Programming note: If you missed today's audio episode of Steyn's Seasonal Song of the Week on Serenade Radio, you can catch the re-run at 5.30am Monday GMT, which is 9.30pm Sunday on the North American West Coast and a pleasant Monday afternoon listen in Australia. Wherever you are on the planet, simply click the button at top right here.
Welcome to our annual season of Christmas Tales for Our Time. By popular demand, we're featuring a Canadian writer who a century ago was as famous as any author on the planet: Stephen Leacock. As my correspondents quite properly argue, Leacock was a very funny writer - and he was admired, as I note in my introduction, by some of the funniest A-list celebrities of the last hundred years. However, my natural perversity leads me to choose one of his least sidesplitting pieces, written for the first Christmas after the Armistice - December 1918 - featuring a shellshocked Father Christmas who's spent the last four years being blown up and fired upon:
He began fumbling among the limp and tattered packages that he carried. "Look! The House that Jack Built—a marvellous, deep thing, sir—and this, The Babes in the Wood. Will you take it, sir? A poor present, but a present still—not so long ago I gave them in thousands every Christmas-time. None seem to want them now..."
I could see the tears start in his eyes. "Why is it so? Has the world forgotten its sympathy with the lost children wandering in the wood?"
"All the world," I heard Time murmur with a sigh, "is wandering in the wood."
Indeed. On this second Christmas of Covid Without End, with mysterious "hiccups" in the supply chain making children's demands of Santa somewhat precarious and unfeasible, there is something in Father Christmas wandering a ruined and blasted world that speaks to our own time. Like Laura Rosen Cohen on Remembrance Day, many of us feel a "deep sense of dread" about where all this is headed: Notwithstanding lockdowns and a more general surrender of freedom of movement, a fair bit of the world is psychologically "wandering in the wood".
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read Merry Christmas simply by clicking here and logging-in. And remember - a cavalcade of Christmas tales by everyone from Dickens to Steyn is awaiting you here.
Thank you for all your kind comments about last month's tale - Agatha Christie's first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Veronica, a Steyn Clubber from Auckland, writes:
It is always sad to bid farewell to Poirot and Hastings but, as the world's greatest detective likes to remark, perhaps we may hunt together again one day. Absolutely loved this story, easily in my TFOT top five, not just for the ingeniousness of the plot but for the entertainment value of the voices. Poirot and Dorcas were especially good, Miss Howard and Hastings not far behind.
Thank you Mark, you're the top :)
Glenn Duncan, a First Week Founding Member from Washington State, agrees on the vocal acrobatics:
Really enjoyed your reading of this, Mark. How you can jump rapid fire between Hastings's voice and Poirot's voice is beyond me, but it works wonderfully. Bravo!
Larry Durham, a South Carolina member, says:
Oh, the saddest days are when a Tale ends. I thoroughly enjoyed Poirot. I would not object to seeing him again. Meanwhile, I've held off listening to the various Christmas Tales since becoming a Clubber, so off I go until the next TFOT installment.
No need for that, Larry. The 2021 Christmas season is here.
On the other hand, my fellow Granite Stater, Lynda Levy, reports:
That ending was too complicated for me to follow. Now I must go back and read the book.
Well, that's always good advice, Lynda. Then again, we do do the full book here, with all the narration that gets expunged from TV and the big screen. Elizabeth, a First Fortnight Founding Member from Florida, appreciates it:
Favorite line from Hastings: 'The publicity of the salute rather impaired the pleasure.'
The book is always better than the movie.
Thank you for that, Elizabeth. No argument from me.