Welcome to the Christmas season at SteynOnline. If you're short of gift ideas, we have some bargains galore among this year's Steynamite Christmas specials - and we will have a full panoply of seasonal programming in the days ahead, starting with this Sunday's Song of the Week.
As I've emphasized since we launched The Mark Steyn Club this summer, our regular content will always be free to everyone around the world, but we are admitting Club members to a few experimental features which, in the event they're sufficiently non-incompetent, we may eventually make more widely available. Tales for Our Time is our series of monthly audio adventures. So far we've presented radio serializations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H G Wells, Joseph Conrad, Anthony Hope, Rudyard Kipling and Scott Fitzgerald. You can find them all here.
But it's the holiday season and so I thought we'd spend some time with a book that, as I discuss in my introduction, played a large part in the contemporary view of Christmas. Indeed, it helped re-configure the English Yuletide from the old rural "twelve days of Christmas" into the more focused family celebrations we know today. In this first episode of Dickens' tale, we meet a man who would become one of the best known characters in literature - Ebenezer Scrooge:
Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often "came down" handsomely, and Scrooge never did...Once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices...
The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.
"A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"
If you're familiar with movies or musicals of this tale but not the original, we hope you'll enjoy this serialization. We'll be running this famous story in nightly episodes, and you can either enjoy it as a book at bedtime twenty minutes before you lower your lamp - or pile up the chapters and listen to the whole thing on a longish car journey come Monday. I always like reading stories, and I did do a little of it professionally a zillion years ago. So, if these fancies tickle you, we may release them as audio books on CD or Audible a ways down the road. But for the moment it's an exclusive bonus for Mark Steyn Club members. To hear Part One of A Christmas Carol, prefaced by my own introduction to the story, please click here and log-in.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club this summer, and I'm very touched by all those SteynOnline supporters across the globe - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands - who've signed up to be a part of it. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone - all my columns, audio interviews, video content, all our movie features and songs of the week. None of it's going behind a paywall, because I want it out there in the world, being read and being heard and being viewed, and maybe changing an occasional mind somewhere along the way.
If you've enjoyed our monthly Steyn Club radio serials and you're looking for a Yuletide present for someone special, I hope you'll consider our limited-time-only Christmas Gift Membership, which includes your choice of a personally autographed book or CD set from yours truly. Aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products - plus this year's Santa Steyn Christmas specials;
~The opportunity to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly (we'll be doing another on Monday, at 5pm US Eastern);
~Transcript and audio versions of The Mark Steyn Show, SteynPosts, and our other video content;
~My new quarterly newsletter The Clubbable Steyn;
~Our new video series of classic poetry;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world;
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the chance to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, if you like or dislike this eighth Tale for Our Time, or consider my reading of it a check that no bank would honor, then feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of A Christmas Carol.