When the story opens an adolescent boy named Thorby is being sold on the slaver’s block in the ironically named Plaza of Liberty in Jubbulpore, the capital of Jubbul, which is itself the capital of the Nine Worlds ruled by the Sargon. The Nine Worlds is presented as an oriental despotic empire complete with a caste system that includes slaves, beggars and thieves as acknowledged roles in the society. Now this is embedded in a future that includes interstellar space ships, faster than light communication and a human civilization that has spread hundreds of light years from Earth.
Baslim the crippled beggar manages to purchase the boy. He overcomes the boy’s ferocious hatred of his owners and uses kindness and fatherly discipline to raise the boy to be an honest and resourceful man. As time goes on Thorby figures out that Baslim is a lot more than just a beggar. Inside his lodgings in the underground slums of Jubbulpore, Baslim has modern teaching equipment that he uses to teach Thorby languages and mathematics and the history of the world he lives in. Also, Baslim seems to be a spy, collecting information on the slave trade on Jubbul. Eventually Baslim tells Thorby that someday Baslim would be gone and Thorby must leave Jubbul to escape from the squalor and injustice that was life in the Nine Worlds. He uses hypnotic suggestion to implant a message in Thorby, that when delivered by the boy, would tell one of Baslim’s friends, who was a starship captain, that rescuing the boy would be the payment for a favor Baslim had done for the captain’s family.
And one day Thorby finds that Baslim has been arrested and executed as a spy and that the Sargon’s men are after Thorby. Luckily Thorby had spotted Captain Krausa of the starship Sisu. The message and the implied debt are acknowledged the Captain and by clever subterfuges performed by Thorby’s friends he is smuggled aboard the Sisu and escapes Jubbul.
Overcoming his grief at the death of his adoptive father Baslim, Thorby is adopted into the family that is the crew of Sisu. A complex phratry and moiety arrangement connects the “family” on Sisu with the other Trader ships with their own “families.” Thorby struggles to adapt to the strange ways of his new family but the connection to his ship mates stabilizes the boy and gives him the sense of belonging he needs.
But what Thorby doesn’t know is that Baslim had told Captain Krausa that Thorby probably had a family somewhere out in the free worlds beyond the Nine Worlds. Krausa was committed to hand Thorby over to the authorities of the Space Guard, when he could, for reunion with his family. But Thorby’s relation to Baslim means that the Sisu would gain great status with the other Trading families by keeping Thorby in their family.
After many adventures including shooting a space pirate ship out of the skies Thorby is finally returned to the Space Guard. He learns that Baslim was a highly decorated officer in the Guard and he was doing espionage to help destroy the slave trade. For someone associated with Baslim the Guard does everything humanly possible to help Thorby and finally finds his true family. The details of this final chapter take him back to Earth and solves the mystery of his years as a slave.
Heinlein has crafted a story that combines facets of adventure stories from many sources. Others have noted that there are some elements of the story that are reminiscent of Kipling’s novel Kim. But mostly it contains the elements of Heinlein’s Future History Universe. I especially found the world of the trader ship Sisu very imaginative and enjoyable. But the whole book keeps the reader engaged, the characters are excellently drawn and the plot is lively. Once again this is a Heinlein juvenile that is highly recommended.
“Have Space Suit – Will Travel” is probably the most whimsical of all Heinlein’s juvenile novels and also one of the most entertaining. The protagonist is Kip Russell, a high school senior who more than anything wants to go into space. But his high school doesn’t have the rigorous curriculum necessary to qualify him for a top engineering college. But exhorted by his father to show initiative he enters the “Spaceway Soap” tag line contest that has a first prize of a free trip to the Moon. He enters hundreds of phrases and one of his wins but it turns out another contestant sent it first so he gets a consolation prize of a real (but used) space suit. Kip spends his summer repairing and installing the equipment needed to make the suit a functional piece of equipment. As the summer is ending, he decides he will send the suit back and get the cash refund that will help him try to enter the local state college that is Kip’s only option.
But before returning it he takes it out into his rural neighborhood and using the functional radio transmitter that he’s installed in the suit he sends some fake messages. He broadcasts, “Junebug to Peewee, come in.” And when, surprisingly, Peewee answers him he tells her to home in on his position. And then a flying saucer lands in front of him. And then another one lands. And then an alien comes running out of the first one and gets shot. And then Kip gets shot with a ray gun.
