I can find no evidence that there was ever a book version of the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special. This kind of scuttles my plans to do a column on the best and worst books to buy as Christmas presents. I’m not SAYING which list this animated classic would have wound up on, but I did see that several lists make it the very worst animated Christmas special of all time.
There are plenty of books no one buys because they’ve seen the movie. I have yet to find anyone going into raptures over one of those lovely but not terribly rare first editions we get of Miracle on 34th Street. No, we very seldom get the first edition of It’s a Wonderful Life (which started as a short story sent out in a Christmas card.) And if we got a first edition of A Christmas Carol….
We get other editions of that classic quite often, and it is worth a read, if you can squeeze it in some time between glasses of egg nog or smoking bishop. You can look over the scene in the book which has NEVER been filmed in any version of the film in English (there’s a rare Spanish version with it) and examine the two places where Dickens is so subtle that hardly a moviemaker has ever noticed these little hints. (Why did Nephew Fred particularly want his uncle to visit him this Christmas? And why does Ebenezer become so thoroughly upset at the sight of his own gravestone? No extra points for answers to these, unless you wind up on a celestial bus chatting it over with Charles Dickens.)
We get nearly as many editions of the short stories of O. Henry as we do of Ebenezer Scrooge’s story. Here, of course, you will find “The Gift of the Magi”, a Christmas classic I have read exactly once. It’s a wonderful piece of storymaking, and I KNOW the ending shows the hero and heroine finding that Things are not what Christmas is all about, but I still feel, like my nine year-old self when I read it for the first time, that it just isn’t FAIR.
The Christmas book of which we probably get the most DIFFERENT versions is A Visit from St. Nicholas, or, as we all incorrectly call it, “The Night Before Christmas”. There is a book out there running to several hundred pages by a man who tried to list every single published version of this poem, and I am not at all surprised. Once we had a rare edition illustrated by W.W. Denslow, the man who first illustrated The Wizard of Oz, and it was positively jarring to see St. Nicholas in a blue suit. Nowadays, I suppose there are versions where he’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shades. (What are the names of his eight tiny flamingos?)
I have written elsewhere of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the coloring book substitute which went platinum for Montgomery Wards, and The Littlest Angel, which suggests God understands hoarders. In the realm of other frequently seen children’s Christmas stories, we get a good deal of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and The Birds’ Christmas Carol, which will consume as many tissues as a good version of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. The Snowman comes in now and again, but only rarely do we see The Polar Express. People just aren’t ready to let go of that one.
One book-based Christmas classic where we will get ten times as many LPS, DVDs and CDs as we ever get the book is The Nutcracker. By this I mean the original story by E.T.A. Hoffman, not all the simplified versions which are essentially based more on the ballet than the book. I don’t know what Hoffman would have thought of the Barbie version of the story. (Nor, for that matter, what Dickens would have made of Barbie’s Christmas Carol. I would expect a hearty “Bah! Humbug!”)
I hope you have some of these to read on cold, snowy evenings by the fire (or warm, stifling hours on the flight to Miami). Of course the BEST book to read at Christmas time is the one you bought yourself at the Rosenberg Bookshop at the Newberry. (There are some nice ones on the Book Fair shelves—don’t skip over that copy of A Child’s Christmas in Wales—but I think the Elf on the Shelf and the Mensch on the Bench would forgive you if you bought a nice, shiny new book elsewhere in the store. If you just scan the UPC code and buy the book on Amazon, the Ghost of Bookstores Yet To Come will be calling.)