Review Blog

Feb 18 2015

The last of the spirits by Chris Priestley

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2014. ISBN 9781408854136
Suggested for age 11 upwards. Moderate horror themes. Utilising Dickens' Christmas Carol as a framework, Priestley brings forward the characters described by the original author as 'Ignorance' and 'Want' presenting them as the desperately poor brother and sister, Sam and Lizzie.
Their existence is one of true survival where failing to gather sufficient pitiful scraps of food through foraging and begging may result in death from malnutrition and exposure in the freezing conditions endured by homeless children on Victorian London streets. Sam is understandably bitter, outraged by social injustice and faces the world with a hot headed belligerence which impedes his wisdom and capacity to show sensitivity to his sister whom he clearly loves and protects.
Scrooge is loyally portrayed as a mean and callous miser who is completely indifferent to the suffering of others as he suggests that the poor should be sent to prison. He further expresses the repugnant opinion that those who would rather die than suffer the horrifying workhouses should do so in order to decrease the population.
The spirits and ghosts from the original tale naturally make their appearance to bring about the drastic change in attitude in Scrooge which is achieved by essentially terrifying the life out of him.
Importantly, Sam is similarly affected by the revelations produced by the Ghosts of Past and Yet to come. He is moved by being able to watch a happy scene from his childhood where he lives safely in the company of his mother and sister and is shocked and distressed when able to view the eventual downfall of both himself and Lizzie if he maintains his current destructive path.
The brutal conditions described by both authors are historically accurate and Dickens wrote from personal experience in a bid to make his contemporary readers appreciate how miserable life was for the poor, especially children. Equally important in this tale is the emphasis on redemption and the ability to change one's path in life by rejecting what is undesirable or destructive by choosing a way forward which fulfills others and the self in return.
Rob Welsh

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