When Kip wakes up, he is aboard one of the flying saucers and he meets Peewee. She is a ten-year-old girl and a genius. He finds out that she is being held prisoner by bug-eyed monsters that have also captured the alien that he saw earlier. Peewee calls this alien the Mother Thing because of her empathetic abilities. When Kip met them, Peewee and the Mother Thing had stolen a ship from the bug-eyed monsters (that Peewee calls the Wormfaces for obvious reasons) and been chased to his location. Peewee had thought that because Kip had called for Peewee by name that it was her father trying to save her. Her father is a very important scientific expert working with the government and academia. She was kidnapped by some human agents of the Wormfaces while she was a tourist on the Moon. And the Moon is where the flying saucer is taking them.
The story is extremely compelling with plenty of exciting exploits with planetary, interstellar and even intergalactic travel that expands the plot into higher and higher levels of extraterrestrial civilization. By the end of the story Kip is representing Earth in a trial for the very future of the human race.
The story is a tour de force to showcase Heinlein’s ability to combine all of the tropes of the Golden Age Science Fiction space opera stories into an engaging adventure featuring a young adult protagonist that fits the Heinlein juvenile specification of an up by his bootstraps achiever who wants to go into last frontier of outer space by hard work and clean living.
I won’t give away all the details but I will say that this story is immensely entertaining and the protagonist is a wonderfully Heinleinesque narrator for this romp through the outer reaches of our solar system and beyond. Very, very highly recommended for young and old alike.
When I got a Newfoundland dog many years ago there was never any doubt that his name would be Lummox. Because that is the name that Heinlein gave to his star beast. When we meet Lummox, he’s living in the backyard of John Thomas Stuart XI. He’s lived there for over a century under the present owner’s father, grandfather and great grandfather. Over the course of his tenure he’s grown from about the size of a chihuahua to something larger than an elephant. He’s equipped with eight legs and an appetite for a menu that ranges from rude neighborhood dogs to a Buick automobile. His personality is friendly, enthusiastic and energetic but his discipline and attention to his master’s orders are decidedly inconsistent. And for a creature with such an imposing size he has the voice of a baby girl.
Johnnie and Lummox are best friends, almost brothers, and even though his mother doesn’t share his feelings for the beast his girlfriend Betty is on their side. So, when Lummox gets into trouble for going off reservation and busting up a lot of stuff, Johnnie and Betty do everything in their power to save Lummie from the clutches of the unsympathetic local sheriff who wants to have Lummox terminated as a public menace.
Heinlein weaves together the two threads of Lummox’s past and present to provide a future that wouldn’t have been guessed at the start of the story. Mixed in with this is the story of Mr. Kiku, the Under Secretary of the Department of Spatial Affairs and his fear of snakes. Heinlein builds up the little constellation of characters in the Department very nicely and gives us his ideas about how the permanent career bureaucrats in a government department interact with the political appointee that supposedly manages them.
And this is a typical Heinlein trait. He likes to build up little self-consistent “worlds,” like Westville, the small town where Lummox lives or the Department of Spatial Affairs. In another book you’ll find that the small-town people act and talk a lot like the people in Westville in this story. I’m guessing that these small towns were like the small towns in Missouri that Heinlein remembers from his childhood. And his descriptions of life on a space ship in several of his books comes from his own experience of shipboard life in the U. S. Navy. Likewise, his ideas of government bureaucracy came from his experience as a government employee.
And throughout we get to know Johnnie and learn about his struggle to weigh loyalty to his friend against fighting insurmountable odds. He is the Heinlein young man character who has been raised to respect authority, is socially conventional, polite and honest. But he runs smack dab into the injustice of the bureaucratic machine. In the ensuing turmoil he discovers that a man sometimes has to break the rules to do what’s morally right and protect his own. And mixed in with this is his relationship with his overprotective and domineering mother and his hyperactive and ambitious girlfriend. This is another part of his growth as he finally asserts himself against these women jockeying for control of his life.
In this book Heinlein creates a few extraterrestrials types. And he provides both sympathetic species and other less friendly from a human perspective. And this lack of empathy allows for a plot device that has since been “borrowed” by the makers of the movie “Men in Black.” See if you notice it when you read the book. But the most interesting extraterrestrial is Lummox and Heinlein’s description of Lummox’s internal point of view is highly entertaining. From my experience as the owner of a Newfoundland I found the beast’s motivations for some of his mistakes extremely familiar and plausible.
