In recent years, TNT’s 24-hour broadcast of The Christmas Story (you know, the one about the BB gun) has become one of TV-watchers’ most beloved traditions. It’s just one of those things many of us are used to having in the background as we unwrap gifts or prepare dinner. One year, I received the film on DVD as a present and actually watched it unedited from beginning to end, and was struck by how good the storytelling was. This led me to look up a few things about the film.
I learned the film is based on a book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which is a series of fifteen short vignettes – the first and longest being the 30-page “Duel in the Snow, or Red Rider Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,” about the Red Rider BB gun.
I also learned that the author, Jean Shepherd, is the narrator of the film, which for my money is one of the film’s greatest attributes. Shepherd’s voice is warm, hearty, and gregarious, especially when reading words like “effluvia” and “bacchanalia.”
I picked up In God We Trust, which is different from the film in many ways. Most of the book is the adult narrator sitting at a bar reminiscing childhood with his boyhood friend, Flick (the one who stuck his tongue to the pole at recess). But I fell in love with Shepherd’s irreverent writing, so much so that I refused to read the novelization of The Christmas Story, which is easier to find than any of Shepherd’s books as shoppers can find copies at the impulse aisles of any bookstore, and even some grocery stores. Then I came across the novelization on CD at my local library, read by Dick Cavett. Cavett’s voice is thin and ironic, but works in its own way, lending a completely different tone to “effluvia” and “bacchanalia.”
The final addition to my Shepherd library is Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters, another collection of childhood-in-Indiana vignettes. The eight stories are longer and funnier, and this is my favorite of Shepherd’s books. While the synopsis on the book jacket claims the film is based on this book as well, the only relation I found is the mention of Ralph’s hillbilly neighbors, the Bumpus’s, and their “745 smelly hound dogs who ignored everyone else but my old man.”
Shepherd’s voice is most recognizable as the narrator of “The Movie About the BB Gun,” but true fans of the film will appreciate his books. I can’t help but hear his voice in my head as I read his words in print, as his recollections of childhood are just as funny and profound as in the film. He’s slightly vulgar, but his attention to detail and vocabulary is unique and hilarious.
Shoppers: if you love the film, I recommend picking up Wanda Hickey first. Then, if you dig it, pick up In God We Trust.