“Floofooflers & Tartookas:” Dr. Seuss & The Grinch

"Floofooflers & Tartookas:" Dr. Seuss & The Grinch

The Grinch first appeared not in Dr. Seuss's 1957 book, "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!", but in a poem called "The Hoobub and The Grinch" published in the May 1955 Issue of Redbook magazine.

Dr. Seuss, whose actual name was Ted Seuss Geisel, said it was the easiest book of his career to write.

And that may be because Grinch was admittedly inspired by Dr. Seuss himself. In a 1957 interview with Redbook, Geisel said this.

"I was brushing my teeth in the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinchish countenance in the mirror... Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about... the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I'd lost."

Excerpt from "Dr. Seuss: American Icon" by Philip Nel © 2005.

This is further supported by the fact that The Grinch says he's put up with the Whos for 53 years, which was Geisel's age at the time of drafting.

And then there's the opinion of Geisel's stepdaughter, Lark Dimond-Cates. In 2003, she stated, "I always thought the Cat [in the Hat] was Ted on his good days, and the Grinch was Ted on his bad days."

Dr. Seuss sketching The Grinch as photographed by Al Ravenna, 1957. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


As for the name: Dr. Seuss didn't invent it.

It's the short version of the common French word "grincheux," which is a curmudgeonly grump. Some have speculated Geisel's time during the Second World War may have put him in the path of a grincheux or two, or introduced him to the word. We just don't know.

When "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" was published in 1957, it was released by both Redbook and Random House.

Nine years later, in 1966, Warner Bros. bought the rights to create an animated Christmas special. This had been very difficult to do, because Geisel was staunchly anti-Hollywood.

So WB got cartoon director Chuck Jones to convince Dr. Seuss--who he'd actually served with during World War II in the Animation Dept. of the US Army's First Motion Picture Unit--to please, PLEASE trust him with The Grinch.

Dr. Seuss as photographed by Al Ravenna, 1957. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Geisel gave his reticent blessing, so the race was on to find a sponsor, which at the time was a necessity in order to air.

The last animated Christmas special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," had no trouble finding sponsorship--it landed Coca Cola.

But almost everyone passed on The Grinch.

Jones finally found an unexpected sponsor in the Foundation for National Banks, which he later said he thought was weird because of the line, "Christmas doesn't come from a store," but hey, don't look a gift-horse in the mouth. So the wheels were finally set in motion for a project with an approved budget that was gargantuan: $300,000 for a 26-minute special.

And that, while "A Charlie Brown Christmas" cost less than $100,000, all in all.

When Jones showed him the final iteration of The Grinch, Ted Geisel was caught off-balance. He said in an interview in 1994 that he told Jones, "That doesn't look like The Grinch; it looks like you!"

"Well, it happens," Jones replied.

On to the Grinch's iconic green fur. We all remember the actual illustrations from the book being black and white, with red and pink highlights. And when the tv special was being formulated, the plan was to keep The Grinch that way.

But Jones made a change, and no, it wasn't for the sake of festive Christmas colors. He arbitrarily chose the coloring for The Grinch because according to him, he seemed curse to always get that color when renting cars.

And let's not forget Max the Pupper, who Chuck Jones later declared his favorite character. He was comedic relief and the audience proxy.

Plus, Max was adorable.

Dr. Seuss reading "The Cat in the Hat," as photographed by Al Ravenna, 1957. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The Grinch was immediately popular. So much so, in fact, that Geisel did two subsequent specials for the character in 1977 for Halloween, and in 1982, wherein The Grinch "grinches" the Cat in the Hat.

The iconic music of the Christmas special was so well received that immediately following its debut, the studio was flooded with letters requesting the Latin translation to Geisel's jibberish lyrics in the final song. Such was his talent, that he intentionally used nonsense lines to sound like and be mistaken for classical Latin.

And as it turns out, there's also a story behind "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Boris Karloff had been signed on to narrate the special. But there was obviously a song involved, and his vocal talent was lackluster, to say the least. So a veteran voice actor named Thurl Ravenscroft was brought on, uncredited, to sing.

Mr. Ravenscroft was also the voice of Tony the Tiger.

You can never un-hear it.