I won’t ruin the story by giving away any surprises. They’re too good. I would call this one of Heinlein’s most original novels and definitely highly successful as entertainment. Once again, highly recommended for young and old.
After rereading Starman Jones and writing a review it occurred to me that the Heinlein juveniles are better than ninety percent of all the Young Adult (YA) science fiction that’s come out since. So my idea is not to just look at plot but really give a thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these classic stories. Let’s look at “The Rolling Stones.”
The Stones are a family of “Loonies.” That’s what the human inhabitants of Earth’s Moon call themselves. In his Future History Heinlein has decided that the Moon is officially named Luna. Roger and Edith are the parents of Meade, Castor, Pollux and Lowell (or as he’s nicknamed Buster). And Hazel Meade is Roger’s mother.
Roger is an engineer by profession but lately his job has been writing a television (or whatever they call it) serial called Scourge of the Spaceways. He despises the vapidity of the show but the hefty paycheck has hooked him.
Edith is a medical doctor and housewife who manages to keep the individualistic personalities of her children from wreaking havoc with her husband’s ideas of domestic sanity.
Meade is the oldest, recently graduated from high school and a social butterfly. Castor and Pollux are identical twins high school juniors. They are precocious engineering inventors who have made a good amount of money on an invention and are aching to break out on their own and make their fortune out in the far flung reaches of the solar system. Buster is a four-year-old who is either a chess prodigy or can read his grandmother’s mind. Finally, Hazel is one of the original “Founding Fathers” of the Luna Revolution (which Heinlein later back filled in his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”). She is a senior citizen but because of the preservative effects of living on the low gravity Moon she is quite lively and also extremely outspoken on everything from child-raising to larceny.
Heinlein creates a story about a middle-class family leaving their comfortable but boring environment in order to head out into the frontier of the solar system and experience life as a family and a crew. Roger and Castor (and later Meade) handle the astrogation. Hazel and Pollux run the engines. Edith is the ship’s doctor, cook and also Buster’s mom. Buster is (as his father notes in the crew list) supercargo.
But really what Heinlein is trying to point out is that the family hasn’t fared well under the modern lifestyle and living life together as a team can allow a father to get to know his children. And allow them to find out more about their parents than just how much they are willing to spend on useless junk. All the children benefit from the skills, talents and experiences of their parents and grandmother and the adults are enriched by the challenges of the trip and the chance to influence the choices their children make.
Of course, this is an altogether outlandish odyssey that they are on and apparently bankrolled by the amazingly lucrative writing contract for Scourge of the Spaceways. Perhaps this is in a way a stand-in for Heinlein’s own lifestyle which was made possible by his well-paying books. And considering the paucity of other money coming in from the commercial enterprises that the Twins attempt you could be excused for thinking the whole trip was a bust. But it’s the setup we’re supposed to enjoy. Seeing the Twins through the eyes of their grandmother as she attempts to extricate them from a legal mess that their ingenuity and inexperience combine to create, we see that this family is resourceful and interesting even when they fail. These are the story elements that give the book its character. The action, such as it is, is light and only occasionally rises above familial squabbling. But Heinlein paints an entertaining picture of his Swiss Family Robinson in space. Despite the futuristic backdrop and the extraordinary qualities of the individuals, the ethos and character of the family is mid-twentieth century American and it is a charming world that Heinlein has reimagined in the unrealizable future of his era. The children despite their precocity are decidedly normal and compared to today’s versions, decidedly a breath of fresh air.
And whereas he did manage to tie Hazel somewhat into his other books, I had hoped he would have had a follow-on novel of the brothers in their grown-up stage pursuing fame and fortune while trying to avoid execution. Some more exciting adventures in this frontier environment wouldn’t wear out the welcome for the Stone family among Heinlein readers. In fact, one day I might write some of those stories, although if the copyright forbids, I’ll have to alter them to the extent of calling them Castor and Pollux Rock or Boulder or Pebble. Either way the characters are too good to waste.
A remarkable thing about this book is that it introduced the science fiction creature the flat cat that was stolen by Star Trek and turned into the Tribble. Of course, Heinlein was gracious enough to permit the theft but it just goes to show you how impoverished Hollywood really is.
