Miracle and Other Christmas Stories
by Connie Willis

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Bantam: New York, 1999
328 pages

November 2011

Fine Christmas reading

I agree with Connie Willis that it is not easy to do Christmas stories well; and doing them within fantasy or science fiction does not maker it easier. The standard symbolism of Christianity, and our common memories and expectations of the holiday season, cannot merely be leaned upon by the story: whatever is deployed must be integrated, so we have real characters moving within a plot. As (for instance) writing historical fiction about famous personages can be pleasantly rewarding to the reader, but sets extraordinary hazards for the writer.

Miracle and Other Christmas Stories is a fine collection of science fiction and fantasy on Christmas themes, with eight entries:

  • "Miracle"
  • "Inn"
  • "In Coppelius's Toyshop"
  • "The Pony"
  • "Adaptation"
  • "Cat's Paw"
  • "Newsletter"
  • "Epiphany"

I link to Troynovant reviews of several of them, above. All in the book are ingenious, engaging, and well written. I recommend that you read only one on any given day, for although the stories are unrelated, nevertheless they are cousins in spirit.

Several in the middle of the book are darker, if not quite Christmas-horror stories, a sub-genre that I do not care for. To be approached gingerly, like gingerbread cookies (which I taste but rarely).

"Epiphany" is original to this collection, the longest story in the book, possessing the most movement while being the most allusive: perhaps at once the least fantastic and the most revelatory. Indeed, it is itself a vivid sign, of movement and signs and revelations.

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On Christmas stories

After reading one or more of Connie Willis' stories here to appreciate how thoughtfully and beautifully she herself handles the subject, look at the extra material in the book.

In her fascinating Introduction, she doesn't talk about her own Christmas stories, but about why she loves Christmas stories (including films) so much, what makes them work or not work in general, with some particular examples. Her discussion fairly could be styled an essay: a small but illuminated fir tree, titled "On Christmas Stories". Here's a sample, about an influence she does not like:

And yes, I am talking about Hans Christian Andersen. He invented the whole three-hanky sob story ... Match girls, steadfast tin soldiers, even snowmen ... all met with a fate they (and we) didn't deserve, especially at Christmas.

Nobody, before Andersen came along, had thought of writing such depressing Christmas stories. Even Dickens, who had killed a fair number of children in his books, didn't kill Tiny Tim. But Andersen, apparently hell-bent on ruining everybody's holidays, froze innocent children, melted loyal toys into lumps of lead, and chopped harmless fir trees who were just standing there in the forest, minding their own business, into kindling.

Worse, he inspired dozens of imitators, who killed off saintly children (some of whom, I'll admit, were pretty insufferable and deserved to die) and poor people for the rest of the Victorian era. ...

Connie Willis wraps up Miracle and Other Christmas Stories with a charming afterword about how she personally discovered some of her Christmas favorites. She then pays it forward, gifting us with a pair of lists: twelve Christmas stories, and twelve Christmas films, to seek out. Her own stories stand tall and warm in this tradition.


© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson

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