Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Literary Studies: Christmas in Poganuc by Harriet Beecher Stowe

by M. J. Joachim

Harriet Beecher Stowe, PD-US
Dolly is a very young child, more curious than ever about the phenomenon people call Christmas. Back in those days, children went to bed without a second thought, while the adults carried on, knowing the children were fast asleep as they were supposed to be, and completely certain no harm would come to them in such a peaceful state. Dolly, however, had trouble falling asleep with the bells and Christmas music from the nearby church being played so beautifully. She could see the glow in the air from all the Christmas lights, and in her curious, non-compliant sort of way, she made her way downstairs to catch a glimpse of the festivities from the porch. Except she couldn’t see well enough from there, and quite accidentally made her way to the church, without anyone being the wiser.

Thus is the introductory synopsis of Christmas in Poganuc by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a tale destined to take us on an historic Christmas adventure of an inquisitive little girl named Dolly, who was the light and joy in her home, to be sure, but who also managed to get into a bit of mischief, due to her extraordinary and unexpected behavior. Dolly wasn’t a bad child by any stretch of the imagination. Thankfully her parents knew this and couldn’t love her more, despite a few misjudgments she may have had regarding certain decisions she made, with every good intention of heart.

In reading this story, it is difficult not to consider the historical element of it, because throughout its pages, black people were servants and helpers of the more educated and affluent white people. Language and conversations were aptly characteristic of a time when life was so much different, yet not necessarily resented or approached as it is in our current society. There was no debate or concern for politically correct, other than children knowing their place and behaving without a second thought. In fact, much of this story focuses on the expected behavior of children, and the duality of their current behavior at the time the story was written, but even more so today. It’s hard to remember a time when children didn’t take for granted they had the right to question anyone or anything, though I do remember that being a big faux pas with my own parents.

Customary as it was to have black people working for white people, this story is actually a story about all people, as opposed to dividing people by race or creed. Religion is strongly considered, even presented with people who celebrated Christmas and those who didn’t. Faith is deemed primary content as the story unfolds, revealing people who did and did not keep Christmas, people of science, as opposed to people of faith and religion. People were merely elements in the story to make it come alive, while serious topics regarding raising children and accepting people for who they are, regardless of how various debris denoting anything they might be judged about, came into play.

This is a short Christmas story with the potential for a huge impact on anyone who reads it. Historical content aside, this story is intellectually sound, making perfect sense out of reality, without attempting to alter it presumptuously, so as not to offend anyone by its content. That being said, it’s content is not offensive at all if taken with the right attitude, which is why readers and writers will benefit greatly from studying this piece. It is honest, steadfast and pure, the substance of which makes all writing great, and leaves an audience saturated and well pleased.

Honesty truly is the best policy, provided tact is used and silence is still considered golden.

Thank you for spending a few moments of your very busy day with me. I appreciate it more than you know.

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Literary Studies: The Poor Traveler by Charles Dickens

by M. J. Joachim

Dicken's Dream, Robert William Buss (1804-1875) PD-US
According to legend, Dickens shares this story based on six poor travelers, who visited a charity on Christmas Eve, where they were treated to delicious food and goodwill. Toward the end of the evening, each traveler was invited to share a story, and The Poor Traveler was one of the tales told on that special Christmas Eve.

It is a rogue story, about a young man who lost his way and hoped to die, thus joining military forces in a town far away, with the intention of being shot in battle. Providence had other plans, instead causing the budding soldier to impress upon his Captain, a desire to save him from his wretchedness, which was not an easy task at all. As a result, a fast friendship developed, culminating in the youth’s meritorious rising in the ranks, in part for being such a faithful and loyal officer in his regimen, but also due to his continuously developed skill and military expertise throughout his career.

The Poor Traveler proceeds to take us on a journey through the friendship and military careers of both men, climaxing with the death of the Captain, followed by the lengthy grieving of his comrade, a broken man with still many more life lessons to learn, of which his Captain appears to teach him from the grave. Once again Charles Dickens yields the moral compass ever present in his literature, drawing us into a tale of agony, followed by victory, should the correct path triumph in the battle being portrayed within its pages.

