Archive for December, 2012

Just under the wire (and perhaps the mistletoe)… a literary Christmas quiz, one that will require you to use your (egg)-noggin!  Happy holidays to everyone!

  1. In O. Henry’s short story “Gift of the Magi,” what is the name of the woman who sold her hair to get a Christmas gift for her husband?
  2. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, during his Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts, what gift—a Potter family heirloom—does Harry receive via an anonymous Dumbledore?
  3. What Shakespeare play is named after the Feast of the Epiphany, which takes place on January 6th (the day, according to some scholars, when the play was first performed)?
  4. What is the name of Scrooge’s former employer, the proprietor of a warehouse who would host Christmas balls?
  5. In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, the narrator describes how Owen Meany, during one holiday season, played a role in a Christmas pageant and a role in a  version of A Christmas Carol. What were these two roles?
  6. I am an American poet who wrote a poem called “Christmas Trees (A Christmas Circular Letter),” but you probably know me better for that other wintry poem, the one about keeping promises on the darkest evening of the year. Who am I?
  7. I am a classic American novel which ends with the line, “So we beat on boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly to the past.”  This Christmas, I was supposed to get 3D movie treatment (thanks to director Baz Luhrman), but the studios decided to postpone the film’s release until the summer.  I am who?
  8. In The Catcher in the Rye, which historical figure is Phoebe Caulfield reportedly playing in her school’s Christmas pageant?
  9. John Milton, author of “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” is better known for what other religious poem, about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden?
  10. Chris Van Allsburg, the author of children’s books such as Jumanji and Zathura, is also the author of which Christmas classic?
  11. Which now-classic Christmas movie—about a boy and his BB gun—is based on a book of short stories called In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, written by Jean Shepherd?
  12. Joe Christmas is the main protagonist of what William Faulkner novel with a decidedly non-Christmas-y title?
  13. And what non-Christmas-y Yeats’  poem ends with the line, “Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born”?
  14. The song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”—recorded by artists such as Frank Sinatra, Sarah Maclachlan, and Bette Midler—is based on the poem “Christmas Bells,”  written by which American poet (famous for “Paul Revere’s Ride”)?
  15. According to the Foreword of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, which character reportedly dies on Christmas Day 1952?
  16. What is the name of the young boy who is one of the two main characters in Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory”?  (Hint: he shares his name of a famous Christmas elf.)
  17. In what C.S. Lewis novel does Santa Claus give children named Peter, Susan and Lucy “tools, not  toys”—including a sword and a red shield emblazoned with the picture of a lion?
  18. What is the official title of  Clement C. Moore’s “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”?
  19. I am an American poet whose poem “The Savior must have been a docile Gentleman”—which notes how Jesus was born in Bethlehem on ”so cold a Day”—has two of my trademarks:  it’s brief (40 words) and full of dashes!
  20. Boris Karloff, who narrated the animated special “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” famously played what famous movie monster, originally created by Mary Shelley?
  21. What Scottish poet wrote the poem “Auld Lang Syne” in 1788?
  22. What Christmas ballet is based on an 1816 short story by M. T. A. Hoffman about a toy that comes to life?
  23. What Irish poet, famous for “Don’t Go Gently into That Good Night,” also wrote “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”?
  24. I am the author of the one-act play The Long Christmas Dinner, but you probably know me better by my Pulitzer-prize winning play Our Town. I am who?
  25. Which Christmas carol began as a poem, written by Father Joseph Mohr in 1816, which was then set to music by his friend Franz Gruber?


1. Della

2. Invisibility Cloak

3. Twelfth Night

4. Fezziwig

5. Baby Jesus, Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

6. Robert Frost

7. The Great Gatsby

8. Benedict Arnold

9. Paradise Lost

10. The Polar Express

11. A Christmas Story

12. Light in August

13. “The Second Coming”

14. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

15. Lolita herself (Mrs. Richard Schiller). She died while giving birth to a stillborn child.

16. Buddy

17. The Lion,The Witch, and The Wardrobe

18. “A Visit from St. Nicholas”

19. Emily Dickinson

20. Frankenstein’s monster

21. Robert Burns

22. The Nutcracker

23. Dylan Thomas

24. Thorton Wilder

25. “Silent Night”


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les-mis-book-coverIt’s very appropriate that the film adaptation of the musical Les Miserables is debuting on Christmas Day. Not that anyone in Les Mis mentions Christmas:  Enjolras doesn’t deck any halls, nor do the Thenadiers change their wicked ways after visits from three ghosts.  But Christmas and the story of Les Mis share a common theme: the transformative power of gifts.

