Scrooge played by William L. Hahn

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This is my site for information about the fantasy world known as the LoH_kg_2_map A5Lands of Hope. I have the usual bio and buy pages, also Maps and a free Compendium of lore, plus a cool notification feature if you want to see posts in your email box. Sign up for that and you get two quick Tales for free. Because no one should have to wait for a little Hope.
Continue reading Welcome to the Lands

Re-

{As in, doing it again}

{A column originally published elsewhere in 2013, now brought home to my own site.}

It starts with me up a tree. I was probably eighty feet off the ground in a spire-straight maple bigger than you could hug. I’d been up there for hours, and was going to keep doing it for weeks. I was eight at the time. And then more weeks again at nine, and another month or two at ten, and twelve…

Last week I had no intention of blogging on this. But one of my sisters actually requested that I write about it- and how many of you, fellow authors out there, have actually had a blog request? Since it comes at New Year’s, it’s quite appropriate to the theme of re-solutions (where we essentially try to solve our problems for the second-or-greater time). But I want to be honest with you- I would not have volunteered to write this.

Because this is a confession.

Picture me sheepish, my hands hesitating, trashing the first few drafts (was the first time really an accident!?) and looking furtively both ways before getting down to cases. That’s good news for you of course, because now you can drop any unpleasant impulse you had to think about quitting smoking or laying off the dark chocolate in 2014, and just bathe in the schadenfreude for another few minutes. All for you, dear reader. And here goes-

I repeat.                                                                     

Seriously, I do everything again- all kinds of stuff over and over. I seek the old. You?

How many kids do you know were digging into ancient history by the time they were five? My sister (not the first one, I have a whole set) taught me to read before school started, and I was into books about as soon as I could turn the pages. Ancient history, though? Made perfect sense to me- these people were not different from us, once you understand a bit about their culture, technology, circumstances, you can see right into their problems, the choices they had to make. And I couldn’t get enough. It’s ALL happened before- that idea didn’t bore me, it thrilled me. I wanted to see it in the first times, and then look for it again in later ages. I still do.

“History repeats itself” is not an insult.

It’s a promise.

But beyond thoughts, I was repeating deeds throughout my childhood. I had all the tools, I guess- that distinct scarcity of playmates furnished by life in rural Vermont, parents distracted with six kids and dozens of animals on premises. Most important, I carried an unparalleled ability to focus on the one thing I really wanted. Before I was twelve (geek

bhgs.org

alert), I saved up my precious allowance to buy those wargames (GEEK-GEEK!), the ones with the folded up maps and two or three hundred cardboard counters, and if you’ve never seen one of them you’re probably happy about that. I would get Mom to drive a friend over to the house, and we’d go in the basement, spread out the map and play for HOURS. Each game, two-four-seven hours: thanks for dinner Mom, and back downstairs. And we’d play the SAME game, for months.  I was always the Japanese playing “Solomon’s Campaign” against my  best bud Bill Michaels, and I swear to you I never won, not once: zero and probably a hundred and twelve. But we loved it. Over and over we planned when to launch the invasion, how many supplies we’d need to hold this island, where to hide the subs. Maybe this time…

And so it went: garbage-lid-and-broomstick jousting with my sister (another one, younger than me), setting up a black trash bag’s worth of little green army men on the hillside pasture (with inevitable casualties when it came time to gather them up), using the tree swing to run diagonally up the trunk like Spider-Man, and pose until gravity insisted. Barn-crawling through trap-doors, between stalls and across beams to find the absolute coolest way to get from any door to any other exit, and then timing myself endlessly for speed- parkour before Nikes. Keeping constant watch from the tree house for expected, if mythical enemies.

You can read any number of articles about the value of unstructured play time- here’s one-and I recommend them to you if you had such a childhood (because you’ll feel smugly good), but not if you have kids (because you’ll feel like a louse). We all know today, let your kids run around loose and they’ll crate you off with irons on your legs and a raincoat over your head. But my experience was doused in repetition and ritual. Lord, how I loved it. I re-turned to it passionately, constantly, eagerly. And re-peatedly.

Same Position, New Perspective?