“His Reindeer Drives This Frosty Night”: Santa’s Reindeer

"His Reindeer Drives This Frosty Night": Santa's Reindeer

As establishment as Santa Claus's reindeer are today, the first actual written association with Christmas only occurred in 1821.

"A New Year's Present, for the Little Ones from Five to Twelve" was published by William Gilley--just published by, not written by, as he had received the story anonymously. It was only sixteen pages, and one of those pages included the following rhyme. "Old Santeclaus with much delight / His reindeer drives this frosty night."

The accompanying illustration depicted a sole reindeer doing the job.

Original illustration from "Old Santeclause with much delight," 1821.


Gilley did an interview the next year, asserting that he'd only received the story "with little added information." He went on to say that the author wrote in subsequent letters that he knew of reindeer--as well as their magical powers of flight--from his mother, who was a Native American from an Arctic area.

Only two years after this, in 1823, Clement Moore's poem was published in the Troy Sentinel and was titled "A Visit From St. Nicholas."

In it, Santa's upgraded from the 1821 poem, and his sleigh is famously driven by "eight tiny reindeer."

Of the eight, two had different names than what we're familiar with today: Dunder and Blixem, the Dutch words for thunder and lightning, respectively.

Sporadically, subsequent publications would switch to the German words for the same, id est, Donder and Blitzen. And eventually, by the mid-twentieth century, Donder had become Donner.

Handwritten mansucript of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore.


Aside from their natural habitat in the tundra, reindeer had plenty of other reasons to become part of Christmas lore.

In Norse mythology, the god Odin rides the skies on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. The continuity of the number eight is particularly notable, along with the fact that Odin is one of the many that is thought to have inspired the legend of Santa Claus.

Illustration by John Bauer for "Our Fathers' Godsaga," 1911.


Moreover, in the same mythos, Odin's son Thor reigns a flying carriage led by a pair of horned goats.

These elements, married with the simple fact that reindeer were animals used for snow-bound transportation, makes the eventual affiliation with Christmas evident.

"Old Christmas," by Robert Seymour, 1936, possibly inspired by the Swedish sprite jultomten, which rides a Christmas goat called julbocken.


So an eight-legged horse becomes eight tiny reindeer.

As you may have noted, dear reader, Rudolph was not part of the original team. In fact, he didn't come crashing into that party for over 100 years. And it was not for sentimental reasons.

So there was this guy, Carl J. Lomen, a businessman who was seriously called "The Reindeer King." He was well-known for spearheading Alaska's reindeer industry, which was primarily about reindeer meat.

In 1926, Lomen entered into an agreement with Macy's Department Store to create a Christmas reindeer parade, and even having a real-reindeer window display, complete with Santa and sleigh.

Because I guess when people see wild herd animals crowded in a Christmas display, they immediately think, "I would like to eat that."

Anyway, Lomen the Reindeer Weirdo seemed to introduce the notion that reindeer and department stores were like peanut butter and jelly.

Carl J. Lomen, courtesy of the Library of Congress.


So maybe, 13 years later in 1939, the old Chicago-based department store Montgomery Ward was similarly inspired to try to cash in on reindeer, but that's purely speculative.

What we know is they wanted to create their own coloring book as a traditional giveaway during the holiday season, instead of wasting money on buying them from third parties. So as Christmas trees were discarded on curbs in January of 1939, Montgomery Ward was already looking to next year.

Advertising copywriter Robert Maywas assigned the task, on the simple instruction of writing "an animal story."

But it wasn't easy work. The Great Depression was in full swing, his wife had cancer, and he was writing stupid limericks to try to pay the bills when he had a degree from Dartmouth, for goodness sake.

But he worked away at it, and by his own account, as he stared out his office window at a thick fog from Lake Michigan, it came to him--a reindeer!

Robert's daughter Barbara, who was only 4 years old, loved to visit the reindeer at the zoo.

A male caribou (reindeer) grazing in the mountains in Alaska. Photographed by Dean Biggins for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.


Yes, that was it. A reindeer with a red nose, one luminous enough to cut through opaque fog on a perilous Christmas mission.

The red-nosed bit almost got trashed, however, when May's boss heard the Red Nose concept. At the time, a red nose was synonymous with drunkards. But he eventually relented.

