Friday, December 21, 2007

A Christmas Carol

On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens published his "little Christmas book", a book that was destined to become one of his most popular and endearing stories. Even today, over 160 years later, the story of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, cheerful and loving Bob Cratchit and frail and angelic Tiny Tim still continues to warm many hearts during the Christmas season. Though it is one of his shortest, this story still contains many of the wonderful characteristics that are trademarks of Dickens' style and genius.

The Plot:
Ebenezer Scrooge is a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous, old sinner." He cares for nothing and no one beyond his money. He skimps any way he can. He lives in an old, musty house, does not heat his office in the dead of winter, and pays his humble clerk next to nothing. He cares nothing for the people around him from his nephew to the beggars in the street.

One Christmas Eve, the ghost of his long dead partner, Jacob Marley, appears to Scrooge. Marley had been just like Scrooge and is now suffering for it. He is bound in long iron chains and doomed to roam the earth for all eternity. Marley wishes to save Scrooge from sharing in his fate. Scrooge is now to meet with three spirits who will endeavor to save him from utter doom.

So the spirits come and each one shows him Christmases past, present and future. As Scrooge is taken through these shadows, he begins to transform and to see how much the Christmas Spirit does for the soul.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

More than anything, this story is a ghost story. It is not meant to be an unpleasant story, but one that delights you in its sensationalism. In his introduction to the story, Dickens said,
"I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it."

In this "Ghostly little book" Dickens once again uses his power of description to draw us in to this world he has created. When Dickens writes "The fog and frost so hung about the old black gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.", we feel the bitter cold and thick fog hanging in the air. We experience the pleasure of the Cratchit's humble yet happy Christmas, the pain and loneliness Scrooge felt as a boy left alone in the schoolhouse, and the utter terror and despair he feels when he sees his name carved on that old, forgotten tombstone. Scrooge's story becomes are own.

But Dickens didn't just write this story to thrill us, he means to teach us as well. Scrooge's wish for the poor and downtrodden is that "If they would rather die then they had better do it... and decrease the surplus population." But when he hears his own words echoed in regards to Tiny Tim Cratchit, he is heartbroken. One of my favorite and one of the most telling passages is when the Ghost of Christmas Present rebukes Scrooge for this remark:

"Man...if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered what the surplus is and where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die. It may be, that in the sight of heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child."

Ultimately, this is a story of forgiveness, redemption, and caring. Forgiving others for their offenses to you, redemption for the offenses you have given, and caring for those who live among us. We are not alone in our journey through this life, and the real spirit of Christmas is to recognize this, and to make the journey a little more comfortable for those who suffer and mourn.

The Movies:

There are a million adaptions to this classic tale and everyone has their favorite. In my case, I have two.

The Muppet Christmas Carol: This is probably a rather unorthodox choice, but this adaptation is definitely one of my favorites. The Muppets are hilarious as always, but they also manage to keep many of the lines as well as the feel from the book. And when the Cratchit family, led by Tiny Tim (Robin the frog) sing "Bless Us All", I feel myself tear up every time. It is a wonderful retelling and a favorite with my entire family.

Scrooge: This is probably another unorthodox choice in that it is a musical. In this 1970 adaptation, Scrooge is brilliantly portrayed by Albert Finney (who was only 34 at the time). This adaptation keeps the "ghostly" feel of the book. From Marley's ghost, to the phantoms floating in the night and the frightening Ghost of Christmas Future this story keeps you on your toes. Plus it has many memorable scenes that, while not in the book, give many glimpses into the world of Dickens. A scene portraying the Cratchit's buying their Christmas "feast" shows the marked differences between the classes in Victorian England. And the "Thank You Very Much" scene is so morbid, yet absolutely hilarious. Kind of like Dickens' own sense of humor. This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies and one I look forward to every year.

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