Friday, December 21, 2007

Rediscovering Dickens

With the holidays upon us, there's something inevitable about Charles Dickens, particularly if you have television. A Christmas Carol will grace the channels at least a dozen times, I suspect, and the trials of the Cratchetts and the second chance tossed to Ebeneezer Scrooge will remind us not to postpone joy, that our capacity to love and give are our true legacies. The blessed Dickens Dictum, in other words, is a part of our culture's holiday experience.

Dickens is such a giant presence in our entertainment industry that
it's easy to forget what a master writer he was. Every child actor from Freddie Bartholomew on has taken a crack at cuting up Dickens' title characters. Musicals abound, all "based on Dickens' timeless tale" as the display ads always put it. It's easy to lose the core creations in all the spin-offs.

Happily, the books on tape and CD in NPL's collection can serve as a reminder of his fundamental genius, along with the print versions of his many masterpieces. I have been working my way through our Dickens audiobooks, starting with A Tale of Two Cities and proceeding on to David Copperfield. At the moment I am listening to Great Expectations, which I hadn't experienced since the ninth grade. My God! I find myself thinking, These works were wasted on my callow, youthful self! It's wonderful to sit before a roaring fire and listen to the words--the characters, the
dialogues, the descriptions-- that so many have enjoyed before me. I find that I can't quite get enough.

I tend to become a little fanatical in my enthusiasms. Since I have fallen in love with red kuri squash, I find myself buying it wherever I can find it, knowing that its availability will be gone too soon. Similarly, I've been scanning NPL's catalog just to see
how long I can stay on this Dickens-go-round. Happily, I see that we also have recorded versions of Bleak House, the Pickwick Papers, and Oliver Twist, as well as A Christmas Carol.On the print side of things we have two volumes of Dickens' Christmas Stories, as well as all the titles mentioned above, as well as Nicolas Nickleby.

It's that vision of justice thwarted, the boundless sympathy for innocents, the push for reconciliation, the mastery of language,
those unforgettable characters and their well-tailored names that have me as filled with wonder. With our positively Dickensian weather forecasts, perhaps you'll find stories for drawing near the fire as well.