Jemimah's Daddy, clever man that he is, recognised the author of our family Christmas read-aloud very quickly as Charles Dickens. He has an inimitable style all of its own, doesn't he, (Dickens, that is, not my Best Beloved), florid, poetic and highly comical, and Dickens' special wit is highly evident from the very first page of The Cricket on the Hearth - A Fairy Tale of Home.
So far we've only read the first 'Chirp' of three of this novella, the third of Dickens' five Christmas books. It is quiet, happy, peaceful, pretty and fun, the ideal Christmas read aloud, really. The story, so far, is about a Carrier, John Peerybingle, and his much younger wife, 'Dot', in the days leading up to their first wedding anniversary. Their acquaintance, the heartless Scrooge-like Mr Tackleton, is to be married himself to a younger bride, May Fielding, Dot's close friend. We're at the stage of wondering why on earth she would be marrying such a heartless man as Tackleton, but I'm sure it will all become evident soon enough.
Some of the main characters in the story so far are inanimate objects - the kettle, the cuckoo clock and that cricket on the hearth. For a cricket to live on your hearth, you need to be prosperous enough to keep your fire burning on cold English nights, and in various cultures it is a symbol of good luck and prosperity, a conscience (as it is in Pinnochio) or the spirit of a departed ancestor guarding his family. Often a cricket is considered protection for home and family, because they stop singing when anyone or anything approaches. The cricket in our read-aloud is revealed later in the book as a household fairy, but all of these other symbols of cricket-hood are evident through the book as well.
The cricket is particularly symbolic for our family, because amongst our Christmas decorations (which made their appearance yesterday), is our very own brass hearth cricket. Here he is below, see?
I am sure that as we read of this little creature we feel more kindly toward him as we think of our own little cricket sitting on our hearth.
To be honest, I am not a real cricket lover when they're in our home. To loud, too locust-like for me. I even squashed a cricket earlier in the day before I started reading, only to come to this:
"Bah! what's home?" cried Tackleton. "Four walls and a ceiling! (why don't you kill that cricket; I would! I always do. I hate their noise). There are four walls and a ceiling at my house. Come to me!"
"You kill your crickets, eh?" said John.
"Scrunch 'em sir," returned the other, setting his heel heavily on the floor.
Oh dear. I am now characterised by my daughter as a Cricket Scruncher. The shame!!
The Cricket on the Hearth is one of the AO6 Free Reads. It is also the book chosen for discussion by a group of ladies on the AO forum. It's not too late to join in the fun there if you'd like to. This is a link to the thread, but you'll need to be joined up first.
You can download the book for iPad or Kindle or even print a paper copy from the University of Adelaide eBook site here.
Oh, in case you're wondering, his name is Caleb. The cricket's, I mean.