Christmas is coming … again, along with all its traditions, for which we can largely thank the Victorians. It was not until a picture appeared of Victoria and Albert, surrounded by family, beside a decorated tree that we all wanted one, big or small, in a corner of our room. And likewise it was that great icon of Victorian literature, Dickens, who gave us so many wonderful Yuletide moments – most obviously, of course, A Christmas Carol. However, in these times of austerity, it is perhaps now, more than ever, that we need our favourite literary Christmas scenes to help get us in the proper festive mood. And so I have been asking my colleagues for theirs.
Johanna Geary, senior editor and aficionado of children’s literature, has chosen the wonderful How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss. It is a great commentary on what Christmas is really all about – without the soppy stuff – and contains the inimitable line: ‘Then he got an idea! An awful idea! The grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!’
Editor Alice Brett has chosen The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien; a beautiful book published a couple of years after Tolkien’s death and containing letters which he’d written to his four children ‘from’ Father Christmas between 1920 and 1943. He updates them on happenings at the North Pole and the antics of his trusty polar-bear chums and elvish staff.
Our Publisher, Catherine Taylor, has opted for Susan Cooper’s brooding, atmospheric The Dark is Rising, the second book in her acclaimed series. The novel describes how Will Stanton, seventh son of a seventh son, finds himself embroiled in a battle between the light and the dark which takes place in the dying days of the old year.
James Matthews, non-fiction editor, has chosen a scene from Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda in which a demonic Christmas pudding results in a wallop for Oscar: ‘His father said the pudding was the fruit of Satan. But Oscar had tasted the pudding. It did not taste like the fruit of Satan.’
Christmas would not be complete without a good mystery, and editor Mandy Kirkby has suggested the festive Sherlock Holmes short story ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’. A classic piece of detective work finally leads Holmes to uncover the missing jewel (the titular blue carbuncle) in the crop of a Christmas goose.
My own personal favourite is a scene in the marvellous Wind in the Willows where some field-mice with ‘red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth’ arrive to sing carols to Mole and Ratty before being ushered in to partake of a festive feast.
And finally Neil Titman, our Managing Editor, notes that there is still debate as to whether or not the timing of Christmas is in fact derived from the Roman Saturnalia, the December festival which involved extensive feasting and the temporary freedom of slaves. In his 18th Epistle the dramatist and Stoic philosopher Seneca describes the carousing of the masses with indignation, and advises his addressee, Lucilius, that ‘It shows much courage to remain dry and sober when the mob is drunk and vomiting.’ He even goes so far as to say, ‘Once December was a month; now it is a year.’ Sound familiar?
But these are clearly just glimpses of the scenes which make the editorial team smile, which amuse and remind us of the festive season. But the question we all wish to ask is: What are your favourite literary Christmas moments?