Six Degrees of Separation: from A Christmas Carol to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

 

It’s the 2nd December and Christmas will be going up Chez Hicks today. The family tradition when I was growing up was to put Christmas up on the 1st December, which has been tweaked to the first Saturday of December in our house. Either way, I’m only a day late.

It’s also time for December’s Six Degrees chain and I’m only a day late for this, too. This month we’re starting with Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol.

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This is one of my father-in-law’s favourite books from childhood. I remember reading an abridged version first of all with scary illustrations, the most memorable of which was the ghost wrapped in chains. I also remember watching a film version starring Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present. He terrified me. It took me a few years to get round to reading the full version. I’ve chosen a theme for my book chain that I’ll reveal the source of at the end.

One of my favourite books from childhood was When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

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I was obsessed with this book, borrowing it over and over again from the library, each time sharing in Anna’s outrage over the theft of her beloved toy by the Nazis, each time feeling the tension of life on the run. There’s nothing Christmassy about the story, but it shares the spirit of doing well by one another with A Christmas Carol. This is partly embodied by Anna’s decision to choose her newest toy over her familiar old favourite to take away with her. Maybe it’s because I’m in the midst of Christmas shopping, aware that I’m giving shiny new things that might displace old favourites, but sometimes I think we miss the point of Christmas.

Anyway. One of my mum’s favourite childhood books was Anne of Green Gables.

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My mum introduced me to this classic series, set on Prince Edward Island at the beginning of the 20th century. This is another story of doing well by one another and of accepting people’s differences, with Anne Shirley winning round the formidable Marilla Cuthbert, who wanted a boy to help on the farm. The love between Marilla’s brother Matthew and Anne is the most beautiful thing about this book. Here’s a man who sees the good in someone and makes the case for letting her stay. One of my favourite bits of the book is when Matthew takes it upon himself to buy a dress for Anne to wear at a Christmas dance, and decides the dress must have puffed sleeves.

I read a few Dr Seuss books when I was a child, but they weren’t my favourites. I came late to the charms of Horton Hears A Who!

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This is the best Dr Seuss book, in my opinion. Horton has amazing hearing and one day hears a voice from a speck of dust. He discovers the voice belongs to a Who, resident in Whoville. The more obvious Christmassy book featuring the Whos of Whoville is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but Horton Hears A Who! is better. It’s about treating everyone equally because, of course, “A person is a person no matter how small.”

Among my most treasured books as a child was a box set of Dorothy Edwards books, including When My Naughty Little Sister Was Good.

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I was, of course, the naughty little sister in my family, except I wasn’t really naughty and nor was the central character in this series of books. We just thought we could do the same things our older siblings could do and were frustrated when we weren’t allowed to. All we needed was a bit of understanding. This particular book has a hilarious episode where my naughty little sister tries to help Granny make a Christmas cake. I remember loving the detail in Shirley Hughes’s illustrations.

The Finn Family Moomintroll is another favourite childhood book, in a series of favourites.

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As a child, I immersed myself in the alternative universe of Moominvalley, not really thinking about what it all meant. As an adult, I still love Tove Jannson’s Moomin series, and I have a broader understanding of their allegorical meaning. Jansson wrote from the perspective of someone whose country was repeatedly occupied, whose indigenous culture was looked down on. She filled Moominvalley with characters who look at life from different angles, and encourage you to take a different perspective on why some people behave differently to our own social norms.

I’ve focused on children’s books so far, but it isn’t only children’s books where we find the sentiments of seeing from a different perspective, treating people as equals, doing well by one another. A novel that I recently read which is all about accepting people for who they are is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

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I’ve reviewed the book on this site, so you can find out what I thought about it and why you should read it here.

My theme, if you hadn’t guessed, arises from Scrooge’s nephew talking about Christmas:

[It is ]the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Amen to that! Except, it shouldn’t just be at Christmas that we think like that.

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