My original post for this week was an update on what I’m reading, but it didn’t seem quite appropriate for Christmas week.
As far as literature goes, Charles Dickens is nearly synonymous with Christmas. He wrote a ghost story that was adapted into roughly twenty different Hallmark movies. That ghost story was referenced in two Doctor Who episodes in the last 11 years.
Dickens wrote another seasonally appropriate work.
Actually, it’s not just appropriate for the Christmas season. You can read it any time of the year. But it begins with Jesus in a manger.
The Life of Our Lord is a short book written for Dickens’s children. It’s definitely not like his novels about poor kids and cruel Scottish boarding schools. It’s not a comment on the inefficiency of government. That’s what some reviewers on Goodreads and Amazon seem to have expected. It’s a children’s story that was never intended to be published.
The Life of Our Lord is basically an illustrated version of the Gospels, but without the pictures. Dickens uses simple language to tell the big stories: the shepherds and the wise men at Christmas, John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, the wine at the wedding, the calling of the apostles, healing of disease and demon possession, feeding the crowds, and the crucifixion.
Reading this warm fuzzies children’s book made so much of Charles Dickens’ novels make sense. It reveals something of his faith, and while it’s not quite theologically sound, it explains the motivations of the characters he enjoyed writing.
Children’s literature, and much of classic literature, aims to teach lessons about morality and the benefits of being kind. That’s a good thing. We want to raise our children to love others. It benefits society to raise children to obey the law and not to hurt other people. It is good and right to teach and preach that.
This is when I think we start getting into the Victorian culture and morality that shaped Charles Dickens’s works.
At least in my experience, 19th century literature is a celebration of Being a Good Person. If you are nice and kind to people, your soul is nice and kind and good. If you are unkind, your soul is bad. Pip is a kind orphan, and Miss Havisham is a misandrist villain. Nicholas Nickelby is a giving teacher, and Ralph Nickelby is a wicked banker. To jump forward by a few decades, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is about an evil man who pretends to be good.
It’s a view that the purpose of Christianity is to be kind to people.
There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love Him as his own Son; and He will teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another; and His name will be Jesus Christ; and people will put that name in their prayers, because they will know God loves it, and will know that they should love it too.
In The Life of Our Lord, this is the speech given by the angels to the shepherds in the field. It’s quite lovely.
I find myself throughout this book saying, “Yes, but…”
This children’s version of the Gospel is easy to understand, and it teaches lessons about loving your neighbor, but it doesn’t talk about the salvation that the angels announced to the shepherds. Sin is something a bit too heavy for Dickens’ “Jesus for Children.”
It’s a happy story to read, and if you’re looking for a nice little book to read before Christmas, I definitely recommend it. I think I understand a little bit more of the mentality of the Dickensian hero.
It’s a nice story.
And that’s all I’ll say.
Merry Christmas, friends.
(I’ve been waiting to use this gif from Classic Alice. It doesn’t really go here, but I wanted to use it, so here we go.)