#109, 10 December 2007

A Not-So-Perfect Christmas Book
from the Past ...

The Bad Seed of Xmas Mania?

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Every confounded year! The same blasted thing. One has finally gotten settled down from last year's assault upon peace and quiet when what happens? One is assaulted - assaulted! - by the same infernal, twinky, eye-pokey lights and mewling, mindless jittery music bleating out from out of every possible radio speaker.

It's insufferable! One does not even have to make the small effort of turning on one's radio. Haw! At least in my abode I can keep the infernal machine unplugged. But if I just dare to step outside ... every tree, every mail box, every squirrel hole, every service station and place of business, indeed every place of public assembly has connived - connived! - to disturb the peaceful winter air with rattly noise.

Why it even advances backward through the Calendar. Months before Christmas the blasted holiday is upon us like an unwelcome guest, crowding out other more sedate and less hectic observances.

Christmas is fast upon us and people rush about willy-nilly looking for gifts. Not just one gift, but thousands of gifts. The shops are laden with bright garish things ... piled high with unsightly ties and sweaters that nobody in their right mind would ever wear. People bustle here and hustle there, arms full, eyesight impeded so they bump and jostle one, if one has the temerity to attempt a casual evening stroll.

I sigh. I am not all harrumphery. I understand Christmas. But I pine for a quieter, more sedate and personal observance. Where have the merry Yule logs gone? The happy carolers have been crowded out so that their raised voices merely add to the din, rather than being a pleasant surprise outside one's door. They are lost amidst inflatable lawn ornaments.

In the end, I prefer the sound of a crackling fire in the hearth.

I know when the frantic Yuletide mania began. Haw! It began with a blasted war. A war so long ago most people have forgotten that it ever was. Only crusty historians remember and study it. It was a war that poisoned everything it touched. Even the story of Saint Nick was infected. Harrumph.

Sadly harrumph.

And all that running around looking for the perfect gift. When, if people would just settle down and stand quiet for a moment they would realize just exactly what the perfect gift must be. Is there anyone reading here who does not know what it is?

Is there any one still reading here who does not think a book to be the perfect gift? Or cannot remember receiving, at least once, a book as a Christmas present that turned out to be so exactly perfect?

I thought not.

Books fulfil "perfection" in many ways. While most children seem to be of a scampish nature, imps tossing snowballs at the hats of innocent bypassers - the scallywags!

However there are those rare lucky children who eschew unruly mischief and are blessed with a particular perception when gazing upon a book. They will have, always, a favorite tome. And it is usually near to reach. It little matters what book is perceived as perfection. What matters is that the book exists and it is near to hand, a friendly companion. When ideally situated, it is in hand, and open - and the hand is attached to a little person who has found a place of quiet refuge wherein to enter a world that opens only when the covers of their favorite book are opened.

Let me briefly take a passage from a great book that most people have forgotten was presented to the world as a Christmas gift by its author.

Child of the pure unclouded brow
And dreaming eyes of wonder!
Though time be fleet, and I and thou
Are half a life asunder,
The loving smile will surely hail
The love gift of a fairy tale ...

That verse, which opens Lewis Carroll's immortal story, Through the Looking Glass (and What Alice Found There), embodies - exactly - just that perfection for the strange tale that unfolds with puissant magical grace.

In Alice in Wonderland, Alice observes, rather peckishly, I always thought (child after my heart!),

"What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?"

Harrumph, what indeed. What more perfect pair of books for wonderment ever were there, than those penned by Mr. Carroll?

But let's not look at the perfect Christmas book. Let's look, instead, at a book from that dim wartime past that was thrust unsuspectingly into the hands of children come Christmas morning. It was a vessel of fear. A harbinger of future Christmas franticness and worry. It carried the chaos of the world war into the nursery.

This particular book is forgotten now to literary history and reader's alike. And, thankfully, unknown to the children of today.

Among Christmas books there have always some very pretty books, granted. Books of unrelieved and vapid presence. ABC booklets with moo-moo and A-Apple pie simplicity. Pretty little books with pretty little pictures. But there have also been some pretty strange books. And, as I said, I would like to focus on just one of them, as I found it so unsettling. And if it is unsettling to an old curmudgeon like myself, what must it have been to a small child?

It is possibly the strangest Christmas book to have ever been published, at least until Dr. Seuss arrived on the scene with his Grinch.

What must the children have thought upon receiving the following harbinger of punishment?

It was titled Googly-Goo and His Ten Merry Men.

Written by Helen Jeffers and published by the Stecher Lithograph Company of Rochester, New York in 1916, the book presages somewhat How the Grinch Stole Christmas.


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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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