Bundled Up Snug in Your Bed
Posted by Dirck on 24 December, 2012
We tend not, in our modern and shiny world, to consider Christmas as a night of spooks, haunts and spectres. Sure, there’s the reform-minded spirits that drive old Ebenezer Scrooge into a frenzy of wealth redistribution (and may their efforts thrive) but they’re not alone. One of the fruits of listening to the M.R. James Podcast is the discovery that a lot of his stuff, with its hair-monsters as one might expect in a Japanese movie and its vengeance-driven spiders and its whistle-powered hug-demons, is meant to be read at Christmas.
Since I’m too lazy to research even a little, I wonder if this is a hold-over from some long-ago pagan propitiation of the solstice or if it’s just a clever way to get the kids from underfoot while the mysterious gifts from Santa, or St. Nicholas, or Father Christmas (in order of increasing gauntness and terror of aspect) are installed. Did some druid one day say, “Y’know… this is kind of icky. What say next year we just take it in turns telling scary stories and call it good, even if no one actually dies of fright,” or was there some bright Victorian parent that realized that it’s a lot easier for a few candies to magically manifest in stockings if the kids are in a quivering heap, dead centre of the bed, with the comforter clasped about their heads? I know that I’d certainly not put a foot off the edge of the bed if, at age eight, someone had read Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook at me.
And then there’s this guy:
An honest-to-goodness vintage image, which even if you’re not in the “clown = scary” camp is a pretty distressing one. Look at the gleeful way that homunculus is working away with his knife. Who, that isn’t bent on a rampage of destruction, uses two hands on a knife, even when trying to work free a fragment of fruit-cake? And when I say “fruit-cake”, I say so with a tone of doubtful hope in my voice, because I suspect what wee Pagliacci there hungers for is something more in the line of… human brains!
Knife and repast aside, that’s a flat affect if ever I saw one. He’s smiling with his mouth… sort of, and if we make allowance for what appears to be an utterly inhuman tongue… but there’s only calculation in those eyes. Utterly chilling.
Looking at the matter positively, though– as much as I like the idea of the world being merry and gay (use the word however you wish) in the face of the bleakest season, I should hate for a reduction in the amount of M.R. James’s tales that might stem of an entirely un-dark Christmas. Also, we might be without The Nightmare Before Christmas, either in its animated form, or in the earlier poetic incarnation:
By the way, if you’re as much a Christopher Lee fan as I am, you’ll absolutely want to lay hands on his heavy metal “Little Drummer Boy” (“Silent Night” is a little less fun, but not without merit).
Now, because I don’t want to be totally contrary to the received spirit of the season, I offer a couple of non-skeletal, terror-free items. First is a link to a somewhat late gift-idea, which may not even bear more than a sense of having properly applied one’s powers in the direction of charity– Shawn Newton is running another raffle to drum up some scholarship money for a deserving urchin. Since we are, indeed, out of work-houses, how can you decline to give? The prospect of possibly getting a nice pen out of it is a mere sweetening of the deal.
And from nice pens, let’s move to pens being used nicely:
And that is it from me until after Boxing Day. Don’t do you livers too much injury in the next couple of days through either booze or fatty treats, forgive your family in their lesser failings, and try not to worry about that damn clown.
Post Scriptus– I find that I’m not the only one considering the terrors of the season; there’s a BBC article on the very same subject. Strangely, while touching on Zwarte Piet, they miss entirely that most Jamesian of Christmas critters, the Krampus: