Friday, December 8, 2017

If Christmas Carols Were Pitch Lines

Posted by: Shawna Reppert

So, I was hanging out with my musician friends the other night.It being the season, a lot of carols were going around the circle. Also a lot of Jamison’s, which might have somewhat fueled my moment of inspiration. Anyway, I realized that, if you separate them from their religious context, the lyrics to many holiday songs sound like damned good elevator pitches. (Meaning no disrespect to anyone’s religion, and without any reflection on the historical existence, or lack thereof, of any religious figure.)

Work with me here. Look at O Little Town of Bethlehem.  Pretend you know nothing about the Christmas story. . .Yet in thy dark streets shineth/ the everlasting light./The hopes and fears of all the years/ are met in thee tonight. Don’t you just want to read that story? Even better, don’t you wish you had written it? Look at it closely. . .the contrast of dark streets and everlasting light. Looks like we’re getting some grim times and someone or something that’s going to be fighting that darkness. Hopes and fears are meeting tonight. Ooo, there’s a conflict ahead. In fact, we’re going to be entering a world in conflict, since we already have some people hoping for the aforementioned light and others fearing it. But that light shining, that’s promising us that things aren’t going to get too grim or too dark.

Then there’s God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen. We’re told of someone who comes To save us all from Satan’s power/When we are gone astray. Forget for a moment that you already know the story and divorce yourself from any religious associations you have regarding Christ and Satan. We have a deceptively cheery little pitch with an almost subconscious appeal to shivery danger. We’re also looking at a redemption story. . .and anyone who has read my Ravensblood series knows how much I love a good redemption story.

Let’s look at another one. O, Holy Night has always been one of my favorites, and not just for its soaring vocals. Long lay the world in sin and error pining/’Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. Again we are starting with a pretty dark world and the promise of a hero or savior figure coming on the scene to save us (after, we hope, many chapters of delicious tension). If we move on to the next verse, we almost have a blurb. Truly he told us to love one another/His law is light and his gospel is peace./Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother/And in his name all oppression shall cease. We are left with no doubt that our protagonist is a good guy. He’s all about love and peace, but we know there’s going to be a struggle against oppression between the pages to keep us from getting bored amid all that peace, love, and understanding.

Speaking of second verses, I think it’s a shame that we too often know only the first verse of carols when the really good stuff comes later. (Fellow writers can take that as a reminder to start strong in your pitches and blurbs because you never know how much time your reader will gift you with. Take We Three Kings. Okay, the first verse does promise us some sort of classic journey or quest plot. Bearing gifts we travel afar. Field and fountain, moor and mountain/Following yonder star. But It’s the rest of the verses that tell us why we might want to spend time with this story over the myriad other quest books available to us. Myrrh is mine: it's bitter perfume/Breathes a life of gathering gloom./Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,/Sealed in the stone-cold tomb. Looks like things are going to get a bit hairy for our hero!

Glorious now behold Him arise,/King and God and Sacrifice./ Without too much in the way of spoilers, we get a hint that it’s safe to read on. This isn’t going to end up like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet where the characters we love die and stay dead. (Personally I love both Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, but they’re not works I turn to when I need a little cheering up.) Plus we are tied in to the Sacrificed God archetype and the death-and-resurrection theme that calls to us so powerfully from the collective unconsciousness. (Yes, I’m a big fan of Christopher Vogler’s books on writing and Bill Moyer’s interviews with Joseph Campbell.)

I could go on. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reads like a nice little blurb about an oppressed people rebelling against tyranny. (Sound a little like Star Wars?) If you can find all the verses to Good King Wenceslas you have not only a blurb, but nearly a synopsis. I leave you to listen to other carols on your own. See what stories you can imagine if you first ‘file off the serial numbers’!


When she's not hanging out with musicians and drinking Jamison's Shawna Reppert is a best-selling author of award-winning fantasy and steampunk.  Check out her website and blog at



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