Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Chapter 1 - Marley's Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot -- say Saint Paul's Churchyard for instance -- literally to astonish his son's weak mind.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the ware-house door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often came down handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ``My dear Scrooge, how are you. When will you come to see me.'' No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blindmen's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, ``No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master! ''

But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was what the knowing ones call nuts to Scrooge.

Once upon a time -- of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve -- old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already: it had not been light all day: and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.

``A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!'' cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

``Bah!'' said Scrooge, ``Humbug!''

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Merry Christmas, Happy holidays and Happy New Year from BookLinker! All the best!

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Golem's Eye (Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2) by Jonathan Stroud

Something strange is afoot in London.

Nathaniel, once a mere magician-in-training, now a rising star in the government, is faced with two vexing problems - first, track down a small and persistant group of underground rebels threatening the stability of the magician's government and, more importantly, find out who or what is behind a mysterious and destructive series of magical attacks now rocking London.

The Golem's Eye is the superlative sequel to Jonathan Strauss's terrific The Amulet of Samarkand. Nathaniel must once again call on the services of the wily, shape-shifting djinni Bartimaeus, in all his devious and humorous forms, to unravel the mystery. The unlikely team of the ambitious student magician and the cynical, wise-cracking 5,000 year old djinni makes for a solid and involving page-turner. In this outing a new character is thrown into the mix - Kitty, a young leader of the resistance - whom Nathaniel must find. Toss in a dangerous, secretive mission to the enemy City of Prague, a deadly hidden menance that the resistence accidently unleashes, and the cold, devious ambitions of an unseen enemy within London itself, and even a djinni with the myrid skills of Bartimaeus ccould find themselves taxed.

Struss has written a fabulously original series of books with the Bartimaeus trilogy, the best magical series since Harry Potter. The new book, Ptolemy's Gate is due out in January 2006 and I for one, will be picking it up as soon as it hits the shelves. They are excellent. Here's a quick excerpt:

"The magician went a bit gog-eyed with forboding; rightly so as it turned out. The smoke coalesced into a muscular black form, some seven feet high, complete with four waving arms. It shuffled slowly around the perimeter of the pentacle, testing for weaknesses.

And to its evident surprise, found one.

The four arms froze for a moment, as if in doubt. Then a dribble of smoke emerged from the base of the figure and prodded the edge of the pentacle with experimental care. Two such prods were all it took. The weak spot was pinpointed: a little hole in the incantatory barrier. Instantly the pseudopodium extended forward and began to stream through the breach...

An instant later, both pentacles were empty, except for a tell-tale scorch where the magician had once stood and a charred book lying beside it.

Throughout the summoning chamber, there was stunned silence. The magicians stood dumbfounded, their clerks limp and sagging in their seats....

We higher beings began a cheery and approving chatter. I exchanged a few remarks with the green maisma and the stilt-legged bird.

'Nice one.'
'Stylishly done.'
'That lucky beggar. You could tell she could hardly believe it.'"

Be sure to visit The Bartimaeus Trilogy online for some additional excerpts.

Wondering what a 'golem' is? Wonder no longer...

Want to find out how to summon one of Bartimaeuses' kindred? It's not recommended but hey, do what you want. Check out this site or this one...but no guarantees.

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