Why The Littlest Angel is the worst holiday story… ever

The First Cover for the "classic"When The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell was published in 1946 it was a holiday phenomenon. This “classic” story has since been published numerous times (with many different illustrated versions); made into movies (cartoon, musical, and live action); and in the list of best-selling children stories of all time (!) it comes up in the top 20. 

Heck, even holiday crooner Bing Crosby sang a song based on the plot of it! 

I remember the first time I heard this story. It was at catechism. and the teacher read it to us as if she was bestowing a great holiday gift on us children. I can still see her smile. While the other kids casually sat near me with crossed legs, I remember really being bothered by the story. I couldn’t put my finger on it then, but that reaction to the tale has never gone away for me. And that day, I raised my hand for I had some questions.

My hand is still up in the air.

The fact is, after thinking about it far too much, and being haunted by it like Marley’s ghost each year, I can’t escape my problems with this narrative. I have come to the opinion that this Christmas traditional yarn is… just awful. Horrendous. Possibly the worst holiday story. Oh, God, it is just bad.

Okay, it takes a lot for a story to be a worst holiday yarn than the appalling song “The Christmas Shoes” (which for those lucky not to know is the materialistic and disturbing ditty about an ignorant child who leaves his dying mother’s bedside to go shopping, assuming that the shoes he puts on her feet will go with her soul to heaven and there impress Jesus), but The Littlest Angel does it. It does it ten times over.

Grab a cup of hot chocolate and a Christmas cookie, snuggle in by the fireplace, and let me tell you why… Continue reading

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Drums and Kings: Turning Forty

Gandalf by Ted Nasmith I have always been a book nerd.

A great example of what I mean is my first reaction to J.R.R Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. I read the book that first time when I was around nine and while I loved it, my favorite moment was probably not the same as for other readers.

There is this wonderful chapter in the first book The Fellowship of the Rings called “The Bridge of Khazad-dum.” For those that don’t know or remember, this is the lowest point for the fellowship as they run to escape the dark of Moria, pursued by unspeakable evils. Yes, I worried about the heroes but really what made me sit up straight and take note was what Tolkien did in his writing and I had never seen anything like it before.

The orcs and goblins chasing our team were using drums but their drums were more than drums. They were speaking.

Doom, boom, doom, went the drums in the deep.

They are relentless, and obviously doing more than simply beating. They are screaming a warning, building to a crescendo over the course of the chapter until finally at the end Gandalf is lost and the drums then fade into the distance, leaving the fellowship and the readers all breathless.

But for me, I wasn’t breathless because of the action and the loss.

No…

I wanted to know how Tolkien did that.

Continue reading

Finding Comfort in Possessions: 14 Days Until 40

Back to the FutureOne of the films I loved growing up was Back to the Future.  I’ve owned the trilogy a few different times now, and have the current version on Blu-Ray. I believe I bought it that opening week when it came out. Yeah, I’m one of those kind of collectors. I like things fresh off the shelves like fruits and vegetables.

Well, a few years ago I was reading an interview with one of the creators. To be honest, I can’t remember if it was Robert Zemeckis or one or the producers or writers, but the speaker complained about the importance of greed in the film. If he had a chance to go back, he argued, he would have made it more about family as compared to the acquisition of possessions at the end.

In other words, Marty’s family didn’t have to be rich and successful and Marty didn’t need the sweet new truck. Just getting his family back together should have been enough.

Being a child of the 80’s, this idea kind of blew my mind. And between you and me, I feel like Marty had earned that truck… but now as a dad trying to imagine a better world for my kids, I side with that speaker. I would like my kids to see it that way. Marty won without the truck.

Yet, with 40 fast approaching, I seem to be finding comfort in some of my possessions. They help me turn off my brain, focus my thoughts. And, in a way, define my journey up to this point and where I would like to see myself go. Of course, being the blogger I am, I have written about most of these things before.  So I will link to an original post and then give you an update on where I am now. Therapy? Partially. Helpful? Definitely.  These are my sanity as I step slowly towards this halfway mark… Continue reading

Okay, am I a nerd?

The author as Chewbecca... I'm behind Pac Man.Yesterday, the writer Becky Flade mentioned me in a blog post on her site.

The post was called “The Blog that Wasn’t” (which you can find here) and she said this about me and my site:

“When I need a nerd fix, Scott’s my man.”

Nerd?

Nerd!?!

Now, I’ve considered myself many things in my life; but never “nerd.”

Yes, I would say I’m a snob. I can get behind “snob.” I have all the earmarks of a snob! I could have it tattooed on me without a problem. It could be on my arm near where my sweater vest ends (yes, I am wearing a sweater vest), or even above my reading glasses, right on my forehead. Let me give you some examples of my snobbery:

  • I have in my dining room pictures of some of my favorite authors, and many times I have used them as a test for visitors. If, for example, you call Mark Twain “Einstein” well, you might not be invited over again.
  • I have been known to tease my friends who praise Twilight on their Facebook pages. (And they should be teased, especially if they are an adult.)
  • I write novels (while adventurous and surprising) that contain art, music, and literature references.
  • On my desk I have a Shakespeare action figure and an autograph of Woody Allen.
  • Oh, did I mention I have a master’s degree?

