Friday, December 17, 2004

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Marley's Ghost. Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost. Colour illustration from 'A Christmas Carol in prose. Being a Ghost-story of Christmas', by Charles Dickens, With illustrations by John Leech. Public Domain

A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens is a classic Christmas story and a classic ghost story combined. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and is set on Christmas Eve in London, England. Scrooge is a grumpy, old miser who doesn’t like Christmas. His nephew Fred invites him to celebrate Christmas dinner with his family, but Scrooge turns him down. Later, Scrooge refuses to donate to help the poor and shuns a boy singing a Christmas carol. Scrooge doesn’t even want to give his hardworking clerk, Bob Cratchit, the day off for Christmas.

That night, Scrooge receives a visit from the ghost of Jacob Marley, his old business partner who died seven years prior. Marley is doomed to wander the Earth without rest or peace. He has a chain around his waist and must drag along “cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” Marley’s ghost warns Scrooge that he has a chance of escaping this same fate and that he will be haunted by three spirits in the coming hours. Marley’s warning comes true, and Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

Although I was well familiar with the overall story of A Christmas Carol, having seen so many versions of it on television, I had never read the book before. I enjoyed the descriptions of the ghosts, especially the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge's fear was so natural as the ghosts forced him to revisit his old memories, to view current happenings, and to see what could happen in the future. I read the story with excitement and apprehension although I already knew the ending, and it was a fun book to read.

In seeing Scrooge’s past along with him, the reader and Scrooge can see the accumulation of choices he made that resulted in his "Bah Humbug!" persona. Dickens crafted Scrooge as a multi-dimensional character. Scrooge’s experiences with the ghosts make him change his ways to be a kinder, better man. The story is such a nice example of the goodness that the spirit (or rather Spirits) of Christmas can inspire.

Purchase and read books by Charles Dickens:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Great Expectations by Charles Dickens David Copperfield by Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens


Tuesday, December 7, 2004

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

House Made of Dawn (1968) by N. Scott Momaday tells the story of Abel, a young American Indian. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. The story begins in 1945 when Abel returns home after fighting in World War II. He arrives at a reservation in Walatowa, New Mexico to stay with his grandfather, Francisco.

During his time there, Abel has an affair with a woman named Angela after chopping wood for her. During a ceremony on the feast of Santiago, an albino smears Abel with a rooster’s blood. Later, Abel drinks with the elders, and then he murders the albino. Abel is sent to prison.

Seven years later, Abel is released from prison and put under the watch of the Indian Relocation program in Los Angeles. This section of the story is told from Abel’s point of view. Abel becomes friends with Ben Benally, an American Indian who has adapted to relocation. During his time in Los Angeles, Abel has a romantic relationship with a social worker named Milly. This section ends when Abel is beaten up and left for dead on the beach by unknown attackers.

In the next section, Ben describes Abel’s problems drinking and how he lost his job. This narrative is the easiest part to read. Ben often makes guesses about Abel’s motivations or gives clues that explain Abel’s behaviors. This section of the novel also fills in the gaps in Abel's narrative. Ben and Abel make a pact to meet again on the land and to sing the ceremonial song "House Made of Dawn." After a fight with Ben, Abel leaves. He returns three days later, badly beaten. After a short time, Abel leaves Los Angeles to return to Walatowa where his grandfather is near death. When Francisco dies, Abel prepares his body and runs the "race of the dead."

House Made of Dawn has a complicated, non-linear narrative structure. The present, past, myths, and storytelling blend together in the tale. The story juxtaposes the purity of the land with industrialization, and it contrasts Abel’s silence with the verboseness of white men in Los Angeles. In certain sections, the narrative has a sense of verbal sparseness. Momaday conveys Abel’s profound lack of place in this unique and important story.

Purchase and read books by N. Scott Momaday:

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday The Way to Rainy Mountain