Reread and Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Christmas has plenty of classic Christmas stories, but A Christmas Carol is perhaps one of the most well-known, and oldest. Due to the fact that it’s in the public domain, the basic plot has been adapted numerous times over the years, and most people are probably more familiar with an adaptation than the actual source material.

That includes myself. Before I set out and reread the novella for this month, I had only read it once before as part of a school assignment. Yet, there are several adaptations I’m quite fond of and will always re-watch this time of year such as Mickey’s Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, and the Doctor  Who episode “A Christmas Carol“.

Normally if there’s an adaptation of a work, like in the case of Coraline, I try to review just the book and not the adaptation. Unfortunately, I can’t take such a stance with A Christmas Carol because I’m far more familiar with the adaptations, having seen them way before I actually read the original material. That’s why for this review, I will take adaptations into consideration.

For those who don’t know, A Christmas Carol is about Ebenezer Scrooge, who despite being very wealthy, is quite frugal and a bit of a miser. On Christmas Eve he’s visited by four ghosts who eventually convince him to become more kind-hearted. It was published in 1843 by Charles Dickens, and greatly influenced how Christmas came to be celebrated as we know it today. If you want to read the whole thing, you can do here.

The Good

First, the good. Because it is a novella rather than a novel, A Christmas Carol is short. So short I was surprised that I finished it in under an hour, and actually had to confirm the original text was actually that short. I’ve tried reading other works by Charles Dickens before, but given their length and dense writing style, never enjoyed or really understood them. Such was not the case with A Christmas Carol.

There are also many well-written lines throughout it as well that will continue to stick with me for years to come, and I don’t just mean Tiny Tim’s classic line, “God bless Us, Every One!” There’s a line towards the beginning, “There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” I don’t know what it is about that line, but it’s so simple, and sets the tone so well for the rest of the story. Then there’s Scrooge’s line when he encounters Marley’s ghost, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” That’s then followed up by his simple line, “I think I’d rather not,” when Jacob Marley proceeds to warn him about the three ghosts he’ll be visited by. For being such a short and simple tale, it really does have a lot of good quotable lines.

The Not So Good

It’s quick, which also works against it. Compared to modern adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and just modern stories in general, I felt like the story moved too quickly. The pace was so fast, Scrooge acts almost OOC at certain parts. In the beginning he’s the classic curmudgeon, but once the plot gets going he becomes soft and sentimental rather quickly. He doesn’t stick to that curmudgeon shtick as long as he probably should have. Granted he’s supposed to have a change of heart in just a few hours, but it seems like he barely made it into the first hour before starting to show signs of change. I’m all for redemption arcs, but it needs to be believable. A character as old and set in his ways as Scrooge shouldn’t change that easily.

Usually the saying is, ‘the book was better’ but in this case I have to disagree. I didn’t realize, and most people probably don’t, but the image of Scrooge showing up to Bob Cratchit’s on Christmas Day with a Christmas feast and sack full of toys ending with Tiny Tim saying his line, isn’t in the actual book. Scrooge does have a turkey, but he goes straight to work the next day, and tells Bob about his raise there. Then there’s a long paragraph stating all the good he goes on to do, how beloved he becomes, and then it ends with Tiny Tim’s final line. I prefer the other version that’s usually done in adaptations where the story ends at the Cratchit’s. That ending doesn’t leave me with the impression that Scrooge spent the rest of Christmas day at home twiddling his thumbs until the next day when he could go to the office, and is a more satsifying end to Scrooge’s arc.

There’s also a bit with lighthouse keepers and miners, and the Ghost of Christmas Present revealing that Want and Ignorance are children hanging onto his legs underneath his robes. It’s so random, that I see why adaptations do not include it. Yes the story is about encouraging charity and good will towards man, but you don’t have to whack the audience over the head with the message. If a work is too preachy, I personally feel like the message gets diluted and loses it’s emphasis.

Does it Hold Up?

