I was only 10 years old the first time I read Charles Dickens’ immortal classic A Christmas Carol, and this Christmas will mark my fifteenth year that I’ve read this enduring novella. The story itself had been with me much longer, at least since early childhood through various film adaptations and has been one that has stayed with me ever since and even influenced my as a writer. It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest Christmas stories ever told, and very few films or stories come close. No, not even the schmaltzy Christmas Shoes, the crass Harold and Kumar in 3-D: A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, or the endless glut of Lifetime original, can ever hold a candle to Dickens . Only Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life can ever come close.
My first encounter with Dickens came through the 1986 animated Disney short Mickey’s Christmas Carol. At that time one of my all-time favorite cartoons, DuckTales was on TV, so part of the appeal of this adaptation was that one of my favorite cartoon characters, Uncle Scrooge McDuck, was playing Ebenezer Scrooge. In my mind I perceived that Scrooge and the rest of the Disney characters were putting on a play. I didn’t know at the time , it would be a building block for me into the world of classical literature.
In only 25 minutes Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Uncle Scrooge and the gang told the whole story of A Christmas Carol, in a very well-done, kid-friendly, abridgement. There were some touching bits, and even a frightening bit (pretty sure the part at the end where Scrooge falls into the open grave and into Hell was part of what caused me to become a Christian. Huh, and most Christians want to boycott Disney!), but was none-the-less entertaining to both me and my parents. Needless to say, I loved it so much that I watched it nearly every day like any 4-year old would with a favorite video.
However it would not be until 1994 when Disney and the Muppets released The
Muppet Christmas Carol. This was the adaptation that made me want to read the book, I think in part because of the final line of if you like this, you should read the novel. Along with being the only version to include Dicken’s full narration, it also features the best portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. Sir Michael Caine’s Scrooge is as gruff and mean s the others, but he also has a sense of sarcasm, and through the course of the film you see him grow as a character. He smiles, sheds a tear, starts to dance, and even seems visibly hurt when observing his nephews Christmas festivities and he becomes the butt of a bad joke. His transformation feels genuine and real because it isn’t sudden. He also gives a stellar performance off of a group of puppets.
Now, while I have seen plenty of adaptations of the book with a verity of different actors including the likes of Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Patrick Stewart and many others,and some may be better than the others, the book still remains as excellent as it did the day before. Some may wonder why I would continue to read the same book every year. It could easily be written off as a “Christmas Tradiation”, and in some ways it is, at least for me. However despite the traditional aspect there is something else about the book that keeps me coming back to it every year.
First, to me, it is more than just Christmas story or even a ghost story. It is the earliest time travel story, even predating the publication of HG Wells The Time Machine, or Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. These three books have ended up forming much of the frame-work for the time travel subgenre of science fiction, and it clearly shows. Even if one only has knowledge of the book through films, it can clearly be seen as Scrooge is taken through time and space through a supernatural means to see the past, present and a possible future. It’s no wonder Doctor Who did a Christmas special inspired by the story or that Robert Zemeckis, the director of Back to the Future, cited this as in influence.
It also is one of the very last “morality tales”, in the tradition of such Medieval Morality plays like Everyman. Most may be unfamiliar with a morality tale, especially since today the term is tossed around to apply to any story with a theme, message or more. However the “true” morality tales where more about an ordinary man who would go on a journey, usually guided by physical manifestations of abstract concepts like charity, or grace. In this instance Scrooge encounters the “spirit of Christmas”, and that causes him to change his ways.
There is also a certain timelessness to the book. While it is set in 19thcentury England the themes of the book are universal. Compassion, generosity, humility, forgiveness, grace and second chances are themes not isolated to one time period. Just look at modern-day retellings of the story, like the 1986 comedy Scrooged which envisions Scrooge as a Network executive. He learns these same lessons as Scrooge, goes through the same experience, and undergoes the same transformation. We learn that our future is not set in stone and that ultimately if we can change our ways before it is too late we can, as Doc Brown said in Back to the Future III, “Make it a good one.”
Further we can see a very haunting reality. Jesus once said that “the poor will always be with you.” We see that in Dickens day that there were poor and disenfranchised people, just as there are today. We see that there are greedy and selfish individuals like Scrooge today, and that things like compassion and grace are the cure for such things.
We can see that no one person is set in their ways, any one no matter how cold they may seem can change. We see that the true solution to many of the world’s problems is if each one of us were to open our eyes and do one simple act of kindness for one person, we can make it a better world. If we live as Scrooge promised, “with the spirits of Christmas Past, present and Future in our hearts and bear it with us”, and keep the spirit of Christmas alive all year-long, that spirit of compassion and generosity, it can really be like Christmas everyday.
Those are the reasons why I continually read, and for that matter watch, A Christmas Carol. It has been and probably always be one of my favorite books. I suggest if you have time this holiday season squeeze in a few minutes to read the book. In closing, I leave you with the only fitting ending for this post. As Dickens wrote, “And so as Tiny Tim observed, ‘God Bless us, everyone’.”
Merry Christmas ( and Happy 2012!)