You see, I sing snob!

But nerd? Continue reading

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Crazy and Magical Grandfather

I remember the thought I had when I spied my first glimpse of a picture of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Grandfather?

There he was, the professor, a chubby old man, white balding hair and a pipe in what looked like an old and battered brown suit. Yes, he looked like a grandfather to be honest, but… there was this spark in his eye. I couldn’t put my finger on why I thought this, but there was power in that spark.

It’s hard sometimes when you consider the sheer mass of creativity to link the image of the man to the creation. The creator of Treebeard, Gandalf, and Bilbo looks like he could be at your local grocery store, waiting in line by you at the Pharmacy, complaining about the rising prices of bananas, just an average senior citizen. Yes, I am doing him in an injustice by talking about his image in this fashion, but you would expect that someone with that incredible amount of imagination would have something that would, well, make him stand out in a crowd.

Shouldn’t someone like that sparkle? Continue reading

Adapting Tolkien

Growing up, I would read J.R.R. Tolkien’s works once a year. Yeah, I was that kid.

I wanted to escape to Middle Earth, and unlike other writers and novels (where I was happy with just having the book), there was always something about his creation that made me wonder about adaptations. I wanted to hear, see, and visit Middle Earth and other mediums would only get me closer to that escapism goal. So I would “try out” every version I could get my hands on.

The Lord of the Rings is not a perfect book. It is a classic, but it is not perfect. That is fine, there are very few perfect books out there (I can only think of Pride and Prejudice and A Christmas Carol off of the top of my head). What “perfect” means to me is that there are no fluctuations in the plot that are unexplained, everything is tied up in a neat bow and there is little to debate because it is all perfectly there on the page. Whew…

Frankly, if that was done with Tolkien we wouldn’t have all of the fun things to debate! Like, why does the ring’s power change over the course of the series is an easy example of what I mean.

The fact is Tolkien didn’t write like other people. He would begin a story at the very beginning and write until he ran out of ideas… But instead of just fixing what he did and moving forward; he would, instead, start over at the beginning again. It’s one of the reason we have so many different versions of The Lord of the Rings to look at thanks to his son’s (Christopher) later releases.

While I can NOT imagine writing a book like that, it does explain to me a few snags I have always noticed about the final version of the book, besides the ring’s changing power. Why, for example, the narrator’s voice changes over the book from cutesy (for example, in the beginning we have Tom Bombadil and a curious fox… Yes, there is a fox that is curious; go back and check it out) to extremely dark.  It’s almost like he discovered what he wanted the series to be like at Weathertop, and didn’t care about going back and changing the beginning.

Yes, to say it again, The Lord of the Rings is classic, but it is not perfect; and since I love the world and the characters I have devoured every adaptation I could get my hands on. Here are my thoughts on the radio, TV, and film versions of the great Oxford professor’s epic. Continue reading

Why I am stuck seeing The Phantom Menace again…

They say that being a parent is all about making sacrifices. I had already understood that but I never thought it was something concrete, I thought it would mean I was like The Giving Tree, but in spirit … But because my son is four, and he is the right age for it, I’m about to make another sacrifice, one to hang on the wall of parenthood next to my broken DVD of the first The Pirates of the Caribbean and the torn cover of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.

I am going to take him to see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on Imax, 3D in February.

Godfather 3 is far too over quoted by people, but seriously, I was out! Lucas and his mad skills at getting to my checkbook has pulled me back in.

Now I grew up with Star Wars (the first movie came out when I was three which was the perfect age for warping my little mind), but after all of his changes to the original trilogy he had lost me. I was free! I didn’t buy the last set of DVDs, I didn’t buy the Blu-Rays. Oh, I held them in the store, but more to study the ugly cover art on the front (and really it is bad). Continue reading

Some Thoughts on Harry Potter, Lucy Pevensie, Alice, and Compasses…

Here’s a confession- I’ve always wanted to write Children’s literature.

Oh, not any typical children’s lit/young adult book, I’ve always dreamt of doing something groundbreaking, stupendous. So, in other words, I’ve built up the idea so much in my head that I can’t even begin to start. None of the ideas I get reach that level. Of course, none could.

Why do I love the idea of writing a book in this genre? Because this is the gateway drug for all good readers (I plan to stop the drug references there). We don’t start by reading War and Peace; we start by reading Lewis Carroll and his Alice. A good children’s lit book will inspire a reader (and writer) for decades afterwards.

I can go on about this for pages–and I’ll probably talk about it again at some point–but let me focus today on one thing I love and two things I think children and young adult lit needs help on. Continue reading