‘A Christmas Carol’ & ‘Before the Coffee Gets Cold’

By Mary Brennan

If you had a chance to travel back in time, would you take it?

What reasons would you have for your choices of people to meet, places to go and reasons for going? The answers, of course, would be as varied as the travelers themselves.

To help you think about it with friends “over a glass of good, Seasonal Cheer, here are two books which deal with the subject in very different ways. Each is brief, but very engaging in its outcomes.

The first is “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens.

This moral fable, written in 1849, has been translated into films, plays, TV Shows and opera. It is still in print. This is a classic time travel novella in which an unforgettable character, Ebenezer Scrooge, travels back in time with the help of three ghosts – past, present and future.

Scrooge is “a miserly, joyless wretch.” He is incapable of seeing worth in any person or human enterprise – other than making money.

He “is shockingly callous” to his family and employees.

The message of the story is simple, but the novella is rich in detail and storytelling. Scrooge‘s conversion to a joyful participant in the simpler things in life leaves readers/viewers with hope and contentment. It is especially important in the holiday season.

The second book, “Before The Coffee Gets Cold” by Toshikazu Kawaguchi presents a refreshingly different view of time travel. While it is unlikely to achieve the fame of Dickens, it is a welcome pause in the negative daily bombardment of the world’s news.

“Coffee,” unlike other time travel works, does not require a time machine or any extraordinary preparations to travel to a past time of your choice. It is set in a small, basement café called Funiculi Funicula.

There is a small group of characters, both employees and customers of the café. They are connected by longstanding empathy and affection.

The book consists of four stories, three dealing with a character taking a journey into the past and one traveling to the future. With sly humor, the author imposes strict rules for the travelers. Most importantly, each visitor must accept that the past/future cannot alter the present.

She can only go by obtaining a particular seat in the café. (I leave it to the reader to discover exactly how the seat is gained.) Under no circumstance can she stay longer than it takes a cup of coffee to get cold. Also, she can visit only once in a lifetime. The participants can bring forward something non-physical with implications for the future.

“Coffee’s” protagonists are forever changed by their experiences as was Scrooge. Their self-realization consoles and improves their lives, providing greater connections between and among them.

The enjoyment of the tales comes from the individual narratives with the emotional weight behind the stories’ most moving moments. All characters have a role to play. The way they interact with each other, between staff and patrons, creates an environment where the reader, too, can feel welcome and optimistic.

An important point that the author wants to share is the same one Dickens insisted upon. It is that we must cherish the people and significant events in our lives while they are here. Though there is sadness we must encounter, we must embrace sweetness and hope. Though the past is unchangeable, hopefulness is always in reach,

With this in mind it feels fitting to end with famous words from Scrooge: “God bless everyone. And to all a very Happy New Year.”

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