Remember the Elbows.

This time of year brings with it my annual reading of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Almost everyone knows the story even if they haven’t read the actual text. Yet when you read the actual text, you discover certain things about the novella that simply aren’t present in most movie and stage productions.

One of the biggest differences one notices when reading the actual text, is that the narrator makes his presence quite known in the tale. Yes, every craft book in the world warns writers to avoid making themselves a part of the story; that may or may not be the best advice in today’s market, I don’t know. Yet one could get away with it more if one lived in the 1840’s. That is especially true if one happened to be Charles Dickens. And whether or not the narrator of the earth changing holiday tale is intended to be Dickens himself, or just a narrator who interjects first-person observations while telling the tale, I can’t say. What I can say is that the narrator is never more aware of his narration than when he writes the following words referring to the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas past:

“…as close to it as I am to you now, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.”

So not only did Dickens write a story of profound cultural influence and significance to the world of Christmas, within it he included remarkable insight on the world of writing as well.

True, it wasn’t the purpose of A Christmas Carol to explore the nature of the author/reader relationship. Yet in one fleeting sentence in the middle of the classic, Dickens has summed up said relationship with a succinct and accessible metaphor.

We writers are, in spirit, standing at the elbows of our readers. Or next to them, or right behind them. When someone takes the time and brain power to read what we’ve written, they are choosing to keep company with an aspect of ourselves. A certain shadow of our creative essence is present along with the reader as they explore our words. True, most of us would not be as direct with announcing our presence in our work as was Dickens in the above example, but we are there. While we’re there, in our readers homes, on the train with them, going with them on vacation, or consoling them or celebrating with them or teasing them, we ought to remember to at least be good company.

Of course not everybody will like what you write. And of course we must first and foremost write those things which speak to ourselves as writers. Yet as we’re doing so, we’d be well served to remember that eventually, assuming our stuff is read, we will be standing in spirit by the elbow of many people. We need not cater and kill our artistic integrity to keep that notion of distant intimacy in mind when we craft our sentences into stories. Honor that immortality. For one day you as a person will be gone, but you will continued to stand in spirit at the elbows of readers.

Just as the late Charles Dickens still does to this day.



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