Gift ideas -- art, literature, books for children; Dickens's endearing masterpiece; The Illustrated Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens. New York: Macmillan. 420 pp. $19.95.

This remarkably handsome volume is a sequel, in a way, to the theatrical event of the 1980 London season - the Royal Shakespeare Company's eight-and-a-half-hour dramatic version (later exported to New York) of Dickens's infuriatingly flawed, endearingly funny early masterpiece. It's a great shambling comic-sentimental myth, an impassioned criticism of social injustice and a tribute to the vitality and power of the human imagination.

This present edition is a facsimile of the origial ''household edition,'' including the pen-and-ink drawings of Hablot Browne (''Phiz''), and also offering 40 color photographs of scenes from the stage version. Set it under your Christmas tree, and you'll be able to smell the roast goose and plum pudding.

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