Guy de Maupassant’s Christmas Eve, first published in Le Gaulois, December 25, 1882, is an 8 minute gem of comic horror.
I think of it as kind of a French version of A Christmas Carol. But unlike Scrooge, who is a “man of business,” our protagonist is a writer. He isn’t too busy with economy to appreciate the holiday, oh no, he is a generous fellow and he doesn’t have anyone to share his Christmas Eve feast with!
I think you’ll agree that narrator John Feaster’s roller-coaster reading of this great story will mold the merry Xmas spirit into a jolly July.
Adapted from the story by Robert Louis Stevenson; Adapted by John Taylor; Performed by a full cast
MP3 via TORRENT – Approx. 45 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Broadcast: February 1, 2006 On Christmas Day 1886 with London shrouded in fog, a man shadows a girl across Blackfriars Bridge towards the back streets of Holborn. His name is Markheim and his intentions are unremittingly dark.
Directed by John Taylor
Tommy – Mark Straker
Markheim – Jack Klaff
Girl – Abigail Hollick
Visitor – Anton Rodgers
Crispin – Anthony Jackson
And for German listeners there’s THIS sexy sounding version produced as a part of a cool series called Gruselkabinett (which translates to “Chamber of Horrors”).
There is no finer model for the study of setting than this story affords. It is three o’clock in the afternoon of a foggy Christmas Day in London. If Markheim’s manner and the dimly lighted interior of the antique shop suggest murder, the garrulous clocks, the nodding shadows, and the reflecting mirrors seem almost to compel confession and surrender. “And still as he continued to fill his pockets, his mind accused him, with a sickening iteration, of the thousand faults of his design. He should have chosen a more quiet hour.” So he should for the murder; but for the self-confession; which is Stevenson’s ultimate design, no time or place could have been better.
There is little action in the plot. A man commits a dastardly murder and then, being alone and undetected, begins to think, think, think. It is the turning point in his life and he knows it. Instead of seizing the treasure and escaping, he submits his past career to a rigid scrutiny and review. This brooding over his past life and present outlook becomes so absorbing that what bade fair to be a soliloquy becomes a dialogue, a dialogue between the old self that committed the murder and the new self that begins to revolt at it. The old self bids him follow the line of least resistance and go on as he has begun; the newly awakened self bids him stop at once, check the momentum of other days, take this last chance, and be a man. His better nature wins. Markheim finds that though his deeds have been uniformly evil, he can still “conceive great deeds, renunciations, martyrdoms.” Though the active love of good seems too weak to be reckoned as an asset, he still has a “hatred of evil”; and on this twin foundation, ability to think great thoughts and to hate evil deeds, he builds at last his culminating resolve.
The story is powerfully and yet subtly told. It sweeps the whole gamut of the moral law. Many stories develop the same theme but none just like this. Stevenson himself is drawn again to the same problem a little later in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Hawthorne tried it in “Howe’s Masquerade,” in which the cloaked figure is the phantom or reduplication of Howe himself. In Poe’s “William Wilson,” to which Stevenson is plainly indebted, the evil nature triumphs over the good. But “Markheim,” by touching more chords and by sounding lower depths, makes the triumph at the end seem like a permanent victory for universal human nature.
If the story is the study of a given situation, Markheim, who is another type of the developing character, is the central factor in the situation. We see and interpret the situation only through the personality of Markheim himself. Another murderer might have acted differently, even with those clamorous clocks and accusing mirrors around him, but not this murderer. There is nothing abnormal about him, however, as a criminal. He is thirty-six years old and through sheer weakness has gone steadily downward, but he has never before done a deed approaching this in horror or in the power of sudden self revelation. He sees himself now as he never saw himself before and begins to take stock of his moral assets. They are pitifully meager, though his opportunities for character building have been good. He has even had emotional revivals, which did not, however, issue in good deeds. But with it all, Markheim illustrates the nobility of human nature rather than its essential depravity. I do not doubt his complete and permanent conversion. When the terrible last question is put to him – or when he puts it to himself – whether he is better now in anyone particular than he was, and when he is forced to say, “No, in none! I have gone down in all,” the moral resources of human nature itself seem to be exhausted. But they are not. “I see clearly what remains for me,” said Markheim, “by way of duty.” This word, not used before, sounds a new challenge and marks the crisis of the story. Duty can fight without calling in reserves from the past and without the vision of victory in the future. I don’t wonder that the features of the visitant “softened with a tender triumph.” The visitant was neither “the devil” as Markheim first thought him nor “the Saviour of men” as a recent editor pronounces him. He is only Markheim’s old self, the self that entered the antique shop, that with fear and trembling committed the deed, and that now, half-conscious all the time of inherent falseness, urges the old arguments and tries to energize the old purposes. It is this visitant that every man meets and overthrows when he comes to himself, when he breaks sharply with the old life and enters resolutely upon the new.
The SFFaudio Podcast #195 – Polaris by H.P. Lovecraft, read by Jim Moon. This is a complete and unabridged reading of the short story (11 Minutes) followed by a discussion of it by Jesse, Tamahome, Jim Moon.