The Rolling Stones is different from the other Heinlein juveniles in that the adventure is muted. But I believe it has its own charm that is completely character driven. The showcasing of a normal functional family is especially enheartening today when they are almost completely missing in books and films.
Starman Jones is one of Heinlein’s juvenile novels (today it would be called a young adult novel). Many people feel that some of his best work is represented in these books. I tend to agree with this. Starman Jones is also one of his best juveniles. Well, you can see where that puts it in my opinion already.
Max Jones is an Ozarks hillbilly. He lives on the family farm and dreams of someday following his father’s brother, Uncle Chet, into space as an astrogator. But the deaths of his father and uncle leave Max trapped on the farm, and duty bound to provide for his step-mother. Max struggles to keep food on the table and has to forego his dreams of working in outer space. But when his step-mother remarries and his new step-father sells the family farm and tries to steal the astrogation books that Max got from Uncle Chet, Max decides that his commitment to his step-mother is ended and he runs away to try and claim a berth as a legacy candidate in the hereditary guild of astrogators.
On the road he meets a hobo named Sam Anderson who shares his dinner with the hungry runaway but steals Max’s astrogation books and identity card before disappearing. Max hitchhikes a ride with a freight transporter and reaches Earth Port, the main space port in North America. Upon reaching the guild headquarters Max discovers that Sam had attempted to impersonate him and get a reward for returning the valuable astrogation tables. Sam managed to escape without getting arrested. Now Max receives the substantial reward for the books but learns that his Uncle Chet did not list Max as a guild candidate. Crushed by the news, Max leaves the guild office and immediately bumps into Sam.
Max at first was thinking of turning Sam into the authorities but since their last meeting Sam had come into a windfall (gambling winnings) and was dressed as a prosperous citizen, whereas Max was disheveled and unwashed. Sam actually ends up saving Max from arrest as a vagrant. Spotting Max to a good meal, Sam apologizes for stealing Max’s books and lets him know that there is still a way for Max (and Sam) to obtain berths on a star ship. Sam has connections that can fake identification papers that will indicate that Max and Sam are members of the guilds that work on these commercial space liners. With this paperwork (paid for with Max’s reward money) and coaching by Sam, Max passes himself off as a Steward’s mate working for the ship’s Purser on the Asgard. Max was greatly aided in this coaching by the fact that he has an eidetic memory, basically photographic recall of anything he’s seen.
Max and Sam work their way into different roads of advancement on the Asgard. Sam had been a space marine long ago who had gone AWOL and was still a wanted man so now he uses his service training to become the ship’s Chief Master-at-Arms and uses that office to supplement his income with clandestine gambling operations for the crew. Max is in charge of the ship’s livestock which includes the passengers’ pets. An extraterrestrial animal called a spider puppy is the pet of Eldreth (Ellie) Coburn, the daughter of a VIP. She meets Max because of his kind treatment of the spider puppy and once they become friends, she takes it into her head to use her connections with Captain Blaine to help Max advance into a position on the ship that would give him a high enough status to allow her to be seen with him. Because his forged papers claimed that he had formerly trained as a chartsman (a lower level member of the astrogation team) he is given the chance to try out for the job on the Asgard. Here he meets Dr. Hendrix the ship’s Astrogator. Hendrix had trained under Max’s Uncle Chet and he is interested in seeing if Max has inherited the family’s mathematical skill. Dr. Hendrix is generally sympathetic toward Max and goes out of his way to teach him the skills he needs. Max also meets Mr. Simes the Assistant Astrogator. Simes is an unfriendly, belligerent man who jealously guards his prerogatives as Dr. Hendrix’ assistant. He resents Max’s presence and once Max’s eidetic memory is demonstrated Simes more than ever goes out of his way to denigrate Max’s skills.
The story proceeds very skillfully and Max is shown to mature and take responsibility for the choices he made that put him on the ship. And circumstances on the ship lead to excitement from various sources. The ship is lost during a poorly executed transition, sort of a translation through folded space that sends the ship to a completely uncharted area of the universe. A planet where they take refuge has hostile lifeforms that threaten the lives of the crew and passengers of the Asgard. And due to death, suicide and mutiny Max finds himself the only astrogator left on the ship and dependent on his memory to provide astrogation tables need to attempt to return the Asgard to familiar space.