So, the tree. We had a half-dozen super tall maples on the property and the same number of apple trees. But this one, the furthest south of the pair in the sheep pen, was the best for getting high. The limbs started just above my reach, but that was OK because Jason the ram wanted to break the leg of anything that entered his domain, so you had to take a running leap anyway. After that, it was as easy as using your hands and feet to go upstairs (something I still do at times). In seconds I could be so high off the ground it gave me a jolt in the perineum to gaze down. Look it up, I’m on a roll here.

And there were limbs big enough to hold me right at the top, where the leaves thinned even in summer and I could see… well, everything really. All the lands thereabouts, mine and neighbors’ and open fields to the hill beyond the beaver-pond, which as far as I knew nobody owned. Higher than the barn roof, I could think about flying as the superheroes did (I expected I could fly far away and always get back home without help- surely the borders between states and countries would be brightly marked, like on my maps). I was so far up I thought the air was cleaner- and in rural Vermont, that’s quite a thought to have- but the limbs of that maple were utterly secure. I climbed like a monkey, and was safer up there than in many places on the ground- for example, within arm’s reach of anything sharp or flammable.

And up there, safe near flying, I learned so many things. I learned that fear of heights is relative- most of my relatives have it worse than me. I found that birds never get quite used to you, but will eventually come a bit closer, and not fly away as fast. I realized one of the great truths learned by the stealthic Feldspar- that people almost never look up, even when you are speaking to them.

And the next thing I knew Mom was ringing the bell for dinner. She had to- we were all over creation. I went up that tree a million times, honestly- long past the point  there was anything new to see or think about. And if I wasn’t gathering wool up there, it was something else. Something I’d already done, time and again.

And With Books? The Same!

I read books over and over (and I bet some of you do too- but not like me). I read The Count of Monte Cristo about every four or five years. Here I am {Editor’s Note: originally, in 2013} facing more than a half-year with no progress on my WiP: so naturally I went back to re-read the tales I’ve already chronicled (only one of which is unpublished, and took a little polish- for the fifth time). My lovely wife gave me the new fantasy book I requested for Christmas (Mortal Instruments, I wanted to check out the competition- hah, as if). What did I do? I continued to re-read, for maybe the fifth time, the first few of the John Carter, Warlord of Mars series. I stare at the maps I made and think again about the adventures I’ve seen in the Lands. I repeat conversations I’ve had, while doing the dishes, or playing a favorite computer game… again. Wherever I turn in life, I look to wrap myself in what I’ve already enjoyed.

After all, what’s a half a year? The main character of my WiP, the Stargazer preacher W’starrah Altieri, is fairly new to me. I spent thirty years looking at the Lands of Hope before that fateful day in 2008, when I finally started to chronicle what I’d seen. I must get to know this lady better, I think, before I go any further. And no question, there was something about Dejah Thoris (John Carter’s love) that reminded me of W’starrah. Gorgeous woman, sure, but something more… maybe I should read another one in the series. {Editor’s note: the toughest thing I ever wrote is now written- Perilous Embraces is available!}

Or maybe I could climb that tree again, and feel the breeze around me, hear Jason’s impatient snort of outrage below. Doing things repeatedly doesn’t just make you familiar with them (familiarity, by itself, leads- well, to contempt of course). Returning to something you love re-inforces you, and in the end I think it re-news you. Like I said, good for New Year’s. There are people who constantly move from one new thing to the next, and I salute them in all candor. I sometimes think that perhaps those scores of thousands of hours, in the end, will add up to a wasted life. And believe me, I’ve thought that before. But I’m staying here, and I’m doing this.

Again.

Classics You’ve Never Read: The Tale We All Tell

You could guess this installment’s topic with your eyes closed, inside a burlap bag. From the basement room of a neighborhood that has no electric lights. Because it was, like, the Dark Ages. So I don’t do mystery, sue me. What other classic would I be reviewing in the week of Yule except Charles Dickens’ absolutely immortal- A Christmas Carol.

I can feel your impatience from across the internet, so let me give you the summary in two bullet points.

  • Yes, this is a fantasy classic.

    Did Capt. Picard play Scrooge?
    Did Capt. Picard play Scrooge?
  • And no, you haven’t ever read it. Not really.

A Spiritual Experience

Now I don’t want any sass on that first point– Marley was dead, to begin with, there is no doubt whatever about that. Then this dead guy, he talks for an entire scene, and Scrooge can rave about blobs of mustard all he likes, but even HE says he believes it.

