly delighted. The book does present recipes, but from different periods in American history, and, along with the recipes, Cure tells us something about each of the historic locations/homes in the book: Colonial Williamsburg, Winterthur Museum, and Sleepy Hollow Restorations representing Colonial America; Victorian America's homes: the Mark Twain House and Chateur-Sur-Mer in Newport. The Gallier House in New Orleans, the Conner Prairie Settlement, and Columbia, a State Park in California are regional representations. "Christmas With the Presidents," a series of recipes from George Washington's kitchens, and some vintage Christmas carols finish out the volume. Liberally illustrated, with a third of the photographs in color. Perfect for fans of Christmas and history.

23 November 2014

Merrymaking in the Midst of Danger

Especially for "Stir Up Sunday," the day when the Christmas pudding would be made so it could be soaked in brandy, cooked, and then put away until Christmas.

Christmas on the Edge of the Abyss, 1939

BBC's Christmas in World War II

London in the Blitz

British newsreel: Christmas Under Fire

From the series Wartime Farm: Christmas Episode

Stir Up Your Sunday!

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent is "Stir-Up Sunday," from the first words of the collect in the Anglican service. Traditionally, this is the day the Christmas pudding is made, and then soaked in brandy or another spirit and put away to serve on Christmas Day.

More about Stir-Up Sunday, with a traditional pudding recipe.

Jamie Oliver talks about Stir-Up Sunday and Christmas puddings.

According to Catholic Culture, Stir-Up Sunday is also the First Sunday of Advent.

A Telegraph writer makes the case for home made pudding, not one purchased at the store.

31 October 2014

Hallowe'en Viewing

Mellow viewing;
For Better or For Worse: "The Good for Nothing"

Cheesy, but fun, with Melissa Sue Anderson 180 degrees from Mary Ingalls:
Midnight Offerings

Not Hallowe'en necessarily, but spooky:
A Cold Night's Death

Suitable for small ones, but psychedelic:
The Worst Witch television film

More conventional school story:
The Worst Witch television series, starting with Episode 1

And then there's completely off the wall:
Paul Lynde Halloween Special

13 October 2014

A Pioneer Christmas

A Little House Christmas Treasury
This is a darling little book comprised of Christmas chapters from "the Little House" books, with the now-classic illustrations by Garth Williams in color, and decorative snowflakes scattered throughout. The Ingalls celebrate Christmas in Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and finally in DeSmet, Dakota Territory, and the Wilder family has a feast in upstate New York. It will strike you all over again how little these children had, but who made their own fun in inventive ways, playing tea parties with leaves and acorns, cutting paper dolls from scraps of paper, just running and making "snow people" and having snowball fights, and how little it took for them to be happy: red mittens, a drinking cup of one's own, a stick of candy, a rag doll, a "boughten" hat. It also brings home the chill of living in a cabin where the only heat comes from a fireplace...in other chapters not included in this book Laura describes waking in rooms so cold that the nails in the wall are furred with frost, and the visiting relatives in these stories wrap in layers and layers of clothing and blankets in order not to be frostbitten on the sleigh ride home.

A super acquisition for your Christmas library, especially if you have young children—but it will make you count your blessings!

02 October 2014

Whetting Your Appetite for Hallowe'en

Some videos just for fun:

Bunnicula the Vampire Rabbit

Halloween is Grinch Night

"Trick or Treat"

Winnie the Pooh's Halloween Stories (complete with CBS Special Presentation logo!)