The gift that keeps on giving: my favorite Christmas book

TheBookOfMerlynWhoa. That snuck up on us quickly. Christmas is almost here again. I understand that it comes once per year. I’ll have my editor fact check that though. When I think of the holidays, I can’t help but think of my children, and Christmas of my own youth. I suspect that’s normal. Mine were mostly good. Christmas past, that is, not my children. Kidding. My kids were angels. Memories of my childhood Christmases are mostly positive. The ghost of Christmas past always presents you with long-forgotten family conflicts; embarrassingly selfish moments; tears of disappointment; and a pouting teenager who wanted to avoid parents and siblings like they carried the plague. Dickens’ ghosts have a way of holding a mirror up to your past self and forcing you to watch, and learn.

“‘Spirit,’ said Scrooge in a broken voice, ‘remove me from this place.’ ‘I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,’ said the Ghost. ‘That they are what they are, do not blame me.’ “‘Remove me!’ Scrooge exclaimed, ‘I cannot bear it!’

Because this blog is supposed to focus on books and writing, my first thought was to write about the book I most vividly remember receiving, as a gift, for Christmas. My favorite book, as a teen, was T.H. White’s – The Once and Future King. It is an absolutely masterful retelling of the King Arthur saga, and a poignant story of adventure, romance and magic. It’s way better than any Harry Potter series book, by the way. Thought I’d throw that out there just to troll Potter fans. White’s version of the Arthurian legend includes compelling character development and a delightful plot twist. He had Merlyn live his life backwards: growing younger as mere mortals get older. I’ve read TOAFK six or seven times. The epic, first published in 1958, is four books in total, though published as one, and is almost 700 pages long! That’ll keep in any teenager locked in his/her room for days on end. That might be just enough motivation for you to buy your own teenager a copy.

White had written a fifth book, to conclude the epic, named The Book of Merlyn. His publishers released the four book compilation without it. Merlyn had to wait. I can’t imagine how White might have responded to that decision. In any event, White died in 1964. The unpublished conclusion to TOAFK wasn’t released until 1978, if you can believe it. I had to have it! Imagine reading a book – any book – and having the end withheld: and for twenty years! That’s some marketing ploy. Thankfully, Santa brought the book gift wrapped. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually knew it was under the tree. Yup, I did that thing where you press the gift wrapping down tightly, and can glimpse printing underneath. It was the best present of the year and remains the most memorable book I’ve received. If memory serves, I ignored the remainder of unopened gifts and dove into the tome immediately – coming up for air only when tempted by the smell of roast turkey as it was removed from the oven.

I just pulled the hardcover version of Merlyn – the very one I received forty years ago – from my bookcase. It still wears its slightly crinkled dust jacket. And it smells like my childhood. Think I’ll go lock myself in my room for a few hours and devour it again.

Happy Holidays to all.

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