I’m reading A Christmas Carol with my son.
He’s nine. I’m sure he’s not understanding half of it. Every now and then, when I read a bit that seems particularly difficult, I check with him to see if he’s got it; and usually he hasn’t, so I explain it to him.
And yet, he’s transfixed. He’s loving it. I’m reading half a chapter at a time - there are only five - and he’s with me all the way.
I think there are two reasons for this. Or, perhaps, three; but I’ll come to the third in a minute.
Reason number one: Scrooge. Was there ever a more disagreeable, yet more sympathetic, old sinner anywhere in all of fiction? From the start, we begin to know him even as we disapprove. And we laugh, too; my son’s first response, when I asked if he was enjoying it, was: “He’s funny.” Yet we understand him, and when - actually very quickly - he begins to feel again, we can believe in his reawakened feelings, and feel for him.
Reason number two: The language. Words can be like music, and you don’t always need to “understand” music to appreciate it. I’m convinced one of the reasons my boy isn’t getting bored and wandering off is that, quite simply, the words make a nice sound. To be honest, there are sentences I don’t entirely understand myself, but they’re great to read aloud.
So there you have it; in less than 150 words, my thoughts on why Dickens can be appreciated by a nine-year-old.
But what about reason three? Ah. Well. That one, I think, has less to do with Dickens, and more to do with me and my son.
You see, I’ve been building up to this for a couple of weeks: telling my boy that I want to read this book with him this year, and that I think he’s old enough for it. For both of us, I think, this particular story has become one of those special father-and-son events, imbued with a magic that neither of us wants to risk breaking. It’s attained something of the significance of a rite of passage; and so, it’s made us want to work at it. It may be difficult at times, but it’s worth the effort - both for what the story reveals, and for what it says about our relationship.
And, of course, it’s Christmas; and for many of us - me included - Christmas is a magical time; and the magic of this Christmas has become part of the magic of this shared story about a magical Christmas.
Time will tell - it’ll be interesting to see if he wants this story again next year - but I hope that when he’s grown, my son will remember the first time his dad read him A Christmas Carol, and will remember it with affection, as one of those many wonderful times when a story was more than just words.
Have a very merry Christmas, Awfully Big Readers, and - in the words of Tiny Tim - God bless us, every one!
John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com. His latest book is Jack Slater and the Whisper of Doom.