Letter (Evans)

Summary  |  Author  |  Book Reviews  |  Discussion Questions

Christmas Box Collection: The Christmas Box, Timepiece, The Letter
Richard Paul Evans, 1993, '96, '97
Simon & Schuster
672 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780671027643

In Brief 
Richard Paul Evans' #1 New York Times bestseller The Christmas Box has become a holiday classic, a tale so touching that it continues to "tug families' heartstrings" (USA Today). His exquisite prequel, Timepiece, and The Letter completed the glorious trilogy of the Parkin family. Now all three magical stories are compiled in one extraordinary treasury that -reaches into that place where all broken hearts will forever be made whole" (The Star, Chicago).

The Christmas Box
A Christmas story unlike any other, The Christmas Box is the poignant tale of a widow and the young family who moves in with her. Together, they discover the first gift of Christmas — and what the holiday is really all about.

Tracing the lives of a young couple as they discover love, loyalty, and the power of forgiveness, Timepiece is a tale of wisdom and of hope — and a gentle reminder that the connections from one generation to the next are indelible.

The Letter
A mysterious letter is found at the grave of a couple's only child in this unforgettable conclusion to the collection. As they face love's greatest challenge, they find its truest meaning and learn the lessons that are echoed throughout. (From the publisher.)

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About the Author 

Birth—October 11, 1962
Where—Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Education—B.A., University of Utah
Awards—American Mother Book Award; two Story Telling
  World Awards (2000, 2001)
Currently—lives in Salt Lake City, Utah

The story of Richard Paul Evans's massive success is so miraculous that it could have been the subject of one of his inspirational stories if it hadn't been true. He'd written his very first book The Christmas Box as a holiday gift for his daughters in 1993. As he saw it, this story of a widow and the young family that moves into her home was a tangible, timeless expression of his fatherly love. So, Evans produced twenty copies of the novella, which he then handed out to a select group of friends and family as Christmas gifts.

Incredibly, those mere twenty books began to circulate. And circulate. And circulate. By the following month, copies of The Christmas Box had passed through no less than 160 pairs of hands, some of which belonged to people who were rather influential. Amazingly, book stores began calling Evans at home, asking for copies of his little homemade opus.

The story of The Christmas Box does not end there. This moving tale about the meaning of Christmas was soon picked up by Simon & Schuster and went on to make publishing history when it simultaneously became both the bestselling hardcover and the bestselling paperback book in America. Suddenly, former advertising executive and clay animator Evans was a bestselling writer with a whole new career ahead of him.

Evans followed up The Christmas Box with a prequel titled Timepiece in 1996. Timepiece was another major hit with readers, as was The Letter, the final installment in the Christmas Box trilogy. From there, Evans expanded his repertoire while continuing to focus on the themes dearest to him: faith, family, forgiveness, love, and loyalty. He published The Christmas Candle, his first book for kids.

His work also often became subject to small-screen adaptations. In fact, a 1995 production of The Christmas Box starring Maureen O'Hara and Richard Thomas snared an Emmy for best costuming in a miniseries or special. The following year, a version of Timepiece featured an early appearance by future superstar Naomi Watts, not to mention choice performances by James Earl Jones and Ellen Burstyn, as well as an associate producer credit for the author, himself.

Meanwhile, Evans continued penning and publishing heart-warming mega-sellers like The Locket, The Looking Glass, and The Carousel. In 2001, he took some time to reflect on his stunning success in The Christmas Box Miracle, which recounted his most unusual journey to the top of the bestseller list.

Another string of crowd pleasers followed, including the romantic The Last Promise, A Perfect Day, and The Sunflower, a critically acclaimed account of blossoming love at a humanitarian mission in Peru. Now, Evans is back with Finding Noel, the story of Mark Smart, whose pained life is completely turned around after a chance encounter in a coffee shop. Fans of Evans—and there are legions of them—will no doubt be delighted and deeply touched by his latest work.

From a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview:

• Evans is one of the few writers in history to place on both the fiction and nonfiction bestseller lists.

• When Evans is not writing bestsellers, he often makes public appearances as a motivational speaker. He has shared the stage with such notable people as director Ron Howard, writer Deepak Chopra, humorist Steven Allen, and both George Bush senior and George W. Bush.

• In 1997, Evans founded The Christmas Box House International, a foundation responsible for building shelters for abused, neglected, and homeless children throughout the world. More than 16,000 kids have found homes in one of Evans's shelters.

• Evans is the father of five children, who take up most of his time.

• Evans loves playing the game Risk. Also Paintball. He says, "When possible, I round up my friends and go down to our ranch in southern Utah, where we play weekend soldiers."

