These are some Christmas works that I find delightful, which can enrich anyone's holiday season. They're great for sharing with others, too. That's something so important to me about art: the ways in which it gives.
The point of art is to give people things they don't have, things they need, that can help them, or means through which to unlock, or develop, or locate, things that they do already have. To get better use out of those things. To understand those things. We can also give art ourselves. We reach out to someone and say, "I think you might really like this story," or a radio episode, an album, a film, a poem, a book, whatever it might be. Isn't that a great way to give and a great way to connect with someone? And it's so easy to do.
This is a magical 1945 Czech film by Karel Zeman called A Christmas Dream, in which a child's tossed-aside toy--out with the old, in with the new--makes quite the orphic comeback. Is it possible not be charmed by this short film? It also gets to the wonder of Christmas, and what it means to possess the curiosity and openness of a child--even one who has turned fickle and dismissive to a previously beloved toy. But that which we love has a way of returning, does it not?
Next we have a radio episode of Father Knows Best from December 21, 1950 that was itself a departure from the program, venturing as it does into a land of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. I think people regard programs like this as typical of the "wholesomeness" of the 1950s, a "quaint" decade of values that are no more. There's an implication, too, that that's for the best, because those were times of extreme naivete and life is much more complicated, something we realize now.
I don't think we realize much of anything right now. We are a lot stupider in 2022 than we were in 1950. There's also a tendency to conflate that notion of quaintness with one of ignorance about how things really work. It's not hard to notice how people now so often talk about people from the past as simple, dumb children. Why do they do that? To puff out their own chests, when there is no real reason for any tangible puffing. It's the straw man approach to puffing. It's not like the 2022 person is juxtaposed in real-time with the 1950 person.
When I hear a program like this one, I'm not experiencing wholesomeness so much as I am decency out in the open. It's actual kindness on display. Not kindness for show, not kindness for clicks.
It takes courage to be kind, unfortunately, because it's not the norm. Open kindness is a rarity. To be kind, we must put ourselves out there on a form of a line. We are revealing what is inside of us. What is in our hearts. That's why we're acting as we're acting when we're truly kind, why we're saying what we're saying.
To be this way is much harder for people now. Showing the inside on the outside? A terrifying notion for many. Who does it? Very few. Easier to keep the inside on the in. Or so we think.
I will suggest--for this is how I live my live--that it is very easy to let the inside come out. It's only hard in that others may be frightened by our legitimate goodness, and that we have a courage in revealing it--and presumably other things--that they worry they do not.
There is a divide between everyone in this world. The divide exists. It exists before we get there--that is to say, meet that new person, or our words come within their hearing.
The only way to bridge the divide is by making the inside travel to the out. Those are the bridges of human connection. And that is the only way to build them.
Christmas means a lot of things to me, and one of those things is ghost stories. The rest of hte year also means ghost stories to me. When I think about getting my house back in Rockport and also having a house on Cape Cod, I picture myself sitting late at night, with some Bach playing, and reading ghost stories. Also mysteries. These are the two kinds of writing that feature most commonly in this imagined scenario I am working to make a reality. Any ghost story becomes, in my mind, seasonally appropriate at Christmas. That is, any ghost story is in part a Christmas story. The ghost story may be set in July--it doesn't matter.
Tomorrow on the radio I'm going to talk about a March 1953 adaptation from Suspense of Charles Dickens' 1866 story, "The Signal-Man," which mixes things up and features a woman--played by Agnes Moorehead--as the traveler who ventures down into the railroad cutting. The dynamic isn't as effective when it's not two men, but she's strong in the part.
This is a virtually unknown BBC radio version of M.R. James's short story, "Martin's Close." The episode was a part of a program called Mysterious Circumstances, airing in August 1963. Parts of the story take place at Christmas. It's a story about a squire who bullies a mentally disabled woman by leading her on. He treats her as sport. Mocks her via her own simplicity and kindness.
He does something even worse, and let's say that things don't go that hot for him after he's done all that he's done. It's set in a period before those that M.R. James usually featured, and unfolds in a court room. This is the same series that included a Christmastime adaptation that same year--which I've written about in this journal and discussed on the radio-- of James's "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You," with Michael Hordern, who of course had played Jacob Marley a dozen years before in Scrooge and is such a key figure in my book on the film.