Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Spirit Stays On: Connie Willis' "Adaptation"

After Musing about the different adaptations of Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL on the holiday, I took Connie Willis' Miracle and Other Christmas Stories down from the shelf and reread her very excellent story entitled "Adaptation."

The story begins with an epigraph from Sir Walter Scott's Christmas poem, Marmion

Heap on more wood, the wind is chill;
But let it whistle where it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still.
The male protagonist, a clerk in a bookstore, narrates the story in the first person.  He begins by detailing the various adaptations of A Christmas Carol that the store carries, and the various commercial ways that the original story has been exploited.

The protagonist is a book lover, and we take it that he cares about literature and is a bit miffed by the public clamoring for cheap imitations and showy materialism.  His wife left him and and has remarried up, and she has custody of their daughter.  As the story opens, he is looking forward to her visit on Christmas Eve.  This is complicated by the surprise visit to the store of a best selling author, signing copies of his book, How To Make Money Hand Over Fist.

How to spend quality time with his daughter?  That's the question, now fraught with uncertainty due to the manipulations of his boss, the store owner, the flippant attitude of the visiting author, and the constant fluctuation of his ex-wife's own holiday plans, which take precedence over his own.

The store hires temporary help to assist him with the autographing session and until the holiday.  He sees them as the Spirits of Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come.  He thinks that they are there to turn the visiting author, a grasping materialist.  But they're not, as he finally sees at the end of the story--they are there to help him.

In this story, as with It's A Wonderful Life, the materialistic Mr. Potters of the world get their way, again and again, many of them giving lip service to religion, monetary pillars in the church expecting to buy redemption.

But we should not sink to their level.

Instead, we should have the will to maintain good cheer and the spirit of giving and gratitude, no matter what.  We can usually be about as happy as we make up their minds to be.  We find a way through adaptation.  The guiding examples are there in the classics of our literature, including Scrooge's nephew, Fred, in Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

And that Christmas Spirit is always there to remind us of what we can do everyday, throughout the year.

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