May wrote down lots of name that alliterate with "reindeer." Romeo, Reginald, Rollo, Rodney.

But his favorite, which he circled in his notes, was Rudolph.

Sadly, May's wife died in July, in the middle of Rudolph being drafted, and May's boss tried to take the project away from the new widower. But May was adamant in his refusal, saying that he "needed Rudolph now more than ever."

Perhaps in an effort to distract himself from his grief, he finished the Rudolph story in August. He later stated that Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling," as well as his own childhood as a bullied misfit, informed the story.

Despite the thing about red noses and alcoholism, Montgomery Ward fully expected success from May's baby. An advertising memo from 1939 states, "We believe that an exclusive story like this aggressively advertised in our newspaper ads and circulars can bring every store an incalculable amount of publicity... and, far more important, a tremendous amount of Christmas traffic."

Rudolph was to be given to every child who visited one of the store's 620 locations, and they clearly expected it to be a hit. They were right.

A sum of 2.4 million "sold out" in 1939. Montgomery Ward then had to shelve the project of printing more due to the paper shortage caused by WWII, so Rudolph didn't return until 1946, when Montgomery Ward distributed 3.6 million copies.

And by the time he did, he was modern folklore.

Rudolph's red nose isn't utter fabrication, by the way.

A particular species of reindeer (rangifer tarandus, specifically) is equipped with a dense and abundant layer of capillaries in the nose. It helps the reindeer regulate its body temperature and supply enough blood to protect its snoot while it roots for food in the snow.

And thank goodness, really.

Otherwise Santa would have to break out Sleipnir.

Pretty Pinstripes & Bad Journalists: The Questionable History of Candy Canes

Pretty Pinstripes & Bad Journalists: The Questionable History of Candy Canes

The history of the candy cane is similar to the history of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" carol: too much myth, not enough primary sources, lots of internet untruths.

Firstly, an Indiana candy-maker did not invent candy cane to celebrate Jesus--not the colors, not the shape (J for "Jesus"), not the anything.

Candy canes pre-date this story.

Secondly, there is an enduring myth that a choirmaster of the Cologne Cathedral in 1670 "invented" the candy cane to keep his choirboys quiet during Christmas Eve mass.

As the story goes, the sugar sticks needed to be licked, not bitten, thereby preventing rowdy boys from talking or picking on each other. But since the faith would frown upon this use, the nameless choirmaster bent the candy sticks on one end to imitate a shepherd's crook, to remind his pupils of the Nativity.

This is a lovely, somber story... but a story nevertheless.

No documentation exists recording this event. In fact, it's first referenced as an anecdote around the middle of the 20th century.

But it's been repeated. A lot. By writers and journalists who (this writer opines) should know better.

Illustration of peppermint leaves & flowers, 1897.


When researching peppermint history (as one is wont to do), one will occasionally see a claim that it was used to harken back to the use of hyssop, a Biblical mint flavor.

This is, unfortunately, more unsubstantiated nonsense.

The peppermint leaf, which is considered a natural hybrid mint, was first differentiated by botanist John Ray in 1696, and alternatively reported to have been first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. An astute reader may notice that both those dates occur later than the popular origin story in Cologne, Germany.

Of course, peppermint had been cultivated for thousands of years in its native areas of Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. It was employed as a digestive aid and confection flavor for thousands of years.

Once it was commercialized in England, and later in the United States, both the peppermint leaf and its oil were used to mask the ugly flavors of otherwise gag-inducing "medicinal" tonics.


Advertisement for pepperment oil by W.H. Schieffelin & Co., 1897. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Sugar candy sticks--regardless of the incorporation of peppermint--have been around for many hundreds of years, throughout cultures. There is no lightning moment, when these became candy canes.

The most probable is far less glamorous or piety-inspiring than the above stories: you can hang them on trees if you put a crook in them. As you may recall from the history of the Christmas tree, food was often used to decorate firs, e.g. apples.

In 1837, we finally find verifiable source material for candy sticks, judged in a competition held by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association. And in 1844, we have a written recipe for peppermint sticks in America.

Child eating peppermint stick while standing on pier, 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The National Confectioners Association officially recognizes a German immigrant named August Imgard as the first to decorate Christmas trees with candy canes in America.

