Review of The Chimes from Average Romp & Big Finish Productions

Charles Dickens’ beloved novella A Christmas Carol  is the granddaddy of Christmas stories. It has spawned countless adaptations and reinter...

Charles Dickens’ beloved novella A Christmas Carol is the granddaddy of Christmas stories. It has spawned countless adaptations and reinterpretations on the stage, in film, and in radio drama (see J.D. Sutter’s helpful overview of audio drama adaptations). It has changed the way we tell Christmas stories, inspiring untold numbers of classics from It’s a Wonderful Life to How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. And it has seismically shifted the way we celebrate Christmas, helping to popularize our modern conception of the holiday.

But though most know and love the story of A Christmas Carol, few are familiar with its younger siblings. In 1843, just one year after writing his Christmas masterpiece, Dickens penned another ghostly Christmas story titled: The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In.

This story follows a similar format to his previous work. But where A Christmas Carol is about a tight-fisted crank, The Chimes is about a good-hearted poor man. Both stories center around a ghostly visitation that reveals the true plight of the poor in Victorian England.

After this second Christmas story, Dickens continued his chilling yuletide tradition the following year by writing The Cricket on the Hearth. And again the next year he wrote The Battle of Life. Finally, he wrote The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.

Though popular in their time, these follow-ups to A Christmas Carol have faded into near obscurity. But this Christmas Season, British audio production house Average Romp, in association with Big Finish Productions, invites us to know Dickens better through their audio drama adaptation of his second Christmas novella: The Chimes. As producer and scriptwriter, Jonathan Morris, puts it, "Every Christmas, there are dozens of new adaptations of A Christmas Carol – but nobody ever does the story that Dickens wrote the following year as a thematic sequel. While A Christmas Carol is about a rich man learning to love, The Chimes is about a poor man, driven to despair, learning that his life has meaning and that he is needed and loved."

The Context:

A Christmas Carol is not only the most famous Christmas story (after the true story of Christ’s advent). It is also the most famous ghost story, being, as the full title declares, “a Ghost Story of Christmas.”

Charles Dickens
The Chimes is likewise a tale of ghosts, goblins, and shadowy wraiths - as are some of Dickens’ other holiday tales.

Why did he write not just one, but multiple paranormal Christmas stories? The creep factor might seem a little out of place. This is Christmas, after all, not Halloween.

The fact is, Dickens was contributing to a longstanding genre of chilling yuletide tales. Creepy stories have long been associated with Christmas, and only recently did Halloween become what it is now. Even today, we find this ghostly theme occasionally referenced. For example, the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” includes the lines: “There’ll be scary ghost stories / And tales of the glories / Of Christmases long, long ago.”

The Story:

It’s the night of New Year’s Eve, and Toby “Trotty” Veck is overwhelmed with despair. Buffeted by the callous rich and heartbroken over the state of England’s poor, he wonders if he and his fellow peasants are just as worthless as society would have them believe.

But before he drifts off to sleep, he hears a distant call, “Door wide open, Toby Veck. Door wide open.” He follows the voice, which leads him to the top of the church bell tower. There he experiences a ghostly visitation which reveals the true plight of the poor and sharply rebukes his downtrodden spirit.

Trotty Veck
By Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke), Public Domain
This story is very proto-It’s a Wonderful Life–a movie that was directly inspired by A Christmas Carol. But unlike those two masterpieces, some may find The Chimes lackluster in the department of character development. What makes the former stories so compelling is their insight into the shape of a life. It is the way they show us how little moments add up, leading Scrooge into a life of miserly misery and bringing George Bailey to a midlife crisis.

The Chimes is attempting to do something very similar. It wants to show us how someone can be driven to very dark places by the cold-heartedness of others. But it is not as successful in its purpose as our other two examples. The message does not ring out as clear, and the story does not hit home as hard.

In my opinion, this is largely due to an extra helping of Dickens’ infamous sentimentality. He is much better at writing arch-villains and quirky side characters than sympathetic, good-hearted protagonists. When it comes to women and children, he is especially maudlin. And since this story mostly centers around good-hearted women and children, we get one-dimensional character sketches and over-simplified platitudes instead of dynamic character studies.

However, this story is not without its moments. We get some fun comedic scenes and a few great character names (Mrs. Chickenstalker is as marvelous as any Dickensian name.) And after experiencing one hundred and one Christmas Carol adaptations, it is fascinating to hear a different Dickens Christmas story, even if it is second tier.

The Production:

While this story might suffer in comparison to Dickens’ Christmas masterpiece, this Average Romp adaptation is fantastic.

Toby Jones (well known from many blockbuster movies) does a perfect job as Toby Veck. Matt Deveraux delivers a guffaw-inducing performance as Alderman Cute. Victoria Alcock is great as Mrs. Chickenstalker. David Shaw-Parker (who some may recognize as the voice of Hiram Bosarge in Captain Bayley's Heir from The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty series) plays the gruff Mr Tugby. And David Horovitch provides the grandfatherly narration.

Howard Carter’s sound design is workmanlike, and his score is great and well-utilized. The script by Jonathan Morris does a good job condensing Dickens’ novella into a 97 minute audio drama. I suspect it also adds a number of story cues that help the listener follow the story more easily.

This is a sleek production with a fantastic cast. It really is great listening.

The Conclusion:

While I doubt this production will revitalize The Chimes as a holiday classic, Average Romp has served up an interesting slice of Christmas history. If you are a Dickens buff or a Christmas aficionado, this is great listening.

You may want to exercise caution in allowing younger ears to listen in however, as this story is on Dickens’ darker side. It involves suicide, implied prostitution, drunkenness, and brief domestic abuse.

For more information about this production, see this press release from Big Finish. And to purchase the downloadable MP3 from Big Finish, click here. You can also purchase directly from Average Romp here.

And to keep your family well supplied with audio drama this Advent, check out ATC’s “Ultimate List of Family Friendly Christmas Audio Drama.”

Merry Christmas and Happy Listening!

Joah Pearson
is an audio drama junky residing in the Goober State. He and his nine younger siblings have grown up on OG Jonathan Park and FOTF Radio Theatre - with a smattering of AIO and a good dose of Lamplighter Theatre. If he's not listening to audio drama, he's probably starting a new book instead of finishing the 19 others he already started.

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, ATC will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!


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