Book Review: The Chimes
The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In
Charles Dickens, 1844
Wow. I wasn't really expecting greatness with these, but I am surprised how much this actually feels like a knock-off of A Christmas Carol. Dickens saw so much success from Carol that it makes sense that he would try to recreate that magic, but this piece just... doesn't work.
It follows Trotty, a poor elderly man who scrapes together a living running errands for people and is easily swayed by other people's opinions. His daughter brings him a lunch treat on New Year's Eve with the news that she and her sweetheart are getting married. Then some rich jerks see them and lay down a bunch of relatively nonsensical shaming - that the food they're eating is too good for them, and that the daughter's marriage will fail.
Trotty, being not too bright, begins to worry about these things, and one of the men sends him to deliver a message. He hears the church bells above (something he usually loves) and they seem to be warning him about all the evils of the world. The man he brings the message to is another rich jerk, this one a man who fancies himself a philanthropist, but takes his wealth to mean that he knows better than anyone else (and is generally a patronizing ass).
This guy sends him back with a reply regarding the other man's intent to have a harmless man named Fern locked up for standing up for the dignity of the poor. After delivering the message, Trotty comes across Fern and his infant niece, and he offers them a warning and safe harbor at his house. He and his daughter give up their dinner to feed the little girl.
Trotty, though, is still convinced by both the rich men and the news in the paper that he and all the poor are worthless. He has a vision/dream/something where he goes to the church bell tower and the spirits of the Chimes show him an alternate future where his daughter and the little girl fall further into poverty and despair. He decides that their actions in this timeline are reasonable given their circumstances and that people are naturally good when not being crushed by the wealthy and merciless. He wakes up on New Year's Day, naturally, to good news from the daughter and an optimistic embrace from their community.
The story itself is not terrible, but it falters in a few ways.
One: The main character is kind of a drip. Trotty's not interesting, and he doesn't end the book all that changed - just restored. Plus, what he learns (that he should have faith in people and himself, I guess?) is not what the audience is supposed to learn (don't demean and despise poor people). This makes him less of an actor in the story and more of a pawn.
Two: Too much description. When it's good, Dickens' description can be masterful, a perfect amount of wordplay, a delight to read. This is redundant. Big sections feel padded by long descriptions that don't add anything meaningful.
Three: It's no Christmas Carol. The secondary characters are less vibrant, and the supernatural elements are much less well-thought-out and much less compelling. Just by comparison, it's a weak reflection.
Next Time: the most well-known of these stories after Carol: The Cricket on the Hearth