Imgard had emigrated from the Bavarian mountain region to the exotic land of Ohio, in order to establish a business as a tailor. In 1847, he was apparently homesick enough to set up a Christmas tree that would make his distant family proud.

So he put a blue spruce on a rotating table and decorated it with the candy, as well as kuchen (cakes), paper ornaments, and gilded nuts. He also asked the local tinsmith to construct a star for a topper, and while the tree rotated on its table, a music box played. It was a smash hit, with people traveling from miles away to view it.

August died in 1904. Every year, a pine by his grave is lit up with Christmas lights.

It should be noted that Imgard's decorative candy canes were pure white.

All candy canes were, actually, until the turn of the nineteenth century. The origin of the red stripes is lost, no matter what you might read about the red representing Christ's blood. That's a pervasive and evidence-less myth, too.

The red pinstripe probably just occurred alongside candy canes becoming decorative. Red is an enduring Christmas color throughout the centuries, and red and white pair well together. That's about all we've got.

Further written mentions of candy canes are abundant in children's literature. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about getting red mittens and a beautiful notched candy stick for Christmas. And in the short story, "Tom Luther's Stockings" from the Bostonian periodical Ballou's Magazine in 1866, we see candy canes again.

"Tom stared at him with a puzzled smile; then pointing to some mammoth candy canes displayed in a shop window across the street, he said, insinuatingly: 'My little dear, just take me to the young lady, and you shall have those and enough candy to get sick for a month.'"

Excerpt from the periodical "Ballou's Magazine," 1866.

In the short story "Benny's Letter," published in the periodical "The Nursery" in 1874, the titular character Benny Holbrook writes to Santa.

"Dear Santa Claus, -- next Christmas please bring me a drum, and a pair of rubber boots, and some oranges, and a pencil that marks red and blue, and one that marks black, and some almonds, and a writing-desk, and a rubber-ball, and some candy, and a pistol that shoots paper caps, and a safe with a frog to swallow the pennies like the one Robbie Kendall has got, and some figs and grapes, and a new sled with Gen[eral] Grant on it, and please bring me some writing-paper and a candy-cane."

Excerpt from the periodical "The Nursery," 1874.

Benny, damn.

So. Why all the untruths about candy canes? It appears to be a multi-generational effort to inject Christianity into an otherwise secular holiday item.

But wherever they came from: they sure are pretty.

Templa Exornantur: Mistletoe & Holly

Templa Exornantur: Mistletoe & Holly

Mistletoe is central to many ancient traditions. Most notably, that of the Druids.

Pliny the Elder wrote in his "Natural History" at length about a particular practice called the Ritual of the Oak and Mistletoe. According to this account, it occurred on the solstices.

The Druids scaled an oak tree, cut down the mistletoe hanging from it with a golden sickle, slaughtered two white bulls whose horns had never before been bound, and created a concoction from the mistletoe that was supposed to cure sterility, as well as act as an all-inclusive antidote to poisoning.

And since mistletoe lived all year while the sacred oak it grew on appeared to die, it signified immortality and as evidenced above, fertility.

The kissing tradition is a tough one to pin down.

"Under the Mistletoe," 1873.


Mistletoe is rife with fertility symbolism, from its nature as an aphrodisiac to its berries to the fact that it is a semi-parasitic plant, which means that whenever it's found, it's attached to another tree.

That, of course, implies coupling, and this fact may have been what led to it being used in marriage ceremonies and festivals in Greece and Rome, as well as the aforementioned Druidic associations.

It was, all in all, a sacred plant. Even Aenaes's golden bough, which he carried to the Underworld, was mistletoe. Some have even proposed that the little x's at the bottom of the berries (pictured) were first associated with a kiss because of mistletoe.

Some associate the kissing with the Norse legend of the death of Baldr, god and son of Frigg, to whom mistletoe was a sacred plant.

Baldr was killed with a mistletoe arrow in a schemed concocted by Loki. In both the happy (Baldr's resurrected!) and sad (Baldr's left to Hel) versions of the story, Frigg declares that mistletoe must henceforth be known as a plant of love, and people kissed underneath it to honor her and keep memory of Baldr from dying.