An illustrious story is attended, one where readers and writers equally benefit from the subtle transitions and unspoken, yet clearly revealed, mysteries therein. Human honesty is shared within these pages, quite distinct from the story being told. This is one to ponder, reading between the lines, so that it infiltrates the heart, softening the soul and reminding each member of its audience that there is so much more to living than life itself, and each moment of our lives is never ours alone, because as much as we are individuals, we are also one in community with each other, and our actions, indeed our very thoughts and feelings, affect every person who crosses our path.

May our influence be strong, steady and above reproach, and should it be reproachable, may we learn our lessons well, graciously accepting lessons we are better to be taught.

Thank you for visiting Writing Tips today. With every kindness and good will,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 23, 2015

Literary Studies: The Christmas Goblins by Charles Dickens

by M. J. Joachim

Photo credit:  Heinrich Burkel (1802 - 1869) Public Domain
Set in a damp, frosty and very cold graveyard at Christmastime, Gabriel Grubb, the main character in Dickens short story, The Christmas Goblins, is a disheartened old fellow, who’s only joy comes from digging graves in the icy, rock solid ground, lest he contemplate with agitation the joys everyone else is experiencing this time of year. His is a bitter jealousy, long forsaken to cynicism, where the holidays are gloomy, and anyone enjoying them should rightfully be taken down a peg or two, because he resents their happy moods. Dickens wastes no time bringing the goblins into play, as Grubb sets out to dig a grave in the deep, dark night, goblins who mock and accuse Gabriel Grubb of his wrongdoing. He for his part, attempts to refute them to no avail, all too soon coming to recognize the error of his ways, his time with the goblins well spent.

Master storyteller that he is, Dickens words illustrate a certain madness in the world, while entertaining a moralistic higher ground, one that calls us to a fundamental reality in our own hearts, enlightening and inspiring us to raise the bar a bit, and become better human beings. The Christmas Goblins electrifies the true meaning of Christmas, touching on sentiments most of us feel and believe, though too many of us get caught up in the festivities to truly notice, often contemplating our good intentions, while neglecting to do all that we could for those less fortunate. More than that, this story reminds us that true fortune is not to be found in dollars and cents. It is something to be nurtured deep within the heart of every man, woman and child, and when this happens, no one is forsaken or without precious blessings much more valuable than gold.

Because the story is public domain, I’ve included it in its entirety for your reading pleasure.

The Christmas Goblins by Charles Dickens

In an old abbey town, a long, long while ago there officiated as sexton and gravedigger in the churchyard one Gabriel Grubb. He was an ill conditioned cross-grained, surly fellow, who consorted with nobody but himself and an old wicker-bottle which fitted into his large, deep waistcoat pocket.

A little before twilight one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself toward the old churchyard, for he had a grave to finish by next morning, and feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits, perhaps, if he went on with his work at once.

He strode along until he turned into the dark lane which led to the churchyard—a nice, gloomy, mournful place into which the towns-people did not care to go except in broad daylight, consequently he was not a little indignant to hear a young urchin roaring out some jolly song about a Merry Christmas. Gabriel waited until the boy came up, then rapped him over the head with his lantern five or six times to teach him to modulate his voice. And as the boy hurried away, with his hand to his head, Gabriel Grubb chuckled to himself and entered the churchyard, locking the gate behind him.

Photo credit:  Public Domain

He took off his coat, put down his lantern, and getting into an unfinished grave, worked at it for an hour or so with right good will. But the earth was hardened with the frost, and it was no easy matter to break it up and shovel it out. At any other time this would have made Gabriel very miserable, but he was so pleased at having stopped the small boy's singing that he took little heed of the scanty progress he had made when he had finished work for the night, and looked down into the grave with grim satisfaction, murmuring as he gathered up his things:

"Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one,
A few feet of cold earth when life is done."

"Ho! ho!" he laughed, as he set himself down on a flat tombstone, which was a favorite resting-place of his, and drew forth his wicker-bottle. "A coffin at Christmas! A Christmas box. Ho! ho! ho!"

"Ho! ho! ho!" repeated a voice close beside him.

"It was the echoes," said he, raising the bottle to his lips again.

"It was not," said a deep voice.

Gabriel started up and stood rooted to the spot with terror, for his eyes rested on a form that made his blood run cold.

Seated on an upright tombstone close to him was a strange, unearthly figure. He was sitting perfectly still, grinning at Gabriel Grubb with such a grin as only a goblin could call up.

"What do you here on Christmas Eve?" said the goblin, sternly.

"I came to dig a grave, sir," stammered Gabriel.

"What man wanders among graves on such a night as this?" cried the goblin.

"Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!" screamed a wild chorus of voices that seemed to fill the churchyard.

"What have you got in that bottle?" said the goblin.

"Hollands, sir," replied the sexton, trembling more than ever, for he had bought it of the smugglers, and he thought his questioner might be in the excise department of the goblins.

"Who drinks Hollands alone, and in a churchyard on such a night as this?"

"Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!" exclaimed the wild voices again.

"And who, then, is our lawful prize?" exclaimed the goblin, raising his voice.

The invisible chorus replied, "Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!"

"Well, Gabriel, what do you say to this?" said the goblin, as he grinned a broader grin than before.

The sexton gasped for breath.

"What do you think of this, Gabriel?"

"It's—it's very curious, sir, very curious, sir, and very pretty," replied the sexton, half-dead with fright. "But I think I'll go back and finish my work, sir, if you please."

"Work!" said the goblin, "what work?"

"The grave, sir."

"Oh! the grave, eh? Who makes graves at a time when other men are merry, and takes a pleasure in it?"

Again the voices replied, "Gabriel Grubb! Gabriel Grubb!"

"I'm afraid my friends want you, Gabriel," said the goblin.

"Under favor, sir," replied the horror-stricken sexton, "I don't think they can; they don't know me, sir; I don't think the gentlemen have ever seen me."

"Oh! yes, they have. We know the man who struck the boy in the envious malice of his heart because the boy could be merry and he could not."

Here the goblin gave a loud, shrill laugh which the echoes returned twenty-fold.

"I—I am afraid I must leave you, sir," said the sexton, making an effort to move.

"Leave us!" said the goblin; "ho! ho! ho!"

As the goblin laughed he suddenly darted toward Gabriel, laid his hand upon his collar, and sank with him through the earth. And when he had had time to fetch his breath he found himself in what appeared to be a large cavern, surrounded on all sides by goblins ugly and grim.

"And now," said the king of the goblins, seated in the centre of the room on an elevated seat—his friend of the churchyard—"show the man of misery and gloom a few of the pictures from our great storehouses."

As the goblin said this a cloud rolled gradually away and disclosed a small and scantily furnished but neat apartment. Little children were gathered round a bright fire, clinging to their mother's gown, or gamboling round her chair. A frugal meal was spread upon the table and an elbow-chair was placed near the fire. Soon the father entered and the children ran to meet him. As he sat down to his meal the mother sat by his side and all seemed happiness and comfort.

"What do you think of that?" said the goblin.

Gabriel murmured something about its being very pretty.

"Show him some more," said the goblin.

Many a time the cloud went and came, and many a lesson it taught to Gabriel Grubb. He saw that men who worked hard and earned their scanty bread were cheerful and happy. And he came to the conclusion it was a very respectable sort of a world after all. No sooner had he formed it than the cloud closed over the last picture seemed to settle on his senses and lull him to repose. One by one the goblins faded from his sight, and as the last one disappeared he sank to sleep.

The day had broken when he awoke, and found himself lying on the flat gravestone, with the wicker-bottle empty by his side. He got on his feet as well as he could, and brushing the frost off his coat, turned his face toward the town.

But he was an altered man, he had learned lessons of gentleness and good-nature by his strange adventures in the goblin's cavern.

Photo credit:  Public Domain

May we all stop and reflect during this joyous time of year, with peace in our hearts and good will toward everyone.

Thank you so much for visiting my blog today,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved; The Christmas Goblins by Charles Dickens, Public Domain