I’m going to start my annual re-reading of A Christmas Carol tonight. One stave a night for five nights will let me finish it on Christmas Eve. My edition of A Christmas Carol also contains several other Christmas stories that Dickens wrote. I’ve read them before, but it’s been a while and I had some time this afternoon, so I decide to give them a read again.
The one that really caught my attention today is called “The story of the goblins that stole a sexton”. It’s not a great title. I think I would call it “The Tale of Gabriel Grub”, but Dickens didn’t ask me. It’s from The Pickwick Papers, which I have never read. In a nutshell, the story is about a sexton named Gabriel Grub. He is, “an ill-conditioned, cross-grained surly fellow-a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself and an old wicker bottle.” On Christmas Eve, Grub runs across some people trying to make merry, and makes a point of ruining their fun. Then he goes to the graveyard to dig a grave (that’s his job as a sexton). Part way through the job, he stops and lies down to rest and drink. Then a bunch of goblins show up and torment him. They also show him visions of good and generous and happy people. This changes Grub and he leaves town to become a better person. The townspeople find his discarded spade and bottle and assume that the goblins took him.
The similarities to A Christmas Carol are pretty obvious, but the story doesn’t feel anything like A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol is a story that features ghosts. Whereas Gabriel Grub is a ghost story. It would work well around a campfire and might be a bit scary for the little ones. That’s what really caught my attention today, the idea of a Christmas ghost story. It seems that Dickens was fond of the idea. Besides A Christmas Carol and “Gabriel Grub”, he also wrote a novella called The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain about Christmas.
I hadn’t thought of it before, but Christmas ghost stories have become something of a tradition. Unfortunately, they are almost all variations on A Christmas Carol. I think we should nurture this tradition and try to add variety. I’d like to try at least. I don’t have enough time before this Christmas to write my own Christmas ghost story, so I want to make a commitment to have a Christmas ghost story ready before Christmas 2018 and thereby add a little bit to the tradition.