There was also the Scandinavian custom of truce. If you were to happen upon this plant while in the woods, you and your foe both laid down your weapons beneath, and as time progressed, expressed a greeting of friendship.

But this was fairly secular practice for a long time.

Mistletoe was used as a door hanging as a protective charm against demons, witchcraft, fire, and overall bad luck. It was placed under pillows to induce dreams of omens.

Its first recorded use as an excuse to kiss was in England around the 1500s, though I cannot find the primary source. Reportedly, by the 1700s, it was popular custom of the servant/working class.

Tradition was that for every kiss, a berry was picked. No more berries, no more smooches. Any woman who refused a kiss under the mistletoe was cursed to receive no proposals, or become an old maid.

And then Washington Irving and Charles Dickens, henceforth and forever known as the Literary Grandaddies of Holidays As We Know Them, made sure it stuck around.

Irving wrote in 1820 about the kissing tradition in "Christmas Eve," from his work, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

"Here were kept up the old games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snap dragon; the Yule-clog and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids."

Excerpt from "The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent." by Washington Irving, 1820.

"The Pickwick Papers," written by Dickens and published in 1836, is no less jovial.

Upon seeing the titular Mr. Pickwick lead an old woman underneath the "mystic branch" for the kissing ritual, the young and pretty girls in the room went all aflutter and "screamed and struggled, and ran into corners, and did everything but leave the room, until [the girls] all at once found it useless to resist any longer and submitted to be kissed with a good grace" after which "faces were in a glow, and curls in a tangle."

Illustration from "The Pickwick Papers" by Charles Dickens, circa 1881.


All this kissing for a plant whose name actually means "sh t on a stick". ("Mistel", dung; "tang", twig.) Because, you know, it's germinated through bird feces.

On to holly.

Illustration of holly leaves. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Holly was also cherished by the Druids, whose winter solstice celebrated god-twins the Oak King (the transient tree whose leaves fall) and the Holly King (perennial, who when the Oak King dies, can be seen amidst the dead branches.)

Druids and Celts also wore braided holly crowns on special occasions and their signature winter festivals, as did the Romans.

The Celts also adorned their doors with it or otherwise brought it indoors due to its associations with fairies and sylvan sprites--some claim to welcome them in, others say to act as "fairy flypaper" and trap them out.

Holly is well-known for its practical protective uses, and the remnants of its utility as a protector of deer parks and garden estates is still found in the names of the same: Holly Oaks, Hollywood, Hollins. It was often planted around valuable or aesthetically outstanding plant species to protect them from grazing fauna.

It's easy to see, then, why it was also commonly used in representations of honesty and fidelity. Henry VIII even wrote a love song titled "Green Groweth the Holly" about how stalwart and loyal he is to his lady love.


Eventually, the Church co-opted holly, claiming the sharp leaves represented Jesus's crown of thorns, and the red berries were His blood. Holly is also considered a "male" plant, where ivy is its female counterpart, which is the source material for the English carol "The Holly and the Ivy."

Decorating with holly and mistletoe is recorded in Britain, of course, and across the ocean in Virginia, where they shot mistletoe down from trees. Because it seems that where the Englishmen go, English customs perpetuate.

As evergreens, both plants symbolize immortality and coming spring in the dead of winter. And everlasting life, of course, easily translates to Christian canon. Early church calendars have found Christmas Eve notated as templa exornantur, meaning "the Churches are decked."

Christmas postcard circa 1907.


A brief PSA: no matter what the ancient cultures believed about healing properties, don't eat eat mistletoe or holly berries. They're supremely toxic.

Open post

A Stake of Holly Through His Heart: Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”

A Stake of Holly Through His Heart: Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol"

175 years ago today, on December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens kinda-sorta-in-a-way-I-guess self-published "A Christmas Carol."

Charles Dickens, 1858.


So here's the deal.

Charles Dickens was an ardent advocate, but frequently suffered from The Borings.

After reading his friend's expose on the working conditions of children in the springtime of 1843. Therein, it was detailed that girls sewed for 16 hours a day and took shelter just above the factory floor, and young boys pushed coal carts through choked, lightless corridors for 12 or more hours. They suffered; they were ill. They often died.