Talked about on today’s show:
The Philosopher (an amateur magazine), is this a Christmas story?, The Festival, Lord Dunsany, The Necronomicon, Lovecraft’s Christianity, religion vs. Tradition, Lovecraft’s relationship to his characters, WWI, eldritch gibbering, fainting fits, Lovecraft loved his snoozing, reincarnation vs. mind transfer, time travel, alternate realities?, neanderthal in North America?, what is the setting?, The Horror Of The Museum, The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, swamps vs. bogs vs. fens, “Eskimos” vs. “Inutos”, dishonorable dirty fighting, The Shadow Out Of Time, Dagon, The Call of Cthulhu, The Tomb, it’s The Outsider in reverse, Atlantis, Athens, Lemuria, the Land of Lomar, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Hyperborea, King Kull, Mu, the Dream Lands, atavism, The Rats In The Walls, “a penchant for strange foods”, Jack London, Carl Jung, race memory, the evolutionary path, dishonorable yellow hordes, the yellow peril, “line up and die”, startings and endings, repeated phraseology, a dunsany-esque story, the Dunsany mode, Edgar Allan Poe, its like an extended prose poem, Silence: A Fable, Shadow: A Parable, Ligea is labyrinthine, “battered by adjectives”, The Highwayman by Lord Dunsany, poetic stories, accessible Dunsany stories, In The Fields We Live, “sinister, whimsical, and beautifully odd”, Victorian magazines, The King Of Elfland’s Daughter, C.S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock, world-building, a consistency of reality, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, lost epochs, “the wisdom of the Zobnarrian Fathers”, “bubble and blaspheme”, the alien outer gods, Lovecraft’s interest in astronomy, Charles Wain (aka the plow, aka the big dipper), mapping the skies, messages and impressions, Arcturus, Cassiopeia, Aldebaran, Philip K. Dick, “the world is alive”, a leering star, astrological time, if the seeing is good…, Lovecraft’s desire to be an astronomer, Lovecraft’s formal education.
The Fat Man; A Tale of North Pole Noir
By Ken Harmon; Read by Johnny Heller
1 MP3 CD / 5 CDs – 5.5 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Themes: / Fantasy / Christmas / Elves / Santa / Noir / Murder / Reindeer / It’s a Wonderful Life /
If you’re looking for a holiday story that’s not yet another retelling of The Christmas Carol, then pick up Ken Harmon’s The Fat Man. Gumdrop Coal is framed for murder after being ousted from the Coal Patrol and he’s out to clear his name.
Fired from his longtime job as captain of the Coal Patrol, two-foot-three inch 1,300-year-old elf Gumdrop Coal is angry. He’s one of Santa’s original elves, inspired by the fat man’s vision to bring joy to children on that one special day each year. But somewhere along the way things went sour for Gumdrop. Maybe it was delivering one too many lumps of coal for the Naughty List. Maybe it’s the conspiracy against Christmas that he’s starting to sense down every chimney.
Take all the Christmas references your sweet tooth can stand and keep going, add in an embittered and betrayed Elf from the Coal Patrol, Reindeer with the panache of top gun fighter pilots, and a spunky girl reporter, Buttercup Snitch, who either only has eyes for Gumdrop or is in on the frame job.
The story is told by Gumdrop Coal, leader and founder of the Coal Patrol, in a wonderful hard bitten noir style. Gumdrop is used to dealing with some nasty customers (children). The Coal Patrol are the guys who work from the Naughty List. After it’s been checked, twice.
Set in Kringle Town with Santa and the Elves. Filled with characters you will have heard from assorted Christmas Fairy. But they aren’t all as you might expect.
It isn’t all candy and Christmas trees; there is also a dark side to Kringle Town. The other side of the tracks: Potterville. If you’ve ever watched It’s a Wonderful Life you should recognise that name.
Gumdrop doesn’t believe Naughty Boys and Girls should be treated the same as their well behaved siblings. That smothering all children in gifts regardless of merit lessens both the gift and the child.
Johnny Heller tells it in a wonderful straight-up noir-style, even when doing the high pitched elves.
Did you get what you want for Xmas? I did. I always seem to. This year the theme seemed to be coffee. I got enough to last me until next July! Huzzah!
But the real gift, as always, was that I got to spend some time with my family. On Xmas eve we play a great game called “The Game” – the object of “The Game” is to steal specially wrapped Christmas presents from your relatives and other party attendees – it is especially fun to steal presents from children. There are a few rules, and lots of fake drama, and bogus strategy all designed for fun and it’s basically wall to wall laughter for about 75 minutes. The gifts are generally pretty junky, like dollar store toys or tools – one of them this year was a miniature bale of hay, another was a light in the shape of a fried egg. I love it.
At these parties I get to see lots of uncles and aunts, cousins and other relations all of pleasant disposition. Actually the whole thing is about as close to a Hobbit gathering as you’ve ever seen in real life (though most of us are taller and wear shoes). It’s more that there’s always plenty of food and thoughtful gifts – genuine merriment and respect. It’s rather lovely. But there are always surprises too. Like the one from last Christmas, or the year before. One of my distant relatives, down from northern British Columbia, told me he had happened upon my podcast through the Anne Is A Man blog and that he had been listening to it. That gave me a good laugh! It was one of the best gifts I received. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising, most of my relatives seem to be readers.
This year the most relevant gift wasn’t actually for me, but it gave me another good laugh.
See one of my cousins, an avid reader, received a new paperback copy of WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer. It was a Christmas present from her aunt and uncle (who happen to be my aunt and uncle too).
I happened to be sitting beside her as the gifts were being dispersed and unwrapped. So, when I saw that she’d received it, and that the book was in the new tall paperback format I asked if I might have a look inside (I’d only heard the audiobook). I opened the front cover only to see this: