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LOOKatBooks: Lighten up with literature

Oklahoman Modified: December 10, 2008 at 2:01 pm •  Published: December 10, 2008

photo - It's a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra, 1946.
It's a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra, 1946.
Hard times have you down this holiday season? Books are cheap. Christmas hope is even cheaper, even if it’s as fleeting as the staying power of a blinky light.

The mortgage meltdown, job squeeze and clash between rich and poor have the ghost of Charles Dickens dipping his ghostly quill into his ghostly inkwell shouting “bah-humbug” to the top of his ghostly lungs – which you can probably see.

Same goes for the ghost of Frank Capra, who took a short story and turned into “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Bedford Falls never seemed so real as it does now. Scurvy little spiders are marching on Washington D.C. looking for a handout as we speak.

Christmas is all about miracles and hope, so here’s some served up via written word --

— “It's a Wonderful Life,” directed by Frank Capra, 1946.
The Tale: Beset by bad luck, a bank run and shattered dreams, George Bailey (James Stewart) is about to jump off a bridge on Christmas Eve shortly after World War II. But a guardian angel in training, Clarence, grants George's wish that he had never been born. He reveals George's accomplishments and earns himself some wings to-boot.

Lesson: A person's real worth can be measured in family, friends and selfless service.

Notes: Based on “The Greatest Gift,” a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, the movie is among the most popular of all time. But it was a box office bust and fizzled at the Oscars. Some considered it communist propaganda with its indictment of the monied class and the spread-the-wealth zeal of the Building & Loan.

— “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens, 1843.
The Tale: Ebenezer Scrooge is so consumed by greed and downright meanness that he's visited by three spirits looking to rehabilitate him at Christmas in Victorian London. They lead him on a back-and-forth journey through his past, present and future. He gets a fly-on-the-wall look at how the Cratchit family really feels about him before he emerges kinder, gentler and joyfully tossing money around.

Lesson: It's never too late to make amends and let charity into your heart.

Notes: The story was hugely popular when released for Christmas, with an unblinking look at social injustice and gaping class disparity. By some accounts, young Dickens wrote it to pay off a debt, but high production costs cut into his profit.

— “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry, 1906.
The Tale: Jim and Della Young are in love, but they've hit hard times and can barely pay their $8-a-week rent.

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