Dickens himself had been forced to leave school and work in a bootblack factory at only 12 years old, after his father was thrown into the Marshalsea debtors' prison in London in 1824.

It was a nightmare he carried with him--and often incorporated into his writing--for the rest of his life.

Illustration of Charles Dickens at a child at the Warrens Blacking Factory. Published in "The Leisure Hour," 1904.


Dickens had also visited America in 1842--and he really, really hated it.

In fact, he only traveled to the Northern states, too enraged and appalled by slavery to dignify the South with even the thought of a visit.

But despite the nightmare of American manners, or lack there of, he took a great interest in industrial cities and working conditions of the poor; he even visited The Five Points. Yes, the "Gangs of New York" Five Points.

When Dickens got back, he wrote a series called "American Notes" about how awful America was--to Americans' great offense--and also a novel. This book bombed so badly, he ended up having to pay his publisher.

Dickens also famously visited and later wrote about the Field Lane Ragged School for children, which directly influenced another of his most famous novels: Oliver Twist.

But regarding Dickens' advocacy: what to do with this horrific child labor?

Not unlike arguments made today by certain parties, many argued that sure, it was awfully sad, but honestly, they were poor because they were lazy, and to help them would only encourage them to continue to be lazy; it was best to turn them away to prevent enabling their needy poverty. Or, you know, if you fed them, it would lead to an increased population of poor, malnourished malcontents.

So the solution was, sure, there was technically help to be found in the form of workhouses, but if you went there, you were separated from your family, made to live in squalor, and were barely fed.

Essentially, they created refuge, but refuge that was intentionally horrific in order to dissuade those same needy people from seeking it out.

Dickens wanted to write a pamphlet to enlighten the masses. But he realized that doing so would compel very few, and would make exactly no one want to listen to him.

Instead, he decided, he needed a narrative, and a character made of spite and redemption, to be his vessel.

Charles Dickens, 1858.


Dickens then received an invitation to speak at a benefit for the Manchester Athaeneum on October 5, 1843. The Athaeneum was an organization that sought to educate and bring culture to the working class which otherwise would not have the opportunity... kind of a 19th-century TED Talk.

Dickens then began formulating this narrative: a parable, written specifically to coincide with the redemptive powers of Christmas.

And in just six weeks, he'd written "A Christmas Carol."

Handwritten title page.


Tiny Tim was originally "Little Fred" and then "Tiny Mick."

Dickens had two younger brothers named Fred (Frederick and Alfred, ok?) but they were not the inspiration for Tim, although the name Fred stuck with the novel in character of Scrooge's nephew.

It seems that Tiny Tim was based on Dickens' own nephew, Henry Burnett, Jr., the ailing little boy of Dickens' sister, Fanny. Henry had "tuberculosis of the bone" or renal tubular acidosis. He died in 1849, just shy of 10 years old and only a year after his own mother, Fanny.

A sketch of Charles Dickens in 1842, with a small portrait of his sister Fanny in the lower left corner.


It's been speculated that the character of Tiny Tim did have RTA, or rickets, given that he uses a crutch and leg braces, and that his health rebounds due to Scrooge's loving intervention and belief in good health being found in one's diet. This is most likely because certain foods, such as citrus, would have aided in RTA, whereas medicinal approaches of the time would have exacerbated the symptoms.

As for Scrooge, a lot of theorizing's been done about the character who even today personifies the reformative potential of the human spirit.

"Marley's Ghost" by John Leech as published in "A Christmas Carol," 1843. Courtesy of the British Library.


From the character being based on Dickens's polarizing feelings about his own daddy, to Scottish mealman Ebenezer Scroggie, speculation abounds.

It's hardly necessary speculation, though. Dickens eventually wrote in his letters that his inspiration was the notorious English eccentric and penny-pincher John Elwes, a politician who died in 1789 and was known for every ridiculous and miserly trick pre-Eve Scrooge pulls.

And more.

John Elwes, 1700s.


Seriously. Dude was insane.

Anyway. Dickens's publisher, Chapman & Hall, gave him hell over the whole thing; do recall that his last effort had been a bust.

Dickens finally came to an agreement with them that he would pay for production, which he would be reimbursed for via the profits if "A Christmas Carol" sold well, a fact of which he had no doubt.

