Author: Charles Dickens
Published By: Barnes & Noble Classics
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Having seen several renditions of A Christmas Carol , but never having read the original by Charles Dickens, and having been inspired to do so by the recent Christmas article I wrote, I hurried to Barnes & Noble to purchase the book. I was surprised to discover that A Christmas Carol was not the only “Christmas book” Dickens had written. I found a collection of such stories – A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth – and began reading in earnest.
Many believe that they know the age old tale of A Christmas Carol, but you must read the story in its original form to get the full value of the lesson taught. Most people who have seen the different renditions think of the lead character, Ebenezer Scrooge, as being a money-monger – miserly to the last, his downfall being his love for money. However, the tale really deals with miserliness of the heart. Scrooge is reproached by the ghost of his long dead business partner, Jacob Marley, for his treatment of mankind. Marley bemoans his shackles and chains, earned behaving much the same toward his fellow man as Scrooge. He beseeches Scrooge to heed his warning, lest he follow in Marley’s miserable footsteps. Scrooge is then visited by three spirits – those of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Each, in their own special way, teach Scrooge the beauty of human kindness found in young and old, rich and poor. Scrooge repents his miserly ways and seeks to right the wrongs he has committed to those he should hold dear.
In The Chimes, Toby Veck is a poor, down-trodden soul, doing his very best to eke out a meager existence for himself and his beloved daughter, Meg. Although they lack much, they want for little, due to their merry spirits and love for one another. Every day, Toby listens to the chimes in the bell tower with wonderment and happiness. He finds hope in what he imagines is their song to him. One terrible day, he allows that song to be soured, taking to heart the ignorant statement about the poor made by three arrogant, well-to-do statesmen. He begins to believe in the ignorant ramblings. That night, he is visited by the ghosts of the chimes. Revealing to Toby the future that will befall his family should he continue in this vein, they show him the errors in his ways, beseeching him to find joy and happiness in all he holds dear. He is reminded that wealth of the heart is more valuable than wealth of the pocket.
In The Cricket on the Hearth, we read of an upcoming wedding and secrets kept that threaten to undo a happy family. Each character is hiding something from someone, from the mysterious old stranger to the Carrier’s wife to the toymaker who can’t bear to tell his blind daughter the desperate state in which they actually live in. We learn just how much damage secrets can cause. The spirit of the cricket on the hearth teaches each character in turn the importance of truth and cherishing what they love lest they lose it.
Each novel, in itself, teaches a valuable lesson to its reader. Having suffered poverty as a child, Dickens implores readers of each tale not to look down on the poor, as they are often virtuous people trying their absolute hardest to survive. That he loathes the upper class who desire to make the hard lives of the poor that much harder is obvious in how he portrays such characters. In A Christmas Carol, he creates, in Scrooge, a character which we are apt to loathe from the very start. Little by little, Scrooge redeems himself in such a manner as to become beloved to the very same reader who despised him mere pages before. In The Chimes, the reader’s mind screams out to Toby Veck not to believe the awful words of the pompous snobs and gasps at the spirits of the chimes rendering of the future hardships to be suffered by Meg due to her father’s lack of faith. In The Cricket on the Hearth, the reader learns to love what life has offered him – to not bemoan what could have been, but to accept his path with relish and vigor.
This collection of Charles Dickens’ “Christmas books”, published by Barnes & Noble Classics, contains an introduction and notes by Katherine Kroeber Wiley, an intellectual with excellent insight as to the writings of Charles Dickens. Through her introduction and the timeline offered, we gain more insight into the inspiration for the writings of this most famous of authors. Dickens and his family suffered the horrors of poverty, his family being jailed for the “crime”. Moving several times and working several different jobs, Dickens finally landed a job as a reporter for the courts, Parliament and several newspapers. Despising the classes that people of his time were placed in from birth, it would appear that Dickens wrote his stories with an eye toward abolishing the class system and ignorance displayed by the rich toward that of the poor. Using his very own life experience, Dickens strives to prove the humanity of the poor – that they are not just a bunch of lazy never-do-wells, but a class of hard-working, luckless souls. In his writings, Dickens teaches that human kindness is the greatest power any soul can have over another and that an act of human kindness is treasured more than any coin ever can be.
Prior to these stories, I had only read one other Charles Dickens novel – A Tale of Two Cities . I enjoyed the novel, but was never so inspired to read more of his works as I am now. In fact, I recently revisited Barnes and Noble to pick up another Dickens novel – Oliver Twist. There can be no doubt in my mind that I will enjoy that one as much as I have all of the other Charles Dickens tales I have read. He has a way of drawing you in, bringing the characters to life and causing you to have a vested interest in their outcome. A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth was a terrific find and one I recommend everyone get their hands on.