Charles Dickens’ other Christmas tales

Just about everyone has the story of A Christmas Carol memorized, but did you know Charles Dickens wrote other Christmas books? In the 1840s, Dickens would publish four more Yuletide tales to varying degrees of success. While most repeat the formula of people being visited by supernatural beings—be they ghosts, fairies, or goblins— each has its own distinct feel.

Published a year after the instant success of A Christmas Carol, The Chimes is about impoverished ticket-porter Trotty Veck, whose despair at his lot is so great that he wonders if the poor are even fit to live. Drawn to the sound of church bells one winter night, Trotty is greeted by the Goblin of the Great Bell. The goblin gives Trotty the opportunity to see what life would be like for his loved ones without his positive influence. As in A Christmas Carol, The Chimes calls for readers to view the less fortunate as fellow human beings deserving of compassion and respect rather than as remote statistics. While mostly forgotten today, the novella’s premise bears a striking similarity to the popular film It’s a Wonderful Life and its final, life-affirming message is also identical.

Following The Chimes is The Cricket on the Hearth. Described as a “Fairy Tale of Home,” it follows married couple John and Dot Peerybingle, to whom the titular cricket acts as a guardian angel figure. Their lives intersect with toymaker Caleb Plummer and his blind daughter Bertha, both much abused by Caleb’s miserly employer Tackleton. Set during the New Year season, Cricket’s main focus is John's marital doubts and Caleb’s desire to make Bertha happy despite their poverty. Deceptions and misunderstandings make way for a festive conclusion. Cricket was a major success in its day, going through two printings in quick succession. Modern audiences are probably more familiar with the 1967 Rankin-Bass animated version than the original text.

The Battle of Life is the outlier among the Dickens Christmas books. No supernatural elements are present and even its holiday connections are loose. The book is more of a traditional love story. It is about a young woman who appears to betray her betrothed after she runs away with another man, but the truth of the situation is revealed at the conclusion.

The Haunted Man is the last of the Christmas books and the one critics usually feel is most deserving of rediscovery. Chemistry professor Mr. Redlaw is distressed by painful memories and feels his life would improve if he did not have to struggle with them. When a ghost appears and grants his wish so that he and the others around him forget their sorrow, this “gift” quickly becomes a curse. Dickens’ point is that suffering can be used to cultivate empathy for others. The story is perhaps most famous for its pioneering theatrical versions, which were the first to utilize the Pepper’s Ghost special effect. This technique allowed off-stage people or objects to be projected onstage with the aid of precisely placed mirrors, making it an ideal effect for portraying ghosts.

Check out the list of resources below to read these stories for yourself and to learn more about their creation.

Charles Dickens' other Christmas books

List created by STPLReferenceMadisonville

Charles Dickens wrote four additional "Christmas books" after the immediate success of "A Christmas Carol": "The Chimes," "The Cricket on the Hearth," "The Battle of Life," and "The Haunted Man."

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