Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: "A Christmas Story" by Jean Shepherd

Here's my next round of Christmas cheer, a review of the book that inspired one of my favorite movies of all time.

Title: A Christmas Story
Author: Jean Shepherd
Publisher: Broadway Books, 2003
Where I got it: I wisely decided to invest in my own copy and bought it at Barnes & Noble.

Most of you will recognize this title as one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. Okay, some of you might not agree with it being one of the greatest, since I know there are people out there who don't like it. But in my family it is a classic and we always have whatever channel is playing it for 24 hours on when we open presents on Christmas morning. I could quote it all day.

Even if you don't LIKE it, you are probably familiar with the story. 9-year-old Ralphie Parker wants an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle for Christmas, and schemes his best to get it. In between Red Ryder plotting, he deals with neighborhood bully Scut Farkas, pines to be in Little Orphan Annie's Secret Circle with his official decoder pin, enjoys a little light from his father's Major Award, and generally is just witness and participant in his slightly dysfunctional but ultimately happy family. Some of you, however, might not realize that this movie made famous by TV showings was based on a series of essays by humorist and radio personality Jean Shepherd.

Because I love the movie so dearly, I decided it was about time to read what inspired it. All in all, I am glad I did, not only because it gave me a greater appreciation and understanding of the movie, it was incredibly funny. Here's a line describing walking to school in the winter to give you the idea:
Scattered over the icy waste around us could be seen other tiny befurred jots of wind-driven humanity. All painfully toiling toward the Warren G. Harding School, miles away over the tundra, waddling under the weight of frost-covered clothing like tiny frozen bowling balls with feet. An occasional piteous whimper would be heard faintly, but lost instantly in the sigh of the eternal wind. (p. 9).
Another difference between the text and the movie is the setting—it is never really definitively said in the latter what time this takes place in, but the essays make it clear this was during the Depression. As a result, among the incredible wit and hilarity of Shepherd's prose, there is a hint of seriousness that is lacking in the film, though it is only a slight undertone. Mostly it's just funny, though it's a bit darker than the film.

Because the essays weren't meant to be published as a package originally, and were four in a larger volume called In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, they aren't all Christmas stories, but will still make you smile with recognition if you know the movie, especially when lines and phrasing are the same. There is a fifth essay included that has to do with their neighbors the Bumpuses, which was originally from another collection, for the reader's enjoyment.

This was great for fans of the movie and for those who have yet to see it. If you hate the movie, I'm not sure you'll like the book, since I'm kind of biased, but it was different enough for me to decide I like the movie better. I liked how all the stories were intertwined rather than broken up into separate stories, but like I said I'm biased. It's certainly worth the read.

Have you read this, or seen A Christmas Story? Are you a loyal watcher of this beloved film (I've been known to watch it outside the Christmas season), or do you hate it completely?


  1. I have seen the movie, although it's not one of the "classics" in my family. (And, my son did get his tongue stuck on our wrought iron porch rail because of this movie -- I mean it even bled -- and we all couldn't help him because we were laughing so hard!) Anyway, I digress. I had no idea it was based on a book. Shame on me. I'll have to check this one out. Thanks!

  2. Glad I did a public service! :) Yeah, I have to watch this at least twice every Christmas season. I think I'll check out the rest of Shepherd's work—he's very funny.


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