When asked about what book most influenced his carrer as a writer, here is his response:

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I was 20 years old when I read it. I was visiting my brother in Monterey, California, where the book takes place, and I became so enraptured by Steinbeck's writing that I decided then that I wanted to write a book someday.

(Author bio and interview from Barnes & Noble.)

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Critics Say . . . 
Timepiece — A small treasury of wisdom.... You will probably read many books this year; you will not read one written with more skill or more heart than
Yulsa World

Timepiece — Like the titular treasure chest of Evans's bestselling The Christmas Box, the eponymous timepiece—"a beautiful rose-gold wristwatch"—of this heart-plucking prequel fairly vibrates with sentimentality. Readers of the former novel will recall how the author met aged widow MaryAnne Parkin and learned of her deceased husband, David, a successful businessman, and how their infant daughter, Andrea, died a tragic death. Here, Evans traces events some 80-odd years back to tell this family's story, but not before recalling the eve of his own daughter's wedding, in 1967, when he presents her with the wristwatch, given to him by MaryAnne. Fragments of David Parkin's diary, dated 1908-1918 and set in Salt Lake City, weave evocatively throughout the author's account of the Parkins' courtship, marriage and family tragedy. At the thematic center of the tale lies the timepiece, bequeathed by a wealthy widow to David's friend Lawrence Flake, a black man who repairs clocks. Events force Lawrence to kill another in self-defense; fearing for his friend, David tells police that he fired the shot, and is exonerated. In revenge, the dead man's friends set a fatal fire at the Parkin house and steal the symbolic timepiece, which will come back to the Parkins only after an extraordinary act of kindness and forgiveness by MaryAnne. Evans has a more ambitious tale to tell here than in The Christmas Box, and he generally carries it off with aplomb, though the dark events of the central story and an unabashedly sappy wedding-eve coda don't quite mesh. The nation's supply of Kleenex is bound to deplete after this hits the bookstore shelves.
Publishers Weekly

Timepiece — The prequel to Evans's mega bestseller, The Christmas Box, is longer than the earlier book, has its same cartoony thinness, is just as creaky at the joints — and reveals, if anything, a considerable rise in the tears-per-page ratio.We go back to Salt Lake City, this time to 1908, when David Parkin — thoughtful and sensitive person, millionaire head of Parkin Machinery Co., and collector of clocks — hires as his secretary one MaryAnne Chandler, the young woman (originally from England) destined to become David's wife, to live in his big mansion, and, in time, to become the benevolent, devout, mysteriously wise widow of The Christmas Box. How MaryAnne achieved such wisdom (quick answer: through suffering a lot) is the real subject of this book, and Evans out-Dickenses Dickens in his facile uses of melodrama in getting to his desired end. In Evans's world of tears and truth, people are by and large either all good or all bad, and if MaryAnne's perfections include being attractive, spunky, quick, principled, courageous, loving, and morally unwavering, the qualities of the base and degenerate villains who reduce her life to ashes are her perfect opposites not in some but all ways ("The men entered clumsily, growling in foul and guttural tones, drunk with whiskey and hatred"). In the beginning, there will be marriage, birth, and immeasurable happiness; and then, with purest villainy as its catalyst, there will be profound and equally immeasurable sorrow. But the healing spirit of human love and hope and goodness will not be destroyed entirely, living on in the muted but unquenchable goodness of MaryAnne's heart; in Evans's perfectly choreographed little flurry of symbols at the close; and even in the transformation of one of those pure villains into purely sensitive penitent. Certain handkerchief heaven for many, while others may experience the stirring of — well, let's just say other feelings.
Kirkus Reviews

The Christmas Box — Self-published in paperback during the Christmas season 1994, Evans's first novel quickly gained national media attention. Now the cleverly told tale, which the author reputedly wrote for his daughters and which revels in sentimentality, is available in hardcover. The story relates how a young couple, Richard (who narrates) and Keri, accept a position to care for a lonely widow, MaryAnne Parkin, in her spacious Victorian mansion. As Christmas draws near, MaryAnne becomes anxious about Richard's obsession with success and his failure to make time for his family. She urges him to reconsider his priorities, but he is always too busy to heed her advice. It is only when Mary is on her deathbed and her secret sorrow is revealed through the letter-laden Christmas box of the title that Richard realizes what she has been trying to tell him. The message concerns love, of course, and the strings Evans pulls to vivify it should squeeze sobs from even the stoniest of hearts. It's notable, however, that unlike many well-known Christmas tales (such as Dickens's), which carry that message in a basically nonsectarian manner, this is steeped in specific Christian imagery and belief as the author draws on the drama of Jesus as God's sacrifice for the world's sins, and of his crucifixion and resurrection.
Publishers Weekly

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Book Club Discussion Questions 

1. What is the significance of the ornately carved wooden box that Richard finds in the attic of MaryAnne Parkin's home? Which, if any, of the various explanations Richard Paul Evans offers for the source of the box's magic has particular appeal for you? Do you think it is important that a reader believe in the magic of the box in order to experience the full emotional and spiritual impact of the story? Why or why not?

