“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself,” so said Charles Dickens, author of the festive classic A Christmas Carol. Quotes like these are studded like jewels in Dickens’ novel, a project that saved him from financial ruin once upon a time. Read by actor Hugh Grant in a new Audible edition, Dickens words come alive as even more pithy, witty, and profound than in the written pages.
(One example of Dickens’ zesty wordsmithing is when Scrooge, confronting a ghost, says, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”)
First published in 1843, it tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a crusty and deeply self obsessed man who dislikes people generally and Christmas especially. He judges the poor for having caused their plights and won’t give a single soul a crumb of kindness. As a result, his own soul is in a dark place. Ebenezer’s intervention comes on Christmas Eve when he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come and given a peek of the many lives he has touched in his miserly, self-banished life to date. After their visits, Scrooge is transformed into a man who sees others. His heart is enlarged and his life redeemed.
From the dank offices where Scrooge and Cratchit work until late on Christmas Eve to Tiny Tim uttering “God Bless us, every one!” this audiobook runs for two hours and 44 minutes. The succinct length makes it the perfect thing to listen to while cooking a Christmas goose or whipping up some figgy pudding.
Grant’s narration adds a human touch to a story we’ve heard many times. “It’s pretty much impossible not to love Dickens,” Grant said when it was announced he would narrate this version. “He’s funny, he’s angry, he’s a linguistic genius, and he belongs to that rare group of great writers who actually loved human existence. All of that’s very much on show in A Christmas Carol." (Audible)
So many people have told me to watch The Chosen TV series, and I am eager to do so. For now, though, I thought the Christmas episode would be a great primer to the popular series, and my husband and I went to the theater to see Christmas with The Chosen. It wasn’t what I expected, and judging by the many negative reviews, I am not alone. I expected a movie-length treatment of the birth of Jesus, done in the style of The Chosen series. But this is really a half-hour movie preceded by nearly one hour of Christmas music and testimonies from popular Christian music artists.
Now I enjoyed most of the music, especially performances by Maverick City Music and Brandon Lake. But there was just too much of it. They could have cut out about four or five songs and shortened the seemingly endless “concert” aspects to the “movie.”
I appreciated the segments on the names of God, wherein actors from The Chosen gave dramatic monologues about Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is our Peace, and Jehovah Raah, the Lord is our Shepherd, and other names. But as this was marketed as a movie, not a Christmas special, I felt impatient for the movie to start. (Apparently people have walked out of the theater during the musical portion.)
When the narrative movie starts, things fall into place. In AD 48, Jesus’ mother Mary (Vanessa Benavente) is aging and perhaps ill, and wants to send a message via Mary Magdalene to Luke, who has been collecting interviews and accounts of Jesus’ life. This scene flashes back to Mary as a teenage girl (Sara Anne), uncomfortably riding a donkey led by her betrothed, Joseph (Raj Bond) as they approach Bethlehem. Their relationship and the familiar nativity story is given an appropriately reverent yet earthy treatment, and the result is enthralling. I wish filmmaker Dallas Jenkins had included the full Christmas story here, not just Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ birth in a stable. I did like the fact that we see Mary at both ends of her life, and that she quotes the entire Magnificat, both as a young woman and an old woman. The half hour of narrative moviemaking definitely enticed me to want to see The Chosen, and it deepened my experience of Advent and celebrating Christ’s birth. But potential viewers should be aware that this is a Christmas special with a half-hour movie tacked on, not a real movie. (Fathom)
If you are looking for the book equivalent of a Hallmark Christmas movie, look no further than this nostalgic standalone novella from Christian fiction matriarch Lynn Austen.
It’s December 1951 in Connecticut, and 5-year-old Bobby and Harry are fixated on the Sears Wish Book catalog. Convinced Santa will bring them everything they want, the boys’ hearts are far from Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Their mothers, Audrey and Eve, who had grown up together in England and experienced the horrors and deprivations of war, are appalled at the boys’ entitlement. (Readers might remember them as main characters in Austen’s bestselling novel If I Were You.) Both single mothers, the two live together with their boys in an attempt to pool resources and forge a family unit.
When the boys play wise men in their school Christmas pageant, their mothers use the experience as a jumping-off point to start the “Wise Men project” to help lonely neighbors in need of shoveling and other assistance. As the boys slowly learn that it is better to give than receive, their moms begin to heal from their losses and open their own hearts to love and forgiveness.
As the mother of three children with December birthdays, I could relate to Audrey and Eve’s efforts to focus their children’s hearts on something bigger than themselves and the toys they want. By the end of the novella, the little ad hoc family of four has found a winsome balance between gifts and Santa and the richer meaning of Christmas.
One note: This novella likely reads better when one has read If I Were You first. At times I felt a bit bogged down by all the backstory compressed into a short book. (Tyndale)