Yes, and no. The question is less does it hold up to the first time I read it, and more, does it hold up against the beloved adaptations. It does hold up to the first reading, but less so against adaptations which do a better job regarding plot, structure, Scrooge slowly changing, and getting rid of the random bits. If your’re curious as to the original text, then by all means check it out. If you just want the core message and warm fuzzy feeling it leaves you with, then check out an adaptation instead.

That’s all for this year! Happy holidays and see you next year when I review a historical fiction book that was one of my favorites when I was younger.

—Kay S. Beckett

Reread and Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

20181030_171054.jpg

October is the perfect time of the year to curl with a book of a certain horrific nature. Ghouls, ghosts, gore, and things that go bump in the night that are guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine or sleeping with the light on. Just for the one night of course.

There’s just one problem though with that for me— I’m not much of a horror fan.

Whether it comes to books, movies, or TV shows, horror just isn’t my thing. It has less to do with being squeamish and more to do with horror as a genre just doesn’t keep my attention for long, or the characters are all idiots who are too stupid to live. If you’re really into horror (which is completely alright), never watch a horror movie with me because I will start riffing on it. You have been warned.

Yet there is one book that has a creepy Halloween vibe (there’s a reason I can never look at a Lalaloopsy doll without suspicion) and manages to keep my attention— Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Coraline was published in 2002 by English author Neil Gaiman, and a movie was made in 2009— though my review is entirely focused on the book. Despite generally writing books aimed at an older audience, Coraline is instead aimed at a much younger one. In fact, when I first picked it up years ago, it was in the children’s section of my local library.

Coraline can best be described as as a slightly older and darker version of Alice in Wonderland or a more modern version of a Grimm fairy-tale. It’s about a young girl named Coraline (not Caroline) who has just moved to a new house with her parents. The house being rather large, has other tenants— a man who lives upstairs and is training mice— and two older woman who used to be actresses.

Not too long into her new home Coraline finds a mysterious door that supposedly leads to nowhere. Upon closer inspection it leads to the Other World, with other versions of the building tenants, and parents who are far more attentive than her own. Everything seems perfect, except for the fact her Other Parents have buttons for eyes, and are eager to give her a pair of her own. When she refuses, her real parents go missing, it’s up to Coraline to find them, and outsmart her Other Mother.

The Good

Coraline, is a quick and easy read due to its intended audience, and there are no real major twists. However it can still be enjoyed by an older audience with a few lines and references (such as a certain Scottish play that can’t be named) that my younger self didn’t catch through the first read through. Depending on who you are this could be a good thing or a bad one. Personally, as long as the story is entertaining, I don’t care about the length.

Like I pointed out earlier, Coraline can be compared to Alice in Wonderland, and like Alice in Wonderland, it has a talking cat that talks more in riddles than sense, and helps the main character. The Cheshire Cat has always been one of my favorite characters from the book, and the Cat (for only humans need names) is probably my favorite character from Coraline due to his sarcastic and snarky personality.

The Not So Good

Aside from the Cat, the characters can be kind of flat and boring, including Coraline herself who can be annoying, but I can see why. The book is aimed at a younger audience and characters in children’s literature can be simpler. Also, because the story revolves around Coraline, we see the characters through her eyes. As a pre-teen, Coraline acts likes a pre-teen, seeing her parents as merely boring parents who work too much and don’t spend time with her. But as the book goes on, she gradually starts to grow up and mature, realizing she’s being unfair to them. So while the characters might be annoying, because I understand why, they’re not intolerable.

My only other issue with the book is the ending. The book seems to have a natural spot where it could end. Instead, there’s a few more chapters and one more thing for Coraline to deal with. There are two bits of foreshadowing, but if it wasn’t for those two brief lines, it could be removed from the book without issue. It feels like it was just sort of tacked on in order to make the book slightly longer.

Does the Book Hold Up?

