So much of today has come from this story, ideas and thoughts and customs that permeate this season. A book written over 150 years ago still resonates with us. An undisputed classic from a master storyteller.
It is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Concepts that are a part of our life around us are created and espoused here by Dickens. Scrooge. Tiny Tim. The Ghosts. We all remember these bits and parts and what they represent to us. A Scrooge is a miserly person turned good. A Tiny Tim is a hopeful cripple who must be cured. And the Ghosts will show us the way to betterment. These have become part of the DNA of Christmas.
The genesis of A Christmas Carol starts in Victorian England with Mr. Charles Dickens. Born in 1812 to live a poor life, by his early twenties he had started his writing career and found success. Over the years he wed, fathered 10 children and penned several volumes. This works featured subjects like London, the time period, and the poor, with fascinating characters on display. He passed away (becoming a ghost?) in 1870, with an unfinished manuscript in his possession. He was telling wondrous stories right till the end.
And in 1843 he created what many consider his greatest story ever. When he found himself in debt, he created A Christmas Carol to be serialized in a newspaper. It became an immediate critical and commercial success. Something we all remember to this day. Was Dickens the Rowling of the time?
The story of A Christmas Carol is simple and straightforward. Ebenezer Scrooge is a horrible, miserable old man with a nasty, hateful outlook on live. His long suffering employee Bob Cratchit is poor and has to provide for his large family. The youngest is Tiny Tim, afflicted with some ailment and probably dying. Scrooge has the means to save Tiny Tim but no intention.
Henceforth on Christmas Eve, he is visited by four ghosts who try to change Scrooge’s ways. Marley, his old deceased business partner provides the warning. The Ghost of Christmas Past makes him see where he came from and what tragedies created his woeful existence. The Ghost of Christmas Present has Scrooge witness the currents events surrounding his nephew, old love, and Cratchit. The Ghost of Christmas Future brings the doom and gloom of an evil time to come, with multiple deaths played out.
And at the climax, Scrooge must changed his ways in order to change destiny. Does he? I am reasonably sure everyone knows the ending, but I will not spoil it here. Even for a classic almost 170 years old.
A wide range of issues are raised by A Christmas Carol. Should the rich help the poor? Or, is being poor your own fault, which is Scrooge’s position at the start of the story. Does every decision you make have consequences? Scrooge only seems to live in the moment with no thought of the repercussions. Is what’s done is done with no fixing past mistakes? Scrooge does not view them as mistakes. He is a solid wall of unbending, unyielding ignorance of his own thoughts and actions. That character trait raises the most important question of all, can someone change?
Which means, at its core, A Christmas Carol is about Scrooge being a target for redemption. He is a nasty evil rich man who must change to save a poor little boys life. The Ghosts can say and do many, many things, take him to all sorts of places and times, but the ultimate decision of his fate is in Scrooge’s hands. Destiny versus Chance. In this journey, Chance is shown to be the more powerful force. Everything rests on Scrooge seeing the errors of his ways. The Ghosts can only lead him so far.
This is an intervention on the cosmic level. Incredible supernatural power is expensed in order to reach this goal to change Scrooge, with no guarantee of success. God has assembled this magical apparatus and employs it as a tool for change, but still has left the final loophole of free will. If you choose to still be evil, you can, but God still has the option of taking you off the chessboard.
So basically Dickens was saying the following. You have free will, can make bad choices, but can still make good. And you get a multitude of openings to do this. Also, be nice to others while on this mortal plain. Since we are all in this together. And God is looking out for us.
Is it any wonder A Christmas Carol has become a Christmas Classic?
The magic of this story is so wonderful and the ideas so beautiful, it does not surprise me it has become one of my favourites. Add to this the amazing power of Dickens writing. From descriptions that make you believe in Ghosts to situations that make you want to hug Scrooge, the reader gets swept up in the journey. Victorian London in every time period is all around you. I want to reach out and touch the cobblestones, eat the food, and clutch the precious coal. The man is a genius.
The only downside to all this greatness is that it has caused roughly a million adaptations of A Christmas Carol to stage and screen. And the vast, vast majority of them are quite simply awful, even atrocious. Over the years I have seen so many many of them, and the massive, unbridled disappointment at the terrible treatment of the source material is heartbreaking. Did none of them read the book? Thankfully most have been swept from my memory.
But one saving grace exists in this field of mediocracy. An undisputed leader above all else. A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sims was released in 1951 and is a masterpiece. Dedication to character and story was paramount, with an ending that springs tears of joy from within. Read this book, watch this movie, and be happy.
A distant runner up in this race is Scrooged with Bill Murray that came out in 1988. Not only did they re-enact A Christmas Carol, but they mention it as a book that already exists. Very meta and self-referential and fun. I still laugh and smile with this version. Another movie that pulls upon some of the concepts that Dickens espoused is Ghost starring Patrick Swayze. If you read the description of the the shadow creatures, then see this film, it is obvious where the idea came from. The power of this journey is everywhere.
And it is a journey worth taking and enriching your life with. Charles Dickens gave us as humanity a present with A Christmas Carol. And I am extremely happy he did. Thank you Mr. Dickens, and A Merry Christmas To You!
And Merry Christmas And God Bless Us, Every One!
P.S. A Christmas Carol is copyright 1843 to Charles Dickens. The cover shown here is copyright 1991 to Dover Publicans Inc. It is 68 pages in paperback.
P.P.S. A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sims was released in 1951. See it in the original black and white and it is available on dvd.
P.P.P.S. Another good version is Scrooged starring Bill Murray. It was released in 1988 and is available on dvd.