I won’t go into all the details but suffice it to say that Starman Jones is a lively and fascinating story that combines various types of characters interacting in a consistent science fiction plot. Some of the details of how astrogators do their jobs now would seem quaint and illogical with the advent of powerful computing equipment but this in no way diminishes the interest in the story. As a naval officer Heinlein paints a very convincing picture of life on a star ship. His hierarchy among the crew members and their relation to the passengers allows the dynamic of the story to play out.
This book was written in 1953. Mores and attitudes have changed drastically in the sixty-five plus years since Starman Jones was written but I’ve given this book to a grandson of mine who reads science fiction voraciously and he gave it high marks. It still maintains a high position among any young adult science fiction books written since then. Highly recommended.
After you’ve read enough sexbot articles on Drudge maybe switch to something interesting
Dave Freer over at Mad Genius Club talks about the change in reading habits that has more or less done in the short story (specifically in the Sf&F genres). As a prospective author I am interested in the state of the publishing world. Having so little time left for writing, short stories interest me but reading this article was not particularly encouraging. Well, it’s interesting and comments to the post are good too.
This review is of the concluding volume of Jason Anspach’s and Nick Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge series. But to be totally accurate it is the last volume of “Season 1.” That’s right folks, science fiction series never die, they merely turn another page.
This episode carries forward where the previous volume, Message for the Dead,” left off. Goth Sullus has defeated the Republic, been declared Emperor by the House of Reason, captured the entities controlling the Cybar army and looks to be ready to consolidate his empire.
But things have changed by the beginning of this book. Because Sullus has thrown in with the House of Reason, the loyal and valuable core of his Black Fleet and Shock Troopers are disillusioned with him and are leaving in droves to join up with the small remnant of the Legion that has escaped destruction. The book has all the remaining cast of characters from the earlier books and centers on the activities of now General Chhun and Kill Team victory and Aeson Keel and his crew as they team up to stop Sullus before he can consolidate his hold on the galaxy.
A separate story line sets up the arc of the future Season 2. Prisma Maydoon is sheltering on a refuge planet supposedly safe from the war blanketing the rest of the galaxy. But danger finds her and she must save herself from a deadly attack. During this trail she decides that her fate is to find out what Goth Sullus is in order to destroy him. This leads her to escape from her refuge and head out of the galaxy to advance to the next stage in her development and face her destiny.
The war and battle scenes live up to the excellent past of the series. The characters are engaging. The Prisma Maydoon story is a little too adolescent girl with magical powers for me. I guess Buffy the Vampire Slayer, River Tam and all their spiritual sisters have used up all of my empathy for four foot ten inch super girls. But that is just a small part of the book and the story is great. There is plenty of revenge to enjoy and lots of action to relish. And the story is faithfully completed (for the most part). Highly recommended.
Here’s my retrospective on 2018, completely subjective of course and whenever I can’t make up my mind or I don’t want to leave something out I’ll cheat and provide more than one choice. And that’s one of the wonderful things about being the boss, you get to break the rules and do what you want.
Best Quotes of the Day
Some are political, some philosophical and some just human nature. The order is just chronological of their appearance on the site.
“In the many forms of government which have sprung up there has always been an acknowledgement of justice and proportionate equality, although mankind fail in attaining them, as indeed I have already explained. Democracy, for example, arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.”
“No state will be well administered unless the middle class holds sway.”
“When there aren’t any smart decisions, I suppose you just have to pick the stupid decision you like best.”
Orson Scott Card
“No one likes the fellow who is all rogue, but we’ll forgive him almost anything if there is warmth of human sympathy underneath his rogueries. The immortal types of comedy are just such men.”
W. C. Fields
“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
Carpe diem! Seize the day! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.
“And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.”
If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.
Over the course of 2018 I read and reviewed all eight of the volumes in the main series (first volume linked above) and they only got better as the series went along. It was good old mil-sci-fi space opera. I assume I won’t live long enough to see the end of the series but so far that isn’t a problem. I look forward to the next installment soon and am in no way tired of this particular universe. Kudos to Anspach and Cole. Long may they stoke their dumpster fire at the Edge of the Galaxy!
Vega is an acquired taste for me and as I’ve written about him, “It’s for those who like gritty crime dramas with a staccato, post-modern, minimalist writing style.” Even though my tastes are a little more conventional I appreciate that there is an audience for the more unusual so I look around for interesting stuff. As I’ve said before, your call.
The two books listed below provide two different takes on the way to interpret the results of ancient DNA analysis.
“The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending
“Who We Are and How We Got Here; Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Past” by David Reich
David Reich being an academic embedded in the politically correct culture of the university system treads ever so gently around the edges of how the science of human genetic history should be interpreted. Cochran and Harpending are much more direct and sometimes possibly presumptuous in the conclusions they draw from the evidence. Both books together tell a fascinating story of how much we now know about the complex and diverse origins of the various human populations.
This is a kids’ movie but it far exceeds any of the other “superhero” movies for just plain entertainment value. I won’t say it was as original as the first installment but it mostly kept to the spirit of the original and provided a fun vehicle for parents (or grandparents) to enjoy a movie with their kids.
This is a twofer. For younger folks I’ll only recommend the new version by the Coen Brothers. For people who grew up on the John Wayne movies of old I recommend they view both movies back to back in chronological order. They each have facets to its advantage. Each differs slightly from the source material. But each is a fine movie. And I’ll also recommend the novel that is the source for the movies. It also has facets that aren’t available in either movie.
Album of the Year
Colter Wall by Colter Wall
Song of the Year
Pan Bowl by Sturgill Simpson
My music choices are very idiosyncratic so I won’t try to justify them. To paraphrase a recent annoying politician, they just reflect who I am Pan Bowl is an older song from Simpson’s 2014 album.
The only truly notable television I watched in 2018 was the State of the Union address by the president. Everything else was at best just okay.
On – Line Articles
Here are the articles that I thought were informative on our political situation. There were many others that were intersting but these seem to encapsulate the developments in the political thinking this year. Basically it’s the red-pilling of the normies.
Aldiss was a British science fiction author and “Who Can Replace A Man” is the name of a short story collection published in 1965. From my exposure to the English films and theater from that time period they seemed like a thoroughly unhappy bunch. A lot of that shows up in Aldiss’s stories. There’s a dreariness and an almost claustrophobic atmosphere to some of his work which I can’t enjoy. But mixed in with these will be a gem. Out of the fourteen stories in this collection two of them are excellent and highly recommended.
“Old Hundredth” is the story of a megatherium (giant sloth) riding on a baluchitherium (sort of like a prehistoric giant rhinoceros) in search of transubstantiation into a musicolumn. This piece of insane storytelling is remarkably enjoyable and feels like some kind of impressionistic water color of a beautiful landscape rather than a science fiction story. I’ve always greatly enjoyed rereading it.
The story “Who Can Replace a Man?” is more prosaic and recognizably science fiction in its content but it provides a self-consistent and believable vision of what a world of robots would be like after humans disappear. It’s fun even when it’s bleak.
After these two stories recommendations become qualified.
“Poor Little Warrior!” is the story of a time travelling brontosaurus big game hunt. It follows in the footsteps of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” but outdoes it in grimness. It has that British mid-century dreariness but has some cheerful horror at the end. To each his own on this one.
“The Impossible Star” is equally grim but does include and interesting imagining of how proximity to a black hole might affect the human animal. I’ll give it a passing grade.
Finally, “The New Father Christmas” is dreary enough but so odd that it gets points for holding my interest. I’ll give it a D+.
The rest of the stories, although they have interesting facets are just too downbeat for me to enjoy or recommend. If you do decide to read the New Father Christmas and enjoy it then maybe you can find value in the rest of the collection. Once again, to each his own.
Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic. So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees. Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae. I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three. Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth. Here goes.
Material that wasn’t in the book
A Christmas Carol was a novella. It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.
For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly. In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth. And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred. It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred. In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented. But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added. What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible. In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer. Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child. I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son. So, this addition is spurious. But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness. And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred. We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.
And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew. I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.
In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later). Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book. In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor. Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition. It seems unwarranted. I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.
In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred. The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions. One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London. And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge. In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile. When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.” Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present. After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.” Nicely played.
From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve. And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house. What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene. We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge. Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls. And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning. In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being. His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior. When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting. I find this addition to the story especially apt. In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively. But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth. It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.
Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.