So Chapman & Hall bungled the book by producing it with supremely ugly olive-colored endpapers, which Dickens hated.

They updated to yellow endpapers, but those didn't suit the title page, which subsequently had to be reworked.

The Frontispiece of "A Christmas Carol," 1843.


The final product was bound in red with gilt edges, and cost a handsome 5 shillings.

I've read that's equivalent to £23/$29 today--pretty expensive for such a small book, at least by modern standards.

In total, six thousand copies were finished only two days before the release. And they immediately sold the hell out.

Chapman & Hall released two more editions prior to the new year and by the end of 1844, thirteen editions existed in total.

Charles Dickens has often been credited as the Inventor of Modern Christmas.

His novel appeared to turn the holiday into a one-day family feast, instead of the manorial Twelvetide of celebrations long past. Because those had been left behind in the wake of poverty and cruel industrialism.

But even with workhouses and child labor in the world and Twelvetide an ancient and unobtainabld memory, people could still have at least a single day of Christmas.

In fact, "A Christmas Carol" was a lauded as a "sledgehammer to the ills of Industrialism."

"Scrooge Extinguishes the First of the Three Spirits."


It was in Dickens' Christmas that the world discovered the warm and humble spirit of celebrating with the nuclear family, in one's own parlor.

Dickens turned Christmas from a jolly festival to an almost sanctified act of familial love. That, married with Dickens's depictions of new-fangled Christmas trees, as well as carolers and the sumptuous Christmas-Day turkey, was instrumental in the concept of the Christmas so dear (and Dickensian) to us today.

Christmas thusly became a holiday of togetherness and forgiveness.

In addition, the greeting "Merry Christmas" had been around for centuries, but Dickens is credited with its universal popularity due to its use in "A Christmas Carol."

An illustration of a reformed Scrooge and shocked Bob Cratchit, by John Leech, "A Christmas Caro," 1843.


Fun side story: On New Year's Eve, 1867, a 32-year-old writer sat in Steinway Hall in New York City.

He was fresh from a trip to the Holy Land, that he had by his own wit and charm gotten his employer, the Alta California newspaper in San Francisco, to bankroll.

And now, he was seeing in the New Year by listening to Charles Dickens read "A Christmas Carol" on his second book tour in America.

Illustration of people buying tickets for Dickens's reading at Steinway Hall in New York City, published in Harper's Weekly in December 1867. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Later, in his review, he wrote that Dickens was a poor reader--that he didn't anunciate or emphasize correctly, and that he was difficult to hear. But the latter may have been because the reviewer's seat was barely adequate, being midway up the rows.

"Charles Dickens as he appears when reading" at Steinway Hall in New York City, illustrated by Charles A. Barry published in Harper's Weekly in December 1867. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Which is funny, because The New York Times had just published the following review on December 10th.

"When he came to the introduction of characters and to dialogue, the reading changed to acting, and Mr. Dickens here showed a remarkable and peculiar power. Old Scrooge seemed present; every muscle of his face, and every tone of his harsh and domineering voice revealed his character."

Despite his opinions on Dickens' lackluster delivery, he was still in awe of the human-sized giant who stood on the stage before him, talking like a person does, in real time.

"But that queer old head took on a sort of beauty, bye and bye, and a fascinating interest, as I thought of the wonderful mechanism within it, the complex but exquisitely adjusted machinery that could create men and women, and put the breath of life into them and alter all their ways and actions, elevate them, degrade them, murder them, marry them, conduct them through good and evil, through joy and sorrow, on their long march from the cradle to the grave, and never lose its godship over them, never make a mistake! I almost imagined I could see the wheels and pulleys work. This was Dickens — Dickens. There was no question about that, and yet it was not right easy to realize it."

That was a big night for him. He was not only was he seeing Dickens--CHARLES DICKENS--reading his Christmas classic aloud on New Year's Eve. He was also on a first date with a pretty girl named Olivia, who would become his wife.

And it's even more astonishing when you find out that this awestruck, clever writer would become his own legend, the Americanest writerly counterpart to the Britishest Dickens.

Yes, that young writer in the audience was Mark Twain.

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