10 April 2008


• AMC Greatest Christmas Movies, Frank Thompson
I would have had this book read before now, but it came to me in dreadful shape; I got it from a used bookstore and found it with water damage. I'd avoided buying this one full price because I didn't want to put profit into the hands of the idiots who cancelled Remember WENN. Not a very charitable thought about a Christmas book.

As a volume that examines Christmas movies, it has its good points and its bad points. One positive point is that it addresses silent Christmas films, which other Christmas film books usually ignore. There are also extended chapters about A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation, although some of the material is a bit tedious. The volume also has the advantage of nice stills from the movies it does cover. On the other hand, many well-loved Christmas films are completely ignored, and in a short commentary on classic Christmas television fare, only A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas are acknowledged—the omission of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is inexcusable. Not to mention this is yet another Christmas book that covers Christmas horror films in depth. IMHO, "Christmas" and "horror" should never be uttered in the same breath.

• Christmas in Connecticut, Diane Smith
I found this on remainder, a lovely oversized coffee table book filled with stories about various celebrations, exhibits and displays across the state of Connecticut. About half the book is lovely photos of Christmas decorations and displays, and just plain landscapes covered in snow. Gorgeous.

06 April 2008

Elves, Fairies and...Convicts?

Did anyone catch this film, North Station (also known as Station Nord—a shot of the DVD) last fall? I have been hoping it would make the rounds again so I could catch the whole thing. It wasn't broadcast on any of the regular movie channels, but showed up on Film Festival or Family Room (I can't recall) on the VOOM HD channels that we get. I saw the end of it one time, the middle, the beginning...never all at once, which made it hard to get a handle on this very strange Quebec-made Christmas fantasy.

The story concerns young Samuel, who has been sent to live with his uncle at North Station, the last stop on the railway before the North Pole. Samuel's late uncle always prepared responses to children's letters to Santa, and this year Samuel and young Evelyne, whom Samuel is developing a crush on, decide to answer the letters themselves. However, they fall asleep in the middle of the task, but miraculously the letters are all answered and ready.

Samuel leaves to take the letters to the post office, but is caught in a blizzard and lays dying in the forest. Howie, a little African boy in Moorish dress captures Samuel's last breath in a bottle and takes Samuel to the North Pole, where he is revived and meets Santa Claus and also Bianca, the beautiful fairy who lives there (perhaps this is some French version of the Santa/St. Nicholas story?—Bianca doesn't appear to be "Mrs. Claus"). Samuel is captivated by the workings of Santa's workshop around him, so Santa makes him an offer: since Samuel's last breath is still trapped in the bottle, he can remain at the North Pole and become one of the helpers himself. But in return for staying alive, he must relinquish all his memories, including of Evelyne. Samuel does so and soon becomes a trusted helper. The bottle with his last breath is stored in a vault with those of others who Santa has rescued from death and who are now his helpers (you can tell all of Santa's helpers because they all have sparkly eyebrows, as Samuel is given).

Those are only a few of the strange things about this movie. Another odd thing involves the reindeer: when they draw Santa's sleigh they are actual, physical reindeer, but when they are off-duty, they revert into people. They are in fact convicts who are working off their debt to society and when they are not drawing the sleigh they are usually quarreling. The elves use them several times to make deliveries to North Station and you see them singing carols in the background, wearing unusual clothing.

Anyway, some time in the future, Santa receives a letter from a little girl whose grandmother is sick. She asks Santa for help—and it turns out "Grandmother" is a grown-up Evelyne.

There are more facets to the plot than this, but since I never saw it all in one go I never did figure out what was going on at certain points. There are a couple of segments where Santa plucks people from various points on earth and gives them courage before returning them to their home, and at the end Bianca grows weak and ill, but I never found out why. Another part of the story involves a plump, resentful elf named Cathy who was banished to work in the kitchens because she accidentally broke a couple of the bottles containing peoples' last breaths. I never found out if it was possibly Cathy who made Bianca ill or not.

Someday I hope to see it from beginning to end to see if I can get the plot straight! :-)

01 April 2008

CHRISTMAS BOOKS REVIEW (and Another Holiday Offering)

(books from remainder tables after Christmas and just a couple not read during Christmastide...)

• Re-read: The Story of Holly and Ivy, Rumer Godden
Ivy, an orphan girl who has made up a fantasy for herself about spending the holiday with her "grandmother" instead being sent to the Infants' Home for Christmas, disembarks from the train in the town of Aylesbury, looking for her fictional grandmother, and sees a beautiful Christmas doll in a toy shop window. Like Ivy, Holly the doll is wishing for a real home, and is in terror that she will have to stay at the toyshop with the evil stuffed owl Abracadabra glaring at her forever. How they both find a home is the tale told in this charming book. If you saw the movie supposedly "based" upon this story (The Wish That Saved Christmas), pick up the book instead; it's a classic of love and faith...but mostly it's about wishing, and how wishes sometimes come true.

• Re-read: The Homecoming, Earl Hamner
The book that inspired the classic television special first broadcast in 1971. What you will read is the original story about the Spencer (not Walton) family, which, besides the difference in names, presents a slightly darker tale, but not in an unsavory way—just a more accurate portrait of the often grim lives of Appalachian families in the 1930s that were warmed by family and love. Even if you've watched the television movie for years, this story will provide fresh insights.

• 11 Days in December, Stanley Weintraub
Weintraub seems to be making a career of telling military Christmas tales: this follows his books about the World War I Christmas truce and about George Washington's Christmas farewell to his troops. This is his story of the Battle of the Bulge and the men who combated the last desperate push of the German army. Includes the true story of General George Patton's outrageous appeal to God before the battle. Great book for history buffs, especially WWII aficionados.

• God Rest Ye Merry, Soldiers, James McIvor
A wartime Christmas book not written by Stanley Weintraub, this slim volume talks about the American Civil War and how celebrations during the war led to a change in how Americans celebrated Christmas. The central chapters of the books are filled with diary entries and information gleaned from contemporary journals about the experiences of both Union and Confederate on the battlefield.

• Santa's North Pole Cookbook, Jeff Guinn
Guinn's characters in his "Santa Claus" trilogy supply their favorite recipes. A nice variety of ethnic dishes and a good mixture of sweets and savories.

• Once Upon a Christmas, James Dillet Freeman
These are chiefly religious-themed short stories about Christmas, some fanciful,some true-to-life, viewing the Nativity from different points-of-view (the stable animals, a scarecrow, and Joseph, just to name a few), with several others about family miracles at Christmastime, including the amazing story of a boy who rescues an angel with a broken wing. If you are looking for a collection of non-run-of-the-mill Christmas stories, you may enjoy this volume.

• Christmas by the Hearth, anthology, Tyndale Books
A collection of inspiring short stories for the holidays, from classics like "The Little Match Girl" and "The Gift of the Magi" to modern-day tales of faith in the vein of Chicken Soup for the Soul to stories based on old Christmas legends, like that of the Christ Child who arrives unawares. One story involves the reminisces of an older woman who we realize at the end of the story is a famous 19th century author. The collection is further enhanced with attractive pages that include black-and-white sketchwork.


• Hanukkah, Schmanukkah!, Esmé Raji Codell and LeUyen Pham
What if someone wrote a Jewish version of A Christmas Carol? Although it sounds improbable, the story is given an interesting treatment in this picture book for older children and adults, about a penny-pinching, embittered New York City sweatshop owner who pushes his impoverished employees to the edge. Nicely tells the story of Jewish immigration to the United States and the hardships faced by those who left the old country for "the streets paved with gold." The color illustrations perfectly capture the mood of the story.