Monday, January 12, 2009

The War on Dickens

I dislike Charles Dickens.

No, that’s not quite right. Charles Dickens makes my stomach churn with rancor that’s neither defensible nor logical. I hate Charles Dickens like I hate the Yankees or my mother hates when someone mispronounces a French phrase.

That’s not Dickens’ fault. Like any other irrational hatred, I’m sure it stems from a deep-seated, repressed memory. Maybe a copy of “Hard Times” stole my fruit snacks in kindergarten. Maybe I got tired of my favorite cartoons being preempted in December for variations on “A Christmas Carol.”

Simply put, the man is a legend. He is one of the archangels of English writing along with Chaucer, Hardy, Shakespeare, Austen and the guy who wrote “Upstairs, Downstairs.”

But it makes no difference to me. I don’t like him. I’ve constructed a couple irrational excuses as to why, and now it’s on the World Wide Interweb for everyone to read.

Irrational reason one:

Dickens stuffs his stories with unnecessary, soap opera-plot twists. I understand that serial storytelling — he used to write fiction for newspapers — lends itself to cliffhangers and surprises; but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. (For some reason, it bothers me less when Stan Lee does it. Maybe if Pip dressed like a spider and walloped super-villains with animal names I’d like him more.)

Reason two:

Dickens also must have had a compulsive hatred of concise storytelling. Take, for example, this passage from Great Expectations.

It was a rimy morning and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders’ webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade.

I can say that in four words:

It was wet outside.

Final reason:

Every Dickens story comes with plot contrivances galore. Every poor street urchin must have a rich benefactor. If I were a Charles Dickens character, my name would be Jason Strappinglad. My boss, Laura Thundervox, would cruelly and obscenely abuse me (as opposed to simply abusing me,) but I would be rescued from her machinations by a henceforth unknown millionaire relation.

OK, I’ve exorcised the demon. I feel better, at least until next December when my Thundercats rerun is replaced with A Dora the Explorer Christmas Carol.

--Jason Lea

Not sure if we need ISBNs for Dickens' books (hint: they can be found at any bouqinistes) but because Jason loves both of his readers, here ya go:

Hard Times (Signet Classics): 978-0451530998
A Christmas Carol (The Heirloom Edition): 978-0762412990
Great Expectations (Penguin Classics): 978-0141439563

However, if you are interested in Dickens and have none of him on your bookshelf, I would suggest the collected novels of Charles Dickens, ISBN: 0760775001. You get Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

If that sounds like too much reading, I would suggest watching the Disney version of Oliver with Billy Joel as the Artful Dodger and the Muppets version of A Christmas Carol.



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