Who wrote this book and when?
Jean Shepherd. The stories have been taken from both his semiautobiographical books of short stories called “In God We Trust: All Other’s Pay Cash”, and “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters.” They were published in 1966.
Has there been a movie made of it?
If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you. Shame shame shame. It was produced in 1983, was a flop in theaters but has since become a cult tv classic on every year since 1983.
Who are the main characters?
Ralphie Parker – a young boy growing up in Depression era Indiana.
Ralphie’s mother – a typical Depression era housewife
Mr. Parker, aka The Old Man – Ralphie’s father, very much a typical man
Randy Parker – Ralphie’s younger brother
Flick – one of Ralphie’s friends
Schwartzie – one of Ralphie’s friends
Grover Dill – the class bully
What’s it about?
This version of the book is divided into five sections:
1. Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Kid
This episode contains the majority of the Christmas material from the classic movie. Ralph the adult is reminiscing about himself as a child the year he so desired a Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. He also regales us with stories of living in the wintertime in Indiana and how a kid has to work to get what he wants for Christmas.
2. The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again
This is the infamous story of the Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring. Every night at 5:15, Ralphie listens to the “Little Orphan Annie” show on the radio. And every night after it ends, he’s forced to listen as the members of the secret circle are given a string of numbers to be decoded into a secret message from Annie herself. He is devastated because his family never drinks Ovaltine, so he can never send in the silver inner lining ring to get a decoder pin. When he stumbles across one while kicking cans in the alley and mails it in, Ralphie is overjoyed to be a part of the In group. Until he receives his first message…
3.My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art
When Ralphie was a child, his father won a contest in a newspaper which was sponsored by a soda pop company. His prize was a life size woman’s leg in the form of a lamp – the icon of the company. Mrs. Parker hates the lamp and thus begins the biggest war Ralphie can remember occurring between his parents.
4. Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil
Ralphie tells us of how he discovered the tasmanian devil who lives inside him. And how the tasmanian devil is at fault for what happened between him and Grover Dill.
5. The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds
The Bumpus family moves in next door to the Parkers and all hell breaks loose. Their dogs, their children and their very presence wages war on the Parker household and everything they stand for.
Why is this book a classic?
Shepherd is a true wordsmith, one of the first great American wordsmiths to emerge in our literary history. The book is mostly a classic because of the movie which became a classic because of it’s real life humor and no nonsense, entirely believable look at what life was like for Ralphie and his family.
Why should I read this book?
For the real history of the Christmas Story through Ralphie Parker’s eyes as well as some hilarious other stories from Ralphie’s history.
Has it won any awards?
“A Red Ryder carbine-action range-model BB gun lay in its crinkly white packing, blue-steel barrel graceful and taut, its dark, polished stock gleaming like all the treasures of the Western world. And there, burned into the walnut, his level gaze unmistakeable, his jaw clean and hard, was Red Ryder himself coolly watching my every move. His face was even more beautiful and malevolent than the pictures in the advertisements showed. Over the radio thundered a thousand – voiced heavenly choir: ‘JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD HAS COME…'” – p 34
“She also had this friend named The Asp, who whenever she was really in a tight spot would just show up and cut everybody’s head off. I figured that if there was anything a kid of seven needed it was somebody named The Asp. Especially in our neighborhood.” – p43
“It was sponsored by a soft-drink company that manufactured an artificial orange drink so spectacularly gassy that violent cases of The Bends were common among those who bolted it down too fast. The color of this volatile liquid was a blinding iridescent shimmering, luminous orange that made real oranges pale to the color of elderly lemons by comparison. Taste is a difficult thing to describe, but suffice it to say that this beverage, once quaffed, remained forever in the gastronomical memory as unique and galvanic.” – p 60
“There was a funny look on her face. At that instant all though of Grover Dill disappeared from what was left of my mind and all I could think of was the incredible shame of that unbelievable tornado of obscenity I had sprayed all over the neighborhood.” – p 90
Jean Shepherd wrote the screenplay for the movie, played the man who tells Ralphie to head to the back of Santa’s line, and does the voice for Santa himself. He also was the inspiration for Garrison Keillor to begin radio work – Shepherd was a radio DJ who often entertained his audiences with spur of the moment stories plucked from his childhood memories.
The movie “A Christmas Story” is my all-time favorite holiday movie, beating out “A Muppet Christmas Carol” and “The Grinch.” However, I think I would have had a hard time enjoying reading these vignettes. His writing strikes me as Garrison Keillor’s – it’s wonderful to listen to someone else reading it but a different story when it’s your mind traversing the pages. Not that he isn’t a talented writer, but Shepherd’s writing is so stock full of hilarious and heartwarming statements, it’s almost impossible to catch them all the first time through. As much as this movie is a classic, so is the book – deserving of more than one read through.