In any incarnation of Les Miserables (including Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, the 1987 Broadway play, or the 1996 non-musical movie starring Liam Neeson), an act of selfless gift-giving sets things in motion.  Jean Valjean, a convict who spent nineteen years in prison (for stealing a loaf of bread, no less), is caught robbing from a bishop– the very bishop who provided the desperate Valjean with food and shelter.  And yet, instead of handing this thief over to the authorities, the noble bishop (whom Hugo describes as an “upright man”) not only lets Valjean keep the stolen items, he actually gives him an additional gift: two silver candlesticks.

Of course, this gift does come with one substantial string attached: Valjean must make the most of this second chance by turning his life around. “Jean Valjean, my brother,” says the bishop in Hugo’s novel, “you belong no longer to evil but to good”; as a result, Valjean needs to use the bishop’s gift to become “an honest man.” Or, as the bishop succinctly tells Valjean in the musical version: “I have bought your soul for God.”

Incidentally, it’s no accident that Hugo has the bishop give Valjean candlesticks.  A few pages earlier, when describing Valjean’s act of thievery, Hugo stressed how Valjean was moving around in the dark chamber; however, when he passed by the sleeping bishop’s bed, he saw that the holy man’s face was illuminted by a “ray of moonlight”– a “relfection of heaven,” says Hugo. But the moonbeam wasn’t the only light in the room: Hugo insists that because “heaven was within” the bishop, the external moonlight merely augmented his “inner radiance.” By giving Jean Valjean the candlesticks, the bishop is symbolically sharing his “radiance,” his own heavenly light, to a man who has only known darkness.

Armed with the bishop’s dual gifts (the silver and the light), Jean Valjean does indeed keep the promise he didn’t even realize he made: he becomes a new man.  Literally: he takes on a new identity, Monseiur Madeleine.  Under this guise, he eventually becomes a prosperous businessman man and the mayor of his town.  But he becomes something else as well: a hero.  The bishop saved his life, and Valjean “pays it forward” by saving the lives, both literally and figuratively, of at least six characters:

Fauchelevent: an old man whose leg was crushed by a runaway cart.  Valjean (as the mayor) used his great strength to lift the cart and save his life.

Champmathieu: a confused petty thief who is accused of being Jean Valjean. This puts JVJ in quite a pickle: as long as the authorities think this other poor slob is Valjean, they’ll stop pursuing him; on the other hand, how could Valjean live with himself if he let another man suffer for his sins? (“If I speak, I am condemned,” Valjean sings in the musical, “If I stay silent, I am damned.”) Valjean ends up revealing his true identity– thus saving not only Champmathieu but his own soul (the one the bishop bought for him). In the process, though, he puts himself at great risk.

Fantine: an unwed mother who so loves her daughter Cosette that she sells her teeth, her hair, and her body (she turns to prostitution) in order to care for her.  Technically, Valjean does not “save her life”– despite her big “I Dreamed a Dream” number in the musical, she dies surprisingly early on– but he does make her life better. Plus, he gives the dying Fantine the ultimate gift: he promises to take care of her daughter.

Cosette: Fantine’s daughter, who is rescued and raised by Jean Valjean. His dedication to Cosette defines the remainder of Valjean’s life and gives it meaning.

Marius: the love of Cosette’s life. A righteous revolutionary, Marius is saved by Valjean, who pulls him from battle and carries his wounded body through the sewers.

Javert: the heartless, severe inspector who has hunted Valjean for decades.  Valjean saves his life by not taking it; although Valjean has the chance to kill Javert, he instead lets him go free.

Juxtapopsing Valjean and Javert reinforces how gifts can transform a person– as long as the person is willing to be transformed.  Consider: the bishop shared his light to JVJ and gave him a second chance; Valjean then used this as an opportunity to change. Javert, on the other hand, didn’t know what to do with his gift of mercy. While Valjean started a new life, Javert decided to end his, by jumping off a bridge.

Plenty of big movies have opened on Christmas Day– from Sherlock Holmes to Dreamgirls to Patch Adams to Alien vs. Predator. But Les Miserables may be one of the best non-Christmas Christmas movies, precisely because it’s about how giving and receiving gifts can change us.  It reminds us that when you give those you love a gift, you’re not just giving them a Furbie or an iPad or Epic Mickey 2; you’re giving your light, showing your love.  And in that respect, Les Miserables reminds us of something else too: that “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

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Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comWe live in Connecticut.

Knowing that no combination of words, however eloquently strung together, will ever adequately portray the shock and grief our world is experiencing, we humbly offer the thoughts that flow from our broken hearts on this day.

How it easy it would be to collapse under the stark evidence of unspeakable darkness in our world.  How tempting it is to succumb to the belief that our world is irreparably broken.  What words of comfort could heal these wounds?  What prayer will suffice?  What can we do for those families in Newtown who are drowning in darkness?

Our challenge, it would seem, is to bend… but refuse to break.  To seek out the light no matter how faint it may seem at a time like this. To shine our own light – a light of love, faith, hope, and peace – until the glimmer becomes a spark, joining with the light of others until the darkness is expelled.

There is so much good in this world.  We need to shout this from the rooftops.  There are ordinary heroes performing extraordinary acts of love and courage every day.  We must hold them up for all the world to see.  Yes, it is true we feel helpless today, but there is much that we can do.  Take a long, loving look at our dear ones.  Hold them a little tighter.  Love them a little more deeply.  Search out those that need comfort and do what we can to help them.  Pay close attention.

Be gentle with yourself.  Allow yourself time to grieve, to weep, to clench your fists in rage.  Know when you need to seek rest.   To step away from the media coverage and quiet your mind.  Do not feel guilty for counting your blessings or finding joy in the love you have carved out for yourself.  It is precisely that love that can heal the world.

To the families of Newtown… you are wrapped in our embrace of love and prayer.

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ImageIn honor of my wife’s birthday (Happy Birthday, sweetie!), I thought I would share a memorable way to celebrate a birthday milestone: the Countdown Photo-Calendar.

I wish I could take credit for this amazing idea, but I can’t.  As with most of my best ideas, I blatantly stole it from someone else—in this case, the wife of a college buddy.  Several years ago, my friend was turning 40, and his wife did this calendar for him.  I was so impressed with the idea, I decided to do the same thing when my wife turned 40… which was, uh, not long ago.  (I’ve learned you should never talk about a woman’s age…)

And what is the Countdown Photo-Calendar?  Here’s the deal: picture in your mind’s eye a hanging display, made of clear plastic, with 40 transparent pockets for photographs.  In each of those pockets is a placard with a number; basically, the whole display looks like a Classic Concentration game board.  The last pocket holds number 40, the Day of Reckoning of Person Celebrating Birthday (whom I will henceforth call PCB).

On the first day, which is forty days before PCB’s birthday, PCB pulls back the placard with the number 1 to reveal– a friend or relative!  Well, a picture of a friend or relative– not the actual person (unless, of course, your friend happens to be Flat Stanley.)

And somewhere in that picture is a number 1.  Maybe that person is holding up a drawing of a number 1, or maybe an ace of spades, or something. (For my college friend’s calendar, I made a made a big “6” out of Legos and took a picture of myself sitting next to it.)  Also, included with the picture is a little message from the friend or relative, wishing PCB well.

For every day for the next thirty-nine days, PCB uncovers a new person and a new message.  At the end of the process, PCB has a quilt of forty pictures of the people that decorate his/ her life.

The Countdown Photo-Calendar is a great thing to do for That Special Someone, but it’s not something you can just throw together.  So I thought I would provide a step-by-step tutorial to guide any interested parties through the process:

(1) Get yourself a calendar—a regular old calendar, with months and weeks and days.  Identify your PCB’s birthday and count backward forty days. (Technically, you don’t have to do it for someone’s 40th.  I’m saying 40, because it’s a big one and because the photo-holder seems to come with twenty or forty pockets.)

(2) Count back twenty additional days– at the least. After all, you’re going to need to give folks time to prepare. You’re depending on audience participation here; you don’t want to spring this on someone. (“You mean to say that you need to plan this a good sixty days ahead of time?” Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Kind of daunting…)

(3) Make a list of the people you want represented and randomly assign a number to each person.  (I say “random,” but you probably want the more responsible people to have the earlier numbers, since they’ll have less time to prepare.)

(4) Rifle through the e-mail contacts of PCB. (As with all great acts of love, this project does require you to be a little devious.)

(5) Send out an initial message to all the folks on your list, using your work e-mail (or else some other email that PCB doesn’t check).  In the message, you should explain the concept and what you’re asking of them.  Basically, you’ll need two things from each person: (a) a picture of himself/ herself displaying an assigned number; and (b) a “Happy Birthday” message that falls somewhere on the “witty/cute” spectrum.