...or Gen. Patton?
…or Gen. Patton?

Add three ghosts, trips across time and space, walking through walls and an old man spending the coldest night ever recorded on earth in his nightshirt, and what you have there is a fantasy tale. Light on combat, I’ll grant you, but a ripping good fantasy yarn nonetheless. Horror and the supernatural are strongly allied to fantasy and always have been. The main difference, in my view, is the growth of character across the tale. Eighteen movies where a cabin/car/boatload of teens run screaming from Risen Guy with a weed-whacker, and what has anyone ever come away learning?

But Scrooge– graduate degree in Goodwill and Charity, in one night.

And this is YOUR tale, rather ours. We all tell it, because we all continually live it.

Thurston Howell? Already greedy
Thurston Howell? Already greedy

The only real choice you have with A Christmas Carol is to figure out what part of the story you’re in. And decide how long you’ll stay there.

Scrooge and You, Both Misers

Not me, you exclaim? I’m warning you, no chance you’ll escape this one. The popularity of Christmas Carol is a tidal-wave of evidence. Why does every actor on earth want to play him? Why do we all listen to it, on the radio, in 19 major films, in 39 stage

Alfred! Did even the butler do it?
Alfred! Did even the butler do it?

versions (since 1974, half of them running continuously). There have been three Scrooge operas, a graphic novel with Batman as him, over 200 major productions either repeating the story directly or putting a “modern” touch on it. There’s a steampunk version of this tale, one where he’s a TV producer, one where Scrooge is played by just about the hottest woman on the planet, and another where Tiny Tim’s disease is causing the zombie apocalypse.

You think you’ve read this tale? Please, you don’t even know which character you’re playing. Yeah, it’s not good news. But prove your literary worth and pass the quiz first.

Scrooge by the Book- Is it in the Story? (True or False)

No, no- Miss America too hot to be a miser. Surely?
No, no- Miss America too hot to be a miser. Surely?

1) His clerk asks him for extra coal in the beginning

2) The ghosts come at 1, 2 and 3 o’clock

3) Scrooge sees himself in the future

4) Scrooge visits Crachit’s house on Christmas Day

All false. You’ve been remembering one of the many excellent video versions, which take details of the character arc to heart and amplify the essential meaning Dickens started with. The book’s too short for TV! And that’s fine. But why bother with a 160 year old novella unless everyone– directors, screenplay writers, major actors and you watching at home– responded to something there?

Point: you respond to a tale this powerfully this well this long, because you identify with

But... he likes animals
But… he likes animals

a major character. And Christmas Carol has only one.

The chief thing about a miser isn’t that he’s rich, or that it’s only about money. Misers are unhappy. They deny everyone their wealth, starting with themselves. There’s a word for the condition a miser lives in. It’s called misery. Scrooge is quite correctly described as sad, weird, funny; as his nephew points out, the only one hurt by all his crabbing is himself. Our lives reflect this and it’s seldom money- it might be patience, or good humor, or our love, or– ahem– our writing talent, but we hold it back and don’t share it enough.

And we need to change. Your heroes need to change- why else are people reading your novella? Many wise online coaches have written about conflict, but Dickens gives us a more detailed map of the how and when. Here is where the spirits come in. You might call them muses.

A Reader’s Progress- Scrooge’s Character Grows

  • Marley comes to warn Scrooge and his principal impact is based on fear. Scrooge needs to be jogged out of his complacent habits, convinced there are consequences to his actions beyond what he can see, and forced to consider that he must change. The fear is important, but alone it’s not enough. As soon as Marley leaves, the miser is trying to settle back into his old ways, muttering “humbug” again. But he is still off-balance and open to-
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past whose chief influence is to fill him with regret.
    Whoa- now it's getting weird. Do I know that guy?
    {Whoa- now it’s getting weird. Do I know that guy?}

    Seeing that he was once happy, and that he used to respond more kindly to people around him, Scrooge becomes truly sad (not miserable, which for a miser is just a form of self-pity). He tells the spirit he can bear it no longer- she has scraped him out like a gourd. Based only on regret for his mistakes, though, Scrooge will not change- he pushes down the cap over the spirit’s light to get rid of it. For more progress in his arc, Scrooge needs-

