Graham Greene's "Dear Dr Falkenheim"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

Chinook Centre, Christmas 1963. Business as usual, as far as I could tell.

Chinook Centre, Christmas 1963. Business as usual, as far as I could tell.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the British novelist Graham Greene travelled to Alberta several times to visit his daughter, a rancher near Cochrane. According to one account, Greene wrote a large part of his novel Our Man in Havana during one of his stays in Alberta. One of his Christmas visits sparked a short story published in 1963. In “Dear Dr Falkenheim,” an English couple and their six-year-old son move to Canada to “the great steely neon-lit city which lay on the foothills of the Rockies more than three thousand feet up.” In their bungalow on the outskirts of town, the narrator notes, they “did not feel in the least exiled in the far West. If anything there was a sense of exhilaration, of freedom, and of a new life beginning.” But on Christmas Eve, everything changes. At a suburban shopping mall not unlike Chinook Centre, the family awaits the arrival of Father Christmas who is scheduled to fly in by helicopter.

 

The sun would be going down soon below the Rockies and we heard the helicopter a long way off in the wide green sky; it rose vertically up from some store in the city, hovered like a vulture, and then came buzzing busily towards us, while the babies screamed and gurgled in the perambulators. When Father Christmas looked down from two hundred feet up, below the knifing rotary blades, he must have seen hundreds of open mouths. The helicopter circled above us, and he untied his sack and the air was full of small bright objects dropping down. They fell into the prams and into the cowboy hats and ricocheted all around beside the high heels and the miniature cowboy boots… Then swaying a little, first this way and then that, the helicopter sank slowly plumb in the centre of the roped-off space with its big rubber buffers, and a loudspeaker warned the parents to keep their children away until the blades stopped turning.

The trouble was, no one bothered to warn Father Christmas.

 

Graham Greene, “Dear Dr Falkenheim,” Graham Greene: Complete Short Stories (Penguin, 2005)