Make sure you stress that this is a secret and that no one should e-mail PCB or else mention to PCB how awesomely thoughtful you are. Also, stress that anyone who wants to decline most certainly can with no hard feelings– which, naturally, is a lie.  (If someone don’t want to participate in an activity as fun as this, you can bet the feelings will be hard– as hard as the stone that resides where his heart should be.)

(6) Send out a second email, in which you list the numbers you assigned to each person AND the date which you must receive it. (See where this gets tricky?)  For example, “Agnes, Number 14, Due Date: Nov 11th.”  (And why is this going out in a separate email?  Basically, so you don’t overwhelm folks.  The first e-mail explains the concept; the second e-mail gets into the nitty-gritty details.)

(7) Sit back and wait.  Just kidding!  There’s no waiting in Countdown Photo-Calendar Creating!  You need to order the plastic photo-hanging thingy.  Here are two you can order online:

For someone celebrating a 40th birthday, you should order the “80 Photo” version, since only one side will be visible. (Each pocket technically holds two pics, so that’s how they get away with saying “80 Photos.”)

(8)  Make the placards, the place-holder cards numbered 1 through 40.  These cards don’t have to be super-fancy; on the other hand, they shouldn’t pieces of lined paper torn out of a three-ring binder either. The calendar is a decoration, something that will be in your house for at least forty days, and the placards are an integral part of the presentation.  (For my wife’s calendar, I enlisted the aid of my niece, and we made individual mini-collages for each card.)

(9)  Check your inbox. Oh, lookee here!  Folks have responded!  Hopefully, the people responsible for the initial numbers have sent in their pictures and messages.  If not, you’ll need to do some gentle nudging.  (In fact, you’ll probably find yourself doing a lot of gentle and not-so-gentle nudging throughout the whole process.  )

(10) Unveil the calendar to your PCB on the day before day one. (It’s a pretty big display, so you’ll need space to hang the thing.  I used those tiny suction cups and hung it up on our sliding glass door.)

(11)  Get up a little bit earlier on the morning of Day One and put the #1 picture/message-combo behind the placard. (I tended to do one day at a time, partly because some folks didn’t get the picture to me until the night before, and partly because I know my wife.  If I had filled up all 40 pockets on that first day, she would have opened all of them within minutes.)

(12) Repeat Step 11 every morning for the next thirty-nine mornings.

(13) Enjoy.

The whole thing a labor of love, for sure—but the love more than makes up for the labor. And the final collage at the end truly is a story, of a life and the people in it.

Of course, you can really only do this once… which means my wife didn’t get a Countdown Photo-Calendar this year. But maybe a Birthday Blog Shout-Out will do. Happy Birthday, sweetie!  I love you!  You’re the greatest!

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CatcherWhen I was 23 years old (back when Mark and I were “just friends” and not yet dating), I admitted a horrifying truth.  I had never seen Star Wars.  Once he picked himself up off the floor, Mark insisted we remedy the situation at once.  Later that evening he arrived at my apartment, accompanied by his Star Wars-obsessed friends and brandishing an old VHS copy of the movie.  With a bowl of popcorn and an open mind, I sat down to watch.  The result… I was underwhelmed.  The movie seemed kind of cheesy. The special effects were just ok, and the acting was downright awful at times.  Obviously something important was lost on me.  Turning to Mark I asked: “How many times have you seen this movie?”

I’m a huge science fiction fan.  I love Star Trek: Next Generation, X-Files, and Fringe.  My two favorite movies from the 1980’s were Aliens and The Terminator.  But somehow I missed the boat with Star Wars.  Mark saw the movie when he was seven years old…it was all magic and wonder and good vs. evil.  Almost 40 years later, our son was the same age when he first saw Star Wars—his reaction equally fervent.  As a 23-year-old, maybe I was just too old to experience the movie in the same way.

The same thing happened to me when I tried to read The Catcher in the Rye.  This time I was 30.  Seeing my now-husband’s aghast reaction (How deprived was your youth?!?) I picked up the book, which he was teaching to his high school students, and gave it a try.  Again… I just didn’t get it.  I appreciated the book for its literary merits, but perhaps I was too far removed from the teenage experience of alienation and angst to be truly moved by the story.

In a New York Times article (published January 28, 2010), Michiko Kakutani wrote: “Mr. Salinger had such unerring radar for the feelings of teenage angst and vulnerability and anger that “Catcher,” published in 1951, remains one of the books that adolescents first fall in love with — a book that intimately articulates what it is to be young and sensitive and precociously existential, a book that first awakens them to the possibilities of literature.”

I’ve definitely had that feeling before… when you read a story and you’re convinced the author crept into your consciousness and accessed your most private thoughts.  How else could he or she so perfectly capture your experience?  I think that’s what The Catcher in the Rye might be for many teenagers who read it.  How else could it have endured for over 60 years?  Unfortunately for me, there’s a window of time in which it must be read… and I was definitely outside that window.

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John LennonTwenty-two years ago, on December 8, 1980, a married couple had their picture taken.

Now, that fact in itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, but the picture itself was somewhat unusual.  It was taken by Annie Liebowitz, and her subjects were John Lennon and Yoko Ono. And John wasn’t wearing any clothes.

You’ve probably seen the picture, which ended up on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, many times, but maybe you’ve never really looked closely at it. What is the photo saying?

Let’s start with John—who’s not only naked, he’s in the fetal position.  Basically, he’s depicted as a child.  Then there’s Yoko, who appears cold, distant, and unfeeling. John’s kissing her, and she’s looking away. So, if he’s the innocent “child” in the picture, then she’s the jaded “adult.”

This “reading” of the picture is reinforced by several John Lennon songs.  Let’s take “Help,” a song Lennon and McCartney wrote in 1965, when the Beatles were at the height of their popularity. They were the biggest band in the history of music. (Remember the “more popular than Jesus” line?) And yet, at this moment of extraordinary success, Lennon writes this song asking, quite blatantly, for “help.” He’s feeling down, he’s not so self-assured.  To bring it back to the Liebowitz picture, you could say his call for help is almost child-like.

Next, there’s “Imagine,” which definitely reveals a child-like view of the world. He talks about how the “world can live as one,” in one global “brotherhood,” and how we need to get rid of the things that divide us (“no religion” and “no possessions.”)   You may say John’s a dreamer, sure, but he’s offering up an innocent and idealistic vision of the way the world could be.

Back to the Liebowitz picture.  So we have the innocent man-child John juxtaposed with the jaded adult Yoko.  So far, so good.  But how is your reading of the picture affected by the fact that this picture was taken the very day Lennon was assassinated?

It’s true: Annie Liebowitz took this picture after lunch on December 8, 1980. Later than night, at about 10:50, Lennon was shot in front of his apartment, the Dakota, by a pudgy, baby-faced, 25-year-old former security guard named Mark David Chapman.

Chapman actually got Lennon’s autograph earlier that day. Then he waited outside Lennon’s apartment for him to come home.

After he shot Lennon five times (twice in the back, twice in the shoulder, one bullet missed), Chapman allegedly sat down on the sidewalk, took out a book, and started reading a book. And that book was, of course, Catcher in the Rye.

Mark David Chapman, who first read Catcher when he was 18, has claimed that the book eventually inspired him to kill John Lennon. But why? What is it about the book that made him do it?  Personally, I think it has to do with “phonies.”  After all, Salinger’s Holden Caulfield hates “phonies,” and maybe Chapman did as well.  Maybe he saw Lennon—a $150 million businessman who sang about “no possessions,” a man who preached peace but was prone to fits of rage—as one of these “phonies.”   Perhaps the crazed, delusional Chapman felt Lennon was such a phony that he needed to be removed from the world.

Of course, this is all conjecture. All we know is that inside the front cover of the copy of Catcher that Chapman had with him on December 8, 1980, were these four words: “This is my statement.”

The assassination tragically links Liebowitz’s photo and Salinger’s novel.  The photo, after all, shows innocence, one that is odds with adulthood.  The novel explores the same idea: Holden Caulfield wants, quite literally, to prevent kids from falling from innocence into experience.   And yet, the fact that Annie Liebowitz took her picture the exact same day that Lennon was assassinated suggests that the innocence embodied by John cannot last.

The Chapman/ Salinger connection shows the powerful effect stories can have on people—though not just the bad effects.  After all, both Lennon and Salinger brought joy to millions of people with their words.  In fact, Catcher has a lot to do with the fact that I now teach high school English. In the summer before my junior in high school, I read Catcher for the first time, and I remember thinking it was unlike any other book I had ever read up until that point. And I think the initial inspiration that I could teach literature for a living started there.

