December 16, 2011

Review of "The Chimes"

by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens wrote a brief series of stories, of which A Christmas Carol was one, that were originally serialized in newspapers and have come to be known simply as The Christmas Books. None of the others achieved anything like the phenomenal fame of Scrooge's tale, however.  One of my favorite characters in fiction, Anne Shirley, once said she couldn't forgive her big liberal arts college for not being the small, local teacher's training school that she attended first.  I think some of my response to The Chimes is simply an inability to forgive the book for NOT being A Christmas Carol.

Basically, this book is the original "It's a Wonderful Life."  Dickens seemed to feel that the intervention of the supernatural into the affairs of men was one of the required elements for his Christmas Books, so like the Jimmy Stewart film, The Chimes takes us on an unexpected metaphysical adventure.  Our guides, however, are not angels, but spirits who have a somewhat more sinister feel.

One aspect of this book that surprised and, I must confess, annoyed me, was the intended target of Dickens' morality tale.  The wealth, greed, callous behavior and blissful unconsciousness of the world around them often displayed by the well-to-do in Dickens are simply a backdrop in this tale, a fact of life that must be accepted and expected in this uncaring world.  Dickens' lesson is intended for the poor, and it is simply that any moment of losing faith and hope is every bit as wicked as Scrooge's years of grinding usury.  No matter what crushing experiences we may face in life, we must carry on, believing that life will not always be so dark; refusing to do so, at least for Dickens' characters, can lead to dire consequences.

This is certainly a fine and very necessary moral, one of which I need to be reminded periodically as regular readers of this blog are no doubt aware.  Still, it was as if Dickens had slapped Bob Cratchett for crying when Tiny Tim died.

Having said all that, however, I do not wish to leave you with a false impression.  This is a decent read, interesting enough to keep me asking "what happens next" until the very end, which is the most basic criterion for reading a book, isn't it?  I simply felt that the plot moved a little slowly at times, and did not always hang together as coherently as I would have expected.  If you enjoy Dickens, you need to add this one to your TBR pile.  If he's not usually your cup of tea, you're quite safe skipping The Chimes.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE how you compare this story to It's a Wonderful Life. Yes, I see that! I just finished this and "The Cricket on the Hearth." Now I'm reading "The Battle of Life." :-)


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