Yeah? It was never one of my most beloved books, but I didn’t dislike it either. The same remains true today. I did enjoy it, but it’s not one of my favorites. Honestly if it wasn’t for this review, I probably wouldn’t have reread it. If you haven’t checked it out yet and like a spooky story, or are looking for a good book for children to read, I definitely say give it a chance. I realize my review is rather short and brief, but that’s how the book was, short and brief.

Next month due to NaNoWriMo, there will be no Reread and Review. In December I’m going to feature a modern day Christmas classic.

Agree with my review? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

—Kay S. Beckett

 

R&R: Young Wizards by Diane Duane

Young Wizard Series
In Life’s name….

Dai’stihó cousins!

Welcome to my first installment of R&R: Reread and Review. This is where I reread some of my old favorite (or not so favorite) books, series, or authors, in order to expose them to a new audience, connect with current fans, as well as ask the basic question, does it hold up? If the answer is yes, then I’ll add it to my Check It Out page. Please keep in mind that this is just my opinion, and you’re free to have your own. I will also try my best to avoid major spoilers for the books and series I review.

My first R&R is a series that I’ve been fond of for years— the Young Wizard series by Diane Duane. The first book, So You Want to be a Wizard was released in 1983. Deep Wizardry followed in 1985, High Wizardry in 1990, A Wizard Abroad in 1993, The Wizard’s Dilemma  in 2001, A Wizard Alone in 2002, Wizard’s Holiday in 2003, Wizards at War in 2005, A Wizard of Mars in 2010, and finally Games Wizards Play in 2016.

There’s also Interim Errantry which is a collection of three short stories released in 2015, along with the On Ordeal series, the Feline wizards books, and a few other short online stories. For this R&R I will be focusing on the printed Young Wizard series with the older editions.

I was first introduced to the series back in high school. One of my best friends had Wizard’s Holiday, and let me borrow it. I was rather confused at first because jumping into the series is a little bit like jumping into the middle of Harry Potter— so be warned if you attempt to do the same. You might be able to follow the main characters and basic story, but you’re missing out on a lot of context. I still enjoyed it enough that I ended up reading my way through the entire series. When the next book, Wizards at War, came out, I bought it right away. Then I waited for the next book, Wizards at War to be released.

And waited.

And waited.

And eventually got busy with life and college. I never forgot about the series, just stopped checking for news and updates. That was until earlier this year I was going through my books and rediscovered the series. I was pleasantly surprised to find not only one new novel had come out since I last read the series, but two new novels with an anthology collection of short stories. It took me about two weeks to get through the entire series, including the new books.

The two main characters are Juanita ‘Nita’ Callahan, and Christopher ‘Kit’ Rodriguez. The first book starts out with them being in Jr. High and coming across books, or Manuals, that contain the Wizard’s Oath. Upon taking the Oath they’re offered wizardry by the Powers that Be (who are alluded to be saints/gods from various mythologies). The caveat is that it comes with a cost— the power must be used responsibly to fight the Lone Power (who’s alluded to be the the fallen archangel Lucifer in one incarnation), and his ‘gift’ of Entropy and Death. If they misuse wizardry there’s a chance they could lose it, and damage the universe in the process, speeding up Entropy.

The first two books stay on Earth, dealing with local problems caused by the Lone Power, also referred to as It, for Nita and Kit to deal with. After that, the series takes on a more sci-fi tone, going to other planets, meeting aliens, and soon Nita and Kit have a bunch of supporting characters— some fellow wizards (most of which aren’t human) and some non-wizard characters (who are mostly human). As the series progresses, foreshadowing is gradually sprinkled throughout the books setting up future story lines and plot points.

The Good
Magic, or wizardry as it’s called in the books, is portrayed differently from other magic systems I see in fantasy series. A character is not born with power, but is offered it, and must go on an Ordeal to prove they’re worthy of such power. Even if they survive and pass the Ordeal (it’s heavily implied this isn’t always the case, a dark image considering that wizardry is usually offered at a young age), they must continue to use it in a responsible manner.

