“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

17 Nov

The wonderfully festive ghost story of the miserly Scrooge scarcely needs any introduction – according to Wikipedia, there have been more than 20 film adaptations in addition to TV, radio and theatre adaptations.  So what’s the appeal?

Yes, it’s a huge load of schmaltzy images of Christmas which are not entirely realistic (and I’m referring to more than just the appearance of 4 ghosts!)  But although the images of cheerful people showing charity and goodwill to one another while wallowing in some magical festive spirit may be unrealistic to many, isn’t this actually the story’s appeal?  It’s pure escapism and an antidote to some of the more brutal Christmas stories – I’m thinking especially of the ironically named song “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl, a duet which relates a bitter argument between a separating couple.

By comparison, “A Christmas Carol” provides a warm bath of cosy Christmas images.  Even the very non-cosy images – such as the chilling and sinister Ghost of Christmas Future who silently shows Scrooge the callous reactions to his own death if he doesn’t change his ways – are an effective way of increasing the festive feel of the nicer bits by creating a stark contrast.

And these cosy images are not just sentimental ones; there’s that gluttony-inducing passage when the Ghost of Christmas Present is introduced:

“Heaped upon the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth cakes, and seething bowls of punch that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.”

I remember once being told (if I recall this correctly) that “the classics” are books that have stood the test of time because they say something profound and important, e.g. something about human nature, some message that endures.  Well, “A Christmas Carol” has certainly stood the test of time, having been published in 1843.  But does it really say anything profound?  The message is essentially “If you’re a miserable, money-driven, mean old miser, then nobody will like you and you’ll miss out on a happier life” – well, that’s hardly a revelation!  Are we really to believe that prior to Charles Dickens releasing this story, nobody had realised this?!

Instead, I think the appeal of the story really is very simple, as I detail above: pure escapism and an antidote to more brutal Christmas stories that are available.

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3 Responses to ““A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens”

  1. shuart24 November 19, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Really? An antidote to the more brutal Christmas stories?

    I’ve always seen a very sinister undercurrent throughout the whole book. For me the bright festivities make the darker parts even darker. I was always scared of the Ghost of Christmas Present because I knew that he had Ignorance and Want hidden under those robes the entire time.

    I also think this book is one that is greatly enhanced by illustrations. As a child I owned the Walt Sturrock version of A Christmas Carol. The illustrator tried to capture the essence of Dickens’ descriptions in oil pairings. The effect is simultaneously fascinating and eerie.

    I also think the true message is that it is never too late to change. We just have to remember our true selves and not remain blinded by materialism. Because only the living and not the dead or spirits can actively change fate.

    • Jenkins1974 November 19, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Thank you – some very interesting points there! I’m going to have a re-read of that section about Ignorance and Want hidden under the robes. I do remember that was quite a powerful passage

      • shuart24 November 19, 2013 at 11:39 am #

        I find Scrooge to be quite a fascinating character. Because at his heart he is very human. He utilizes his wealth as a balm for the loss and neglect he experienced in his younger life. At his heart, he desires companionship but is simply afraid to form connections with people.

        After all, the hardest shells protect the most fragile insides.

        The visions of the future upend his world because all of his illusions are torn away. Wealth never filled the hole in his heart, it just left him even emptier.

        Much of the book is reopening those old scarred wounds of the soul so that they can heal in a proper fashion.

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