How Dickens has been turned into a soap opera

facade-472203_1280

Image :Pixabay

It’s a risky premise.

Take a large handful of characters from some of the best known and most widely read 19th century novels in the English language, all written by an author so famous, an adjective has been coined to sum up the flavour of his works. Shake these characters together – regardless if they originally shared the same pages or not – weave them around a murder mystery, and fling them at the television screen to see if the idea sticks.

What the humbug are you talking about, you mad limey besom?

I hear you cry.

Well, to the uninitiated – I suspect anyone living outside the UK – I’m talking about Dickensian (there’s that adjective I mentioned early!).

The creators have taken characters from Dicken’s Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Martin Chuzzlewit, Our Mutual Friend and possibly more books I’m too poorly read to recognise and had them all live in the same London neighbourhood at the same time, frequenting the same pub and shops and money lenders.

Now, if you’re thinking this Victorian-set soap opera sounds like a recipe for disaster, you could be right.

The project is overseen by Tony Jordan, best known for writing hundreds of scripts for Eastenders, the UK’s most depressing, grimy (East London-based) soap. It’s a show known for hard storylines including rape, murder and suicide – and all in an early evening time slot.

So, Dickensian could have been a trashy, nasty, sensationalist way of stamping on Charles Dicken’s oeuvre. And there’s nothing more painful than having someone stamp on your oeuvre. Oeuvres, my friend are not for stamping on.

But I don’t think it is.

The clever thing the writers have done is gather the characters together before we see them in their respective books. So we have the novelty of seeing Miss Haversham when she’s still a pretty young thing, full of girlish promise, of seeing Bill Sykes adore Nancy – of seeing Scrooge in full money-grabbing, tight-fisted, pre-redemption glory.

For anyone who has read the books, it’s a melancholy experience.

We know the fates of Nancy, Miss Haversham, Little Nell and the future Lady Dedlock, and we watch them stumbling towards their respective, unpleasant and sticky ends, helpless to warn them of how much trouble lies ahead and how to avoid it.

The production is up to the Beeb’s usual high standards – the acting is generally great, the sets and costumes fantastic, the dialogue has the right tone and the mystery intriguing.

It’s been a fascinating watch so far and I can’t wait to see if the murderer is one we know well – Artful Dodger? Fagin? Surely not the sweet, kindly Bob Cratchit?

So, the question I want to ask you lovely people is this – what do you think of writers who take famous characters and do as they will with them? Do you think we should leave well alone? Have you watched Dickensian and if so, what did you think?

***

If you’d like a quick overview of Dickensian’s main characters, take a look here.

 

Four books starring Father Christmas

santa-claus-1012097_1280

Image: Pixabay

We’re over halfway through our Advent calendar. My kitchen is filling up with nuts – roasted monkeys, salted and dry roasted peanuts, in their shells sheathed in a nylon net …

I know these last can be a pain, that all family members are likely to visit the local hospital some time before the New Year due to injuries from ricochetting almond splinters. But I’ve tried buying the pre-shelled variety and they’re not as much fun. Perhaps it’s that tiny spark of triumph felt when, through sheer brute force, you finally reach that ounce of nutflesh – and without losing a finger.

Anyway half-eaten calendars and nuts equal only one thing – Christmas is nearly upon us.

Working in retail, this means I’ll be in the shop right up until the last day and will no doubt spend Christmas Day half asleep and with my feet up. 

But to steer us all through the next week of fighting septagenarians for the last box of crackers / bag of cranberries / sage, chestnut and onion-stuffed pork and bacon crown (with port wine coulis), I have complied – for a festive Wednesday Word Tangle – a short list of books where dear old

FATHER CHRISTMAS

has a starring role …

 Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs

 

Although Briggs is better known for his story, The Snowman (‘we’re walking in the aaaaaiiir’), this is another great book, a kids’ cartoon from the 1970s  which depicts Father Christmas being bit of a curmudgeon, cussing his way through Christmas deliveries, negotiating cats, TV aerials and milkmen before coming home to a lone turkey dinner.

He’s a boozer, he loves his pipe and takes a hot water bottle to bed with him.

Father Christmas IS an Englishman.

 

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S.Lewis

You can’t get more Christmassy than this book.

In a snowbound, magical land filled with dwarves and fauns and talking beavers – a land where it is ‘Always winter but never Christmas’ – a tall, gowned figure driving a sleigh appears …

Father Christmass’s visit to the Pevenseys in TLTWATW is bittersweet. Yes, it means that thanks to Aslan, the festive season can finally arrive, the snows begin to melt.

But the fact the old man brings weaponry and a potion that can cure any injury as presents FOR CHILDREN suggests there will be no watching the Queen’s speech and hammering each other at Monopoly this year.

 

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Image result for the ghost of christmas present

It’s a bit of a cheat, this one, because you won’t find Father Christmas listed in the dramatis personae of Carol

BUT if you read the description of the Ghost of Christmas Present and see John Leech‘s original illustrations (above), the similarities are pretty obvious.

‘Present’ is a giant, clad in a green, fur-trimmed coat (Father Christmas was often depicted in green before the late 19th C), a holly wreath about his head, shimmering with icicles. He’s full of joy and love for the season, surrounded by food, drink and goodwill that he wants to share with a bemused Scrooge.

He’s more pagan Green Man than Coke marketing icon, but none the worse for that.

 

 

A Visit from St. Nicholas – Clement C. Moore

Not strictly that drunken bon viveur, Father Christmas, rather St. Nicholas.

It’s thanks to Moore we know what Nick’s reindeer are called (though Rudolph was clearly off sick in 1823 as he is obvious by his absence). And the fact that those reindeer are tiny – as is Nick himself. It would explain why it’s so easy for him to get down chimneys, but how many of us actually imagine him as small as he’s described in the poem?

I was struggling to find a lovely version on Youtube. Dick van Dyke nearly made it on here. Then I found this mildly unsettling puppet show (above) from the 50s or 60s to totally creep you out. Enjoy!

***

What stories featuring Father Christmas / Pere Noel / Santa / Sintaklaas are your favourites? Do share them here.

***

Thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W

Seasonal Reading: Could you take James Joyce on holiday with you?

Ah, cosy. Image: Pixabay

Ah, cosy.
Image: Pixabay

Well, summer’s nearly over and when I say summer, I mean in the six week ‘School Summer Holiday’ sense, not the endless, warm sunny days picking strawberries, watching butterflies flitter over the nodding heads of scabious and the fleeting, papery kisses of field poppies.

For as anyone who has experienced UK Summer 2015 will know, it was less glorious, more wading up to your knees in rainwater, your ankles in mud and just praying we’ll all have enough Vitamin D in our systems so we don’t start the Winter deficient.

Autumn is drawing in already – some would argue it started around the end of July – there’s a cool in the air, the green leaves are tinged copper and there’s an indefinable smell: the start of the annual decay.

However, let us not be downhearted, for there are reasons to be cheerful.

I personally enjoy having several layers of clothing to hide under – ‘cardigan weather’ my mum calls it – the blackberries are in full flush and who can resist a crumble and custard? And with the cooler weather comes a nesting instinct, a need to dash in from the cold and wet ( a contrast from the warm and wet of summer ). A time to light the fire and curl up with a good book.

So now you’ve left your Holiday Reading list behind, do you have a Winter Reading list you’re about to start?

I’ve always been puzzled by the idea of Holiday Reading.

Is it really true that whilst you lounge by the pool, exposing your delicate flesh to the harsh foreign sun, it’s impossible to read anything serious? Does wearing a bikini or Speedos restrict the flow of blood to the brain, rendering the wearer incapable of contemplating anything too difficult?

The closest I’ve ever come to a beach holiday was sharing a two berth caravan in Llandudno with five other people – a cosy and not entirely fragrant experience – so I’ve never had my head turned by large amounts of freely available alcohol and all-you-can-eat buffets. Maybe after two weeks of that your brain turns to pate and can’t cope with Finnegan’s Wake or One Hundred Years of Solitude. Understandable.

My holiday reading? Well, as we only usually leave home for two or three days at a time, it’s just whatever book I’ve got on the go at the moment, whether that’s Terry Pratchett, Khaled Hosseini, or maybe something on Greek Myths or the Black Death.

Whilst I’m puzzled by Holiday Reading, I’m totally on board for books that are suitable for the short, gloomy days of winter. When else should you read A Christmas Carol but on the run up to Christmas (finishing on Christmas Eve, of course.) Quite honestly, if you’re up to your eyes in Scrooge and Marley in July, there’s something wrong with you. Any Dickens seems to suit the colder months – Chuck’s fault, I’m sure, for helping to shape our ideas of what makes a perfect Yuletide.

What about Autumn I hear you cry? What should we read then? How about Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie? All plumptious country girls, fruit picking and open fires – perfect.

So, join me. Close the curtains, light the fire, don your finest, snuggest woolly pully and tartan slippers, make a cup of something warm and let’s cosy up to the sound of thrashing rain.

It’s the season books were made for.


Do the seasons dictate which books you read? Did you pack William Faulkner for your all-inclusive to Marbella? I’d be fascinated to know.

N. B. Apologies to anyone reading this in the Southern Hemisphere who’s just watching Spring wink on the horizon – maybe you could save the post and come back in six months?