Both John Lennon and J.D. Salinger are dead.  But somewhere out there, some child is discovering the Beatles for the first time, or some teen is getting hooked on Catcher in the Rye.  And when that happens, innocence lives again.  Maybe just for a moment, but it still lives.

R.I.P. John Lennon (9 October 1940 – 8 December 1980)

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Dickens 1

A five-member Salvation Army band playing in front of a green gazebo. Two sledders careening down a frozen waterfall. A poulterer, a pair of dead fowl hanging limply in each hand, standing behind a trio of Christmas carolers. Two horse-and-buggies charging at one another while traveling headlong down a one-lane cobblestone street– their collision inevitable and yet impossible.

Just a day in the life of the Dickens’ Village.

For those who have no idea what I’m taking about: the “Dickens’ Village” is a series of holiday collectibles– everything from buildings to figurines to various “olde towne” accessories– put out by the Department 56 company. Introduced in 1984, the series was originally based on the Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” but the company eventually expanded their scope by introducing new pieces—some inspired by other Dickens novels, others depicting life in Victorian London in general.

The Dickens’ Village pieces, especially the buildings, are beautifully ornate, shockingly expensive, and not particularly practical. Apart from a few with moving parts (skaters that glide around a frozen pond, for example, or dancers that waltz around in a living room window), most pieces don’t really do anything—nor are they supposed to. Really, all these pieces are meant to do is sit on a tabletop or under the Christmas tree and, in all their illuminated glory, usher in the holiday mood.

Of course, the Dickens’ series isn’t the only “holiday collectible” in town. (Uh… in village?)   There’s the New England edition, the “Christmas in the City” edition (complete with an 50s-style “American Diner” building), and even a Charlie Brown-themed edition.

And who can overlook the series based on the beloved film A Christmas Story?   Every classic scene is recreated with pieces such as “Triple Dog Dare” (depicting the scene where Flick gets his tongue stuck to the frozen pole) and “Isn’t It Beautiful?” (which shows the Old Man unveiling his prized leg-lamp).

But my favorite series of all has to be the Dickens’ Village, if only because it’s the one with which I have the most experience. No, we don’t own any pieces ourselves, but my mother-in-law has an extremely extensive collection.  How extensive?  Well… let me put it this way: a few years ago, my brother-in-law John actually conducted a census of the citizens.

I was first introduced to the Dickens’ Village phenomenon seventeen years ago, and I was immediately enchanted.  Over the years, my wife and I have taken on more ownership over the whole “Assembling the Dickens’ Village” project, to the point that we’re now the primary city-planners. (This has earned us a big round of applause from my mother-in-law’s knees.)

Each year, we try to add a different element to the village: this year, we inserted a Christmas tree farm, while in years past, we’ve included a hedge maze, a waterfall, and a town green complete with a stage.  (The theater company was actually putting on a scene from “A Christmas Carol,” which we thought was a nice “meta” touch.)

Over the past two years, my wife and I have recruited our twin sons to help assemble the town, and they also got the bug.  I guess you could say we’re all “Village People.”  (Can you tell I have been waiting this whole post to make that joke?)

Now what does any of this have to do with this blog?  Simple: the Dickens’ Village both requires and inspires storytelling.

Over the past seventeen years, I’ve come to appreciate the link between city-planning and story-telling.   Often, a story—or at least, a kernel of a story—can dictate the placement of the key pieces.  So, in the past, we’ve created a “rich side of town” vs. “poor side of town” dynamic.  Or right next to the theater we put the coffeehouse, where folks can hang out right after they watched the show.

The placement of Scrooge’s house tells a different story.  Do you place it in isolation, which he would undoubtedly prefer, or do you place it in the middle of everything, which would drive poor Ebenezer crazy?  (Sometimes, we even put some carolers right in front of his door.  Oh, he loves that!)

But then there are a multitude of other stories that can’t be mapped out, stories that happen organically, by the chance placement of, say, a paperboy by a constable in front of a bakery.   Maybe that’s the start of a new Christmas classic, waiting to be told.

Just recently, a student was telling me about J. R. R. Tolkein and how he created this fascinating world of Middle-Earth and then tried to figure out a story that he could tell in that world. The Dickens’ Village is the same sort of thing… only not so much Gollum.

The pieces in the Dickens’ Village, while beautiful and ornate, are essentially dead-as-doornails.  The stories bring the village to life.

And here are some pictures of the 2012 Dickens Village…

Dickens 2

Dickens 3

Dickens 4

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