A Book Review of A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd
Like the hoards of other people who faithfully watch it on television every Christmas, I love the movie A Christmas Story, based on the writings of Jean Shepherd. A few years ago, I decided to investigate Shepherd’s books, curious about his writing and how closely tied it was to the film. Now this is a little bit complicated: the movie’s story was taken from Shepherd’s books In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters, but subsequent to the great television success of the movie A Christmas Story, excerpts from these books relating to the movie were published in a new volume, titled appropriately A Christmas Story.
I have read Shepherd’s other books, and his sense of humor is really addictive. I have seen the movie hundreds of times, literally. (It’s my husband’s favorite movie, and we watch it constantly during the Christmas season.) Knowing the movie so well, it is natural to read the book and picture Peter Billingsley, the boy who played Ralphie, and hear Jean Shepherd’s own voice narrating the text, as he narrated the film. Many parts of the movie were drawn word for word from the text. There are also many differences, mostly subtle, between the movie version and Shepherd’s writings. For example, in the movie, the neighbor’s dogs break into the house and devour the Christmas turkey, thus ruining the family’s holiday feast. In the book, this happened at Easter, and it was a ham instead of a turkey. But the feeling of the book is very well translated into the film; the two are quite compatible in style.
If you like to watch A Christmas Story around the holidays, you would enjoy this book. Not only is it enjoyable to find Shepherd’s original passages as they were prior to the making of the film, there is also a multitude of comic gems within the text that never made it to the screen. This is why I enjoyed Shepherd’s original books. There is so much about Shepherd that remains to be discovered after watching the movie. He is a true dry comic, a rare author who can combine humor with genuinely touching sentimentality. Shepherd’s picture of America is one that we can laugh at and cry over because we see our own reflection there.