Sunday, January 1, 2012

Reflections: The Mansion

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Henry Van Dyke's less well-known Christmas tale - The Mansion:

"At a recent Christmas Devotional, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, listed three works that he reads each year around Christmas-time: The Gospel According to Luke, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke.  The first two were, of course, very familiar to me, but I had never heard of The Mansion.  I became curious and the source of the recommendation was more than enough to get me to read Henry Van Dyke's obscure Christmas-tale.

If one is familiar with A Christmas Carol, which I'm sure most people are, some similarities between it and The Mansion will immediately be apparent.  However, The Mansion deals with a slightly different theme and message than A Christmas Carol.  Unlike Dickens' thoroughly bad Ebenezer Scrooge, Van Dyke's main character, John Weightman, is not a bad man.  In fact, he is a pretty honorable man by most definitions.  He does good things and expects good things to be returned to him because of it.  And therein lays the main message of The Mansion.  Van Dyke seems to construct his entire story around a simple principle delineated in the New Testament: "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.  Verily I say unto you, They have their reward" (Matthew 6:2).


In my opinion, A Christmas Carol is about a bad man becoming good while The Mansion is about a good man becoming better.  The Mansion doesn't seem to stay with you the way that A Christmas Carol does, which is too bad.  I wanted to like The Mansion a lot more than I did.  I felt like it had so many opportunities to powerfully and elegantly portray its message, but it all seemed a little flat.

It's a very short read, much like A Christmas Carol, and it presents an interesting message.  It certainly wasn't my favorite nor did I think it was exceptionally memorable.  Much like its main character, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't that great either."

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