“The Misadventures of John Nicholson: A Christmas Story” by Robert Louis Stevenson


Appropriate reading for the holidays?

***Minor Spoilers Follow***
This tragi-comic novella (?) is the story of a pitiable man, John Nicholson, who, by ordinary life, was “tried beyond his moderate powers.” John, through poor decisions and lack of common sense, becomes estranged from his no-nonsense father, and flees Edinburgh – under somewhat shady circumstances – to try his luck in America. (A sample of Stevenson’s great character descriptions would be when John first tried to explain his misfortunes to his father: Stevenson writes, “The old gentleman looked up with that sour, inquisitive expression that came so near to smiling and was so different in effect.”)

I can’t say that I blame his father that much, since the care and prudence with which John handled money – whether his own, or that of others – would not even surpass that exhibited by “Uncle Billy” in the beloved Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”


(above: Uncle Billy – where did he put that cash he was supposed to deposit for the Building and Loan…?)

In spite of this failing, his fortunes improve while in American for many years, and though he has not written or otherwise had contact with his family in all that time, decides on an impulse to return home. After all, Christmas was approaching.

The rest of the story details his “prodigal” return, where his incessant bumblings further mire his path to redemption and re-acceptance. Overall, the story did kindle in me something similar to a holiday feeling. The feeling of trying to reach home for the holidays and that, once there, one might find rest and safety. Whether the hapless John Nicholson finds this or not, I will leave for you to discover in reading the story for yourself. It may be found for free on line in many places.

P.S. I did end up buying a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Complete Works” for my e-reader yesterday.  $2.99. I wonder what Mr. Stevenson (pictured below) would think of a modern day reader being able to purchase his entire life’s work for roughly the price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks…