Storytelling that brightens spirits

The high season of storytelling is upon us. It’s easy in this month of holidays and long nights to seek and find tales that nurture us. So many good stories, both in print and on screen, come alive at this time of year-ours to feast upon, like the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Some books, like Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and Cleveland Amory’s “The Cat Who Came for Christmas,” enjoy literary acclaim while they demonstrate truths about wealth and want. So too the nostalgic pennings of Truman Capote and Dylan Thomas, which help us re-connect with the coziest threads of our common humanity.

Other novels, and I count them among my favorites, are considered literary “trash.” Consider the Christmas mysteries of Mary Higgins Clark and the festive supernatural stories of Heather Graham. Even hard-boiled John Grisham has weighed in with a light Christmas morality romp.

Countless films have taken on the Dickens classic, rendering everyone from Mister Magoo to Alastair Sim — my favorite — the cranky but redeemable Ebenezer Scrooge. The timeless appeal of this story boils down to that single, hopeful possibility-redemption. The overnight transformation of Scrooge from money-hoarding misanthrope to generous friend of humanity points the way to possibilities for self-growth inherent in all of us, available to us every day. If we can only grasp this notion of Christmas spirit in whatever big or small way we need, we will feel better about ourselves and our place among our fellow beings.

Most of the season’s movies are about some sort of redemption. While not all reclamations are as dramatic as Scrooge’s, they all add a piece to the puzzle of the evolving human spirit. I am not a believer in the punishing, cruel notions of sin that create systems of reward and punishment based on disputable criteria. That’s not to say there isn’t true evil in the world; there is, to be sure. But the vast majority of us go through life vacillating between our better and worse selves. Most of us are not mostly greedy, mostly cruel, mostly selfish, or mostly anything. Nor are we perfect. As individuals, we can always choose better ways of thinking and behaving, and we can co-create better societies by aggregating our redemptive choices.

This season offers a wealth of cinematic inspiration toward that end. I haven’t seen “The Star,” but others have recommended it. Over Thanksgiving weekend, “I saw Murder on the Orient Express” — a re-make offering no new twists, except the timeliness of its being a redemption story that fits this season surprisingly well.

A twist on Dickens’ Scrooge is currently available in “The Man Who Invented Christmas.” As I exited the theater, I fought a strong urge to turn around and watch the movie again. The story is a fanciful telling of the creation of “A Christmas Carol,” as Dickens is inspired by a growing band of living people and spirits. The elements of Ebenezer’s redemption are in place, but Dickens himself needs personal redemption. He must learn to love the unlovable people in his life, and who among us cannot relate to the challenge of loving those in our own backyard? Scrooge has only to love humanity in the abstract by divesting himself of his time and wealth; the rest of us are reminded at this time of year to re-kindle our immediate family connections, and that is sometimes a bigger challenge than Scrooge’s.

Another worthwhile movie is “The Christmas Candle” (2013), a cozy story of miracles and redemptive choices made by an entire English country village. The movie includes the added bonus of Susan Boyle singing. What’s not to love? Like most of us, everyone in the village could use a miracle of some proportion, and with the right blend of the miraculous and earth-bound good will, everybody benefits.

With the gap widening between the world’s billionaires and the rest of us, the working and struggling billions, a Scrooge-type redemption is unlikely. It is clearly up to us to help each other, to be the answer we’ve been waiting for to supply each other’s need for miracles. The power of stories to nudge us in that direction is in full bloom.

Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to