Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

 A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens is one of the first modern paranormal fantasies.  First published by Chapman & Hall on December 17, 1847, this tale has remained as one of the great classics and has never been out of print.

Dickens divides ‘A Christmas Carol’ into five chapters, which he calls ‘staves’, or in old English terms, ‘song stanzas’, in reference to the title of the book. The book is short, in modern terms it is a novella.  However, this tale is a showcase of Charles Dickens’ amazing ability to completely draw the mood of a scene and the set of qualities that make a character unique in only a few sentences.   1840s London IS grim; Bob Cratchit IS a good and noble man, and despite his cold heart Ebenezer Scrooge IS worth saving.

The tale begins on Christmas Eve in the 1840's, exactly seven years after the death of Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner, Jacob Marley. Scrooge is established within the first stave as a greedy and stingy businessman who has no place in his life for kindness, compassion, charity or benevolence.  His shabby treatment of Bob Cratchit and his rudeness to his nephew Fred are examined in the opening paragraphs. That night, Scrooge is visited by Marley's ghost and warned that he must change his ways in order to avoid coming to a miserable end like him. Scrooge is visited by three additional ghosts, each in its turn and each visit detailed in a separate stave, who go with him to various scenes with the hope of achieving his personal transformation and redemption.

The first of the spirits is the Ghost of Christmas Past.  This ghost takes Scrooge to scenes of his boyhood and youth, which stir the old miser's gentle and tender side by reminding him of a time when he was more innocent. We see the school where he had spent his youth, and meet his sister Fan, whom he dearly loved. We are also introduced to the root cause of his cold, miserly behavior:  the events which had caused him the most pain had always occurred around Christmas, and his own father had never forgiven him for the death of his mother, although we are not told the reason for that.  Now Ebenezer holds a grudge against his own nephew, Fred, for the death of Fan in childbirth. 

Dickens also shows us that Scrooge’s own fear of poverty and a subconscious desire to gain his father’s approval has caused him to care more about money than about people. One of the reasons for his miserly ways is the pain he feels for losing his love, Belle. Engaged to be married to her, he keeps pushing back the wedding until his finances are as healthy as he would like them to be; something that, given his insatiable lust for money, he will never happen. Realizing this, Belle calls off the engagement and eventually marries someone else, giving Scrooge more reason to further withdraw from society and relationships.

The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge to several radically differing scenes (a joy-filled market of people buying the makings of Christmas dinner, the family feast of Scrooge's near-impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit, is an amazing window into 19th century London.  Tiny Tim is a sweet boy, filled with innocence and love despite his illness and his poverty. Scrooge finds himself quite drawn to him.  A miner's cottage  is visited, and also a lighthouse, among other sites in order to instill in Scrooge a sense of responsibility for his fellow man.   Finally, this ghost warns him of the evils of Ignorance and Want. As the spirit's robe is drawn back Scrooge is shocked to see these two aspects of the human condition suddenly made real before him as hateful, terrifying little children who are more animal than human in appearance.

The third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, makes his case to Scrooge with dire visions of the future if he does not learn and act upon what he has witnessed. Tiny Tim has died, and there is so much sorrow surrounding his passing. In another scene ‘a man has died’, one whose passing has brought only joy, profit and relief to everyone who knew him. Finally Scrooge's own neglected and untended grave is revealed, prompting him to swear that he will change his ways in hopes of changing these "shadows of what may be."

I read this tale every year.  I watch every movie version of this story, and love and appreciate each and every version that is made for the unique qualities that they bring to the story.  I know that I am not the only person whose life has been touched by this story; touched by the annual affirmation that charity begins at home and spreads to the world.  I am comforted in the knowledge that I am not the only person who ‘binges’ on Dickens in December!


Valerie Douglas said...

I loved the book, and I'm torn between the various versions of A Christmas Carol, but its still a holiday favorite. It is, in essence, what Christmas should be about.

Lisa Zhang Wharton said...

Have seen the Christmas Carol in the theatre a couple of times. It is performed here at our beautiful Gutherie Theatre every Christmas, a timeless tale.

Celestial Elf said...

Thought you might like my alternative machinima version of A Christmas Carol

Connie J Jasperson said...

That is very cute, Celestial Elf. I like all the allusions to Tim Burton and the anime style of the police. The music is good and adds to it. I can see that you worked on that for a while!