  • The Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows him happiness and gives him desire. There’s a Chinese proverb that speaks of how sorrow hollows you like a man creating a pot. Now you can contain more joy. two-gcpScrooge sees others making merry despite much less wealth than he possesses and comes to desire that happiness again. If left here, he probably wouldn’t be quite so crabby, for a while, but it’s still not enough. Scrooge must be pushed that final step to action by-
  • The Ghost of Christmas Future, who doesn’t simply terrify him but gives Scrooge a sense of consequence. Misers like us mortals are not only selfish, or rather we’re selfish in part because we can’t see for sure the best thing to do with our talents. Easy to say how stupid it is for an old man to hoard money- but remember, Scrooge doesn’t think he is a miser. None of us do. By seeing his future, Scrooge realizes his choices matter. He could make the wrong one. He has been so far. His fate and Tiny Tim’s are linked: and in the event of death, the boy has nothing to fear, whereas Scrooge… that’s not just fear, it’s an impetus to act.
Play a miser? Back off buddy, I'm a scientist.
Play Scrooge? Back off buddy, I’m a scientist.

If a man gave away all his money but had not changed inside, it would be about as effective as a knight in my tales defeating a dragon without effort. Scrooge on Christmas Day has become “light as a feather, as giddy as a schoolgirl”. He is an imp– speaking in riddles to the boy outside his window, sending the turkey anonymously to IMG_8303Bob Cratchit. He is unafraid to appear a fool; he knows he has already been one. He understands it’s important to use his money, not to be known for doing so. He is exchanging his treasures here for those in heaven. Just one more remarkable feature of Dickens’ writing, that he so clearly points to a moral and religious purpose without using the G-word (even in vain). Scrooge accomplishes a transformation of character that the world has responded to across all media for sixteen decades. We know, deep down, who he’s talking to.

The 19th Century Indie

Dickens did here what all us authors, writers, chroniclers want to do with our work. More than readers liking the story, more than loving it, he changed how people lived. Did you know:

  • He wrote Christmas Carol as Plan B? His original idea was to pen a political tract, urging Parliament to do more to help the poor, and children, etc. He decided that a parable about Christmas would be better. I don’t think he was wrong.
  • His tale brought us not just Scrooge, but “Merry Christmas” itself! In Dickens’ day there was still some Puritan in England’s make-up, believing that celebration and liberality were wrong. He was out to change that, and he did.
  • He finished the work in less than six weeks, with a deadline (Christmas 1842) looming over his head as pressure. The spirits were with him.
  • He elected to self-publish! Took a percentage-royalty instead of flat fee. And he didn’t do that well on it- the book’s popularity was almost immediate but his returns weren’t as great as he’d hoped. Public readings (early video!) and reprintings eventually made up the gap (but Dickens was already well-off). He did the slow-burn!
  • Dickens also spear-headed the blasphemous idea that you could publish longer tales, like his other novels, in shorter formats released as serials. Hmmm…. and by making each chapter so cheap (just a ha’penny or so) even the masses could afford to buy a copy.
IMG_8331
I did my part! Your turn now.

So, the more things change. And if Dickens was prefiguring so many of our publication choices, we might want to take his writing style to heart as well. Check any article about the history of Christmas Carol to see the impact his tale had on the world: other great writers heaping praise and vowing to give generously, factory owners reduced to tears or closing shop for Christmas after seeing the play. Face it, you got to get a piece of this.

Start with yourself. I urge you all to read A Christmas Carol– the verb there was “read”, but see it too if you like. Learn from your fear, desire the happiness that comes with giving, and make good choices to change the world. Scrooge learns it’s never too late. But the flip-side of that maxim is also true- what day better than today?

A Merry Christmas to you all. God bless us indie authors, every one.

 

1999
1999
1984
1984
1962
1962
1992
1992

 

 

 

2000
2000
2009
2009

 

 

Yep, me too. 2006 at the local children's theater
Yep, me too. 2006 at the local children’s theater

 

 

Will occasionally pontificates on Classics You’ve Never Read. His earlier reviews can be found here.

BTW: The best of the lot? Albert Finney, the musical version.

1970
1970