There’s also the way wizardry is performed. Wizards have to use the universal language known as the Speech, but don’t wave a wand while saying the words. Instead they combine symbols in a diagram, specifically spelling out what needs to be done. The way wizardry is practiced in the books reminds me a lot of writing software or equations in a computer program. You have to know exactly the right symbols and put them in the right order to accomplish your goal.

The series is similar to Harry Potter in the sense that they both start out with young characters being introduced into a magical world hidden among everyday society, and have a clear villain they must face. Then, like Harry Potter, the characters grow and mature over the series, the conflicts become darker and more grown-up matching the characters’ progression. Darker themes include losing a love one to cancer, dealing with grief and depression over the lost, forgiveness and second chances, and realizing that sometimes the evil you face isn’t as black and white as it was when you’re a child.

The characters are enjoyable as well. While there are couples and relationships to root for, the characters involved don’t grow straight to being a couple and there are no cases of instant love. They start off as friends, and in some cases less than friends, but through experience and time grow closer. There is really only one love triangle in the series, but it’s not a major conflict. Even when it’s resolved, the character remains in the series as a side character who offers support and remains on friendly terms with other characters. For the most part side characters are not just cardboard cut-outs, but have their own personalities and issues. Over the course of the series, don’t be surprised if you fall in love with a shark, a black hole, a centipede-like creature, or a tree.

In addition, the books don’t keep the parents of Kit and Nita in the dark for long regarding their children’s new found powers. It’s a common trope when teens get supernatural or magical powers, they start living double lives, or the parents simply don’t appear. Caring parents would naturally put a stop to their children going on dangerous adventures every few months. However, wizards are encouraged to tell the truth because telling a lie, especially in the Speech, can be dangerous. Their parents are less than happy with the information, but eventually come around and remain supporting characters throughout the rest of the series; they’re not sidelined for simply being normal.

The Not So Good
I realize that it may seem like I’ve done nothing but gush about the series, but there are some aspects of the series that aren’t that great. Nothing major, just a few small issues that detract from the series.

For all the comparisons you can make to Harry Potter, the first four books in Young Wizards were released before the first Harry Potter book even was, and the latest book was released in 2016. Because of the huge release span with the books, there are inconsistencies with the timeline, pop culture references, and technology the characters are using. To fix these issues, book editions published since 2012 are part of the The New Millennium Edition, or NME. Other changes were made to the NME as well, but I’ve read the older ones and can’t not say if they’re better or worse than the older editions. If you’re just getting into the series, you might want to check out the NME for consistency, or keep it in mind should you read the older editions.

There’s a few other inconsistencies that can’t solved by simply fixing the timeline. In the first few books spells require not just the write words or diagram, but the occasional odd piece of junk such as a rubber band, a random screw, etc. to plug into the spell and give it energy. This is pretty much dropped in later books with spells relying more heavily on the power of the user and spell diagram than random objects. It can be a bit off putting if you read the series straight through at once, but isn’t a major issue that makes the series unreadable.

Some fans of the series do take issue with some of the side characters and story lines, especially in the later books. While I can see their point of view, I don’t agree with them completely. I definitely have less than favorite plot lines and books (looking at you Wizards of Mars) but my gripes and complaints of the series overall are minimal.

Does The Series Hold Up?
You bet. Despite my complaints— which are nitpicks really— I still love the series after all these years. The magic system is different from what I usually see, the characters are refreshing compared to other fantasy/supernatural/science fiction series out there, and the books are well-written. They’re definitely going on my Check It Out page. If they sound interesting to you, I highly recommend giving the first few books a try.

For more information, please check out the Young Wizards‘ official website or Diane Duane’s website.

Have you too read the Wizard’s Oath aloud only to still be waiting on undergoing your Ordeal? Agree or disagree with my review? Feel like checking out the series? Let me know below!

Next month: A book that’s perfect to read right around Halloween.

—Kay S. Beckett