Thursday, December 21, 2017

Holiday Entertainment Recommendations

Any Lovecraft fans here? If so, you really want to hear the Cthulhu Mythos Christmas albums, A VERY SCARY SOLSTICE and AN EVEN SCARIER SOLSTICE. They contain Lovecraftian filks to the tunes of classic carols and popular holiday songs. My favorite selections are "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Fishmen," "Away in a Madhouse," "Harley Got Devoured by the Undead," and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth." Songbooks are available, too. The producers, the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, also offer other goodies such as audio dramas and vintage-style films:

H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society

Thanks to the wonders of home video, I can watch my favorite Christmas movies at will, unlike in my childhood when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and we could catch old films only if they happened to be rerun on television. I'm an avid fan of A CHRISTMAS CAROL in its many variations. My top favorite film adaptations are the Patrick Stewart and George C. Scott versions. The Mr. Magoo cartoon is surprisingly good, within the limits of its short length, and it includes some lovely songs. The Disney animated rendition in which Mickey Mouse plays Bob Cratchit unwisely fails to incorporate much of the dialogue from the original, but it's fun to watch anyway just to see Uncle Scrooge in the role he was named for. The excellent AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL, starring Henry Winkler (yes, the Fonz), isn't a straight retelling but, rather, a re-imagining set in small-town America in the early twentieth century. In the "better than you'd expect" category is a made-for-TV movie I've watched many times, A DIVA'S CHRISTMAS CAROL; a black, female singing star plays the Scrooge role. That one clearly takes place in an alternate world where Dickens' novel doesn't exist, because nobody bats an eye at a rich woman called Ebony whose manager is Bob Cratchit, with a terminally ill son named Tim. One classic I watch every December is LADY AND THE TRAMP. Although not labeled a Christmas movie, it starts and ends at that time of year.

Then there are the holiday episodes of TV series. In the MASH Christmas episode I like best, children from a Korean orphanage share Christmas dinner with the MASH crew. Because their supplies for the feast didn't make it to them, the men and women pool their personal goodies to make a treat for the kids. The cool, upper-class, acerbic Major Charles Winchester contributes only a small can of smoked oysters, although everybody knows he received a mysterious package from home. It turns out that the package contains expensive specialty chocolates that he donates anonymously to the orphanage, in accordance with his family's tradition. The second plot line involves the senior doctors struggling to prolong the life of a fatally wounded soldier past midnight so his children won't have to think of Christmas as the day their father died. Of the numerous TOUCHED BY AN ANGELS Christmas episodes, my favorite is the one in which Monica reminisces about her encounter with Mark Twain on the Christmas when his daughter had just died (the latest of several grievous losses he'd suffered). One thing I like about this program is that, unlike some of the episodes, it doesn't present the mere apparition of an angel as enough to comfort or convert the human character. Twain's initial reaction to meeting Monica is essentially, "All right, God exists, and I still don't want anything to do with Him." Another element I especially like is that the episode features one of my favorite carols, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," which we don't seem to hear so much nowadays. An outstanding animated program, especially if you have kids to watch it with, is ARTHUR'S PERFECT CHRISTMAS. The title character has an ideal image of how the holiday season should unfold; of course, everything goes wrong but turns out right in the end. The show also touches on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the possibility of inventing one's own holiday traditions as an alternative to the hype and stress. As for stand-alone Christmas specials, I have a particular fondness for "Shrek the Halls," in which the grumpy ogre, who's never celebrated anything before, tries to create the perfect holiday for Fiona and the babies by following the instructions in CHRISTMAS FOR VILLAGE IDIOTS. Very funny even (or maybe especially) for adults!

Books: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, of course. And I love THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, by Barbara Robinson. It's narrated by an elementary-school-aged girl whose mother gets reluctantly stuck with the church Nativity play. The town hooligans, the Herdman children, swoop in and take over the pageant, with results that are deeply moving yet not sappily sentimental. There's a film based on the novel, with a screenplay written by the author herself. Connie Willis's holiday stories, lavishly showcasing her incisive wit, are indispensable for SF and fantasy fans. She has recently released A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS, an expansion of her earlier Christmas story collection. My favorite pieces are two novellas that weren't in the old edition. Thousands of radio re-playings of multiple covers of "White Christmas," augmented by the stubborn insistence of a prototypical Bridezilla that she MUST have snow for her Christmas Eve wedding, spawn a worldwide blizzard in "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know." Snow even falls in locations that have never seen it before in recorded history. You can read this work online:

Just Like the Ones We Used to Know

You really should get the book, though. My other favorite novella in it, "All Seated on the Ground," features the narrator's experience on a committee tasked with a first contact project. The alien visitors don't behave hostilely, but they don't speak or otherwise give any indication of their purpose in coming to Earth. Until they're taken to a mall, where they hear Christmas carols—and respond to the line "All seated on the ground" by suiting their actions to the words. Only the narrator, with the help of a high-school chorus director, notices this reaction and manages to decipher its meaning. Hilarious, but as in all Willis's work, the humor arises from character and situation, not one-liners. A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS includes an introduction by the author plus an afterword listing her personal holiday movie recommendations.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. I forgot to mention THE MUPPETS' CHRISTMAS CAROL, an excellent adaptation in its quirky way (with the slightly odd changes of giving Scrooge a huge staff of bookkeepers instead of only Kermit/Bob Cratchit and replacing Jacob Marley with Jacob and Robert Marley, so they can be played by the two hecklers). Favorite nonfiction book: THE BATTLE FOR CHRISTMAS, by Stephen Nussenbaum (spelling?). The "battle" refers to the push-and-pull between the advocates of the domestic holiday we know, invented in the nineteenth century, and the REAL old-fashioned Christmas -- which would look to us like a mashup of Mardi Gras, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Eve. It was celebrated by drunkenness, overeating (well, we still have that), begging from door to door (that's what those "wassail" songs are about), and making lots of noise.

  2. You can edit a post you did before, then repost it and the changes will show. I update my Index posts when I write a new post in a series.

  3. The only feature of the Muppet CHRISTMAS CAROL I don't like is that they omit Scrooge's sister completely, although his nephew is still present. Also, there's no mention of his going to his nephew's house for Christmas dinner, one of my favorite scenes. RE comments and edits: It seems to me that readers are more likely to see my addenda if they're in Comments; few people would be likely to reread my posts looking for changes.