2. In what sense is the story of The Christmas Box allegorical? What is the central message of the story? In what ways did you find that message meaningful for your own life? Why does it become a matter of such urgency for MaryAnne that Richard understand what the first gift of Christmas was?

3. The #1 bestseller in the nation when it was first published, The Christmas Box has become a modern Christmas classic, selling more than seven million copies in 17 languages worldwide, and inspiring an award-winning CBS television movie starring Maureen O'Hara and Richard Thomas. Why do you think The Christmas Box has become so hugely popular? How do you think it compares with other classic Christmas stories?

4. Asked to tell which of the senses she most identifies with Christmas, Mary points to the sounds of the Yuletide season, while for Richard it is the sense of smell. Which of the senses do you think is most affected by Christmas and why? Are any of your senses more acute than the others? If you were to lose one of your senses, which do you think would be the most difficult to do without? Which one would be the easiest? How do the various senses stir your memories of childhood or other important moments in your past?

5. The author explains to the reader that he believes in angels, "though not the picture-book kind with wings and harps." What kind of angels does Evans believe in and what function do they serve in The Christmas Box? What is the meaning of the recurrent angel dreams that start haunting Richard's slumber once he moves into the Parkin home? Why does the angel that visits Richard in his dreams turn to stone? What role, if any, do angels play in your own life? Why do you think there has been such an explosion of interest in angels in our popular culture—from books and television shows about angels to angel motifs on a wide range of objects from jewelry to clothes?

6. Many of the events of The Christmas Box are shrouded in mystery. Why does Richard hear a lullaby in the middle of the night that seems to be emanating from the Christmas Box? How could the box play music without possessing any mechanism normally found in a music box? Why is Richard, a man who ordinarily wouldn't consider intruding on anyone's privacy, irresistibly drawn to read the letters contained in the Christmas Box? Why are the leaves of MaryAnne's Bible stained from tears — both dried tears from the past and moist ones that seem to have just been spilled? How do you account for these mysterious occurrences? Do you think they are meant to be interpreted literally or symbolically? Do they require a supernatural explanation?

7. As MaryAnne lies in a hospital bed dying, why do the "gentle, sweet tines of the Christmas Box" fill the room? Why does MaryAnne finally seem so at peace? How do you think Richard's life will change now that Mary has helped him to see that "in my quest for success in this world I had been trading diamonds for stones"? Talk about a transforming experience in your own life when you came to a realization that you were pursuing the wrong dreams. Have you ever read a book that inspired you to reorder your priorities? Why do you think so many readers of The Christmas Box have described it as a heartwarming story that not only touched their emotions but actually transformed their lives? Do you think the book will have such a transforming effect on you? Why or why not?

8. Why at the end of the book does Richard throw the letters from the Christmas Box into the fireplace and let the flames devour them one by one? What does Richard mean when he says, "it is the emptiness of the box that I will treasure most"? Is the box really empty?

9. The Christmas Box is the first novel in a trilogy that also includes the prequel, Timepiece, in which we discover the source of the wisdom that MaryAnne bequeaths to Richard; and the sequel, The Letter, in which David and MaryAnne Parkin face love's greatest challenge and discover its truest meaning. When you enjoy a work of fiction do you often wish you could spend more time with the characters? Do you prefer that to be time in the past, or in the future? When reading a prequel, how does it affect your reading pleasure to step back in time to witness earlier events unfolding in characters' lives even though you already know what has happened? Were you inspired by The Christmas Box to read the other books in the trilogy? Why or why not?

10. Fans of Richard Paul Evans's books have often pointed to their multiple-hanky appeal. One captivated reader, sharing her opinion on the web, calls The Christmas Box trilogy "perfect to sit down and cry over." Why do you think so many people relish a book that gives the reader a good cry?

11. Before reading The Christmas Box, if you knew that USA Today expected the book to "tug families' heartstrings," would you have been more or less inclined to read it? Why? The Daily Universe, reviewing the final book in the trilogy, has said: "In a day when popular fiction often fails to inspiregoodness...Evans's story manages to wrap warm hands around its readers, instilling in them a hunger for goodness to prevail." Do you think that the ability to inspire goodness is an appropriate standard by which to evaluate a book? Why or why not? The angel statue described in The Christmas Box has inspired the erection of similar angel monuments in cities across America, from Salt Lake City, Utah, to West Palm Beach, Florida, where parents who have lost a child can come to grieve and heal. Does knowing this change the way you feel about the book? How?
(Questions from author's website.)

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