Friday 3 December 2010

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

It's the beginning of December, and for the first time I can remember at this time of year, there is a thick layer of snow on the ground. A drunken-looking snowman named Roderick is staring through the dining room window with his brussels sprouts for eyes, wearing a college scarf and mittens. Yesterday I went shopping for Christmas nibbles: sugared almonds, turkish delight, chocolate mints, etc. It was the perfect time for my annual re-read of A Christmas Carol.

I'm not going to recap the story here, as we all know it, even if we've never read the book. If it's not Mickey Mouse, it's the Muppets - everyone knows at least one version of the Charles Dickens classic. After all, it is something that has helped to shape what we think of as an old-fashioned Christmas. The words Scrooge, and "Bah! Humbug!" are universally recognised and applied to anyone who expresses anything but unconditional joy in the festive season. But on this reading, I found myself thinking that it is not Scrooge's dislike of tinsel and plum pudding that is his doom, but his callousness towards his fellow man. To Dickens the social commentator, celebrating Christmas is more than a time to be jolly and eating a big meal with the family, before arguing about whether to watch the Queen's Speech or the EastEnders doom-and-gloom seasonal special on TV. It's more than pretending to be grateful for the socks and reindeer jumper knitted by Granny.* Scrooge's nephew puts it best:
"I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of the people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therfore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it."
Ross Kemp as Eddie Scrooge in a
21st century take on the tale.
Christmas is interchangeable with remembering the one who the festival is named for and showing unconditional love to everyone, friend or stranger, and especially those with nothing. This is the author of Oliver Twist, after all. It surprised me that it was the jolly giant, the Ghost of Christmas Present, who showed the harshest judgement of Scrooge's callousness, quoting his own lines about surplus population, prisons and workhouses, back at him while his heart has been touched for the first time in a cold, cruel life. It is the Ghost of Christmas Present who reveals mankind's starving children: Ignorance and Want, in a scene often left out of adaptations. After all, Ignorance and Want are subjects that need to be addressed now, in Christmas Present, not in some dim and distant future.

Michael Gambon and classical singer
Katherine Jenkins are set to star with
Matt Smith in this year's Doctor Who
Christmas Special.
There are so many adaptations of the book: animated and live-action, colour and black-and-white, period and modern-day, that it would be impossible,or at least, highly impractical, to watch them all over one year. The first I ever saw was a very short version, Mickey's Christmas Carol, and I recently saw for the first time last year's Disney animated film with the voice of Jim Carrey. I'm not usually a fan of Carrey's acting - he tends towards melodramatic overacting in my opinion - but this was a remarkable adaptation, taken almost word-for-word and scene-for-scene from the book. Most of the moments that you might think were added for effect were in fact taken directly from Dickens' own words, and it would be a good one to watch for someone put off by Dickens' wordy style. (This is, after all, the author who takes a page to establish that "Marley was dead, to begin with," a page to illustrate that the French revolution occurred at a time much like any other and that people couldn't describe if it was good or bad.) There is an excellent modern-day version starring Ross Kemp, once a Mitchell from EastEnders, and even Doctor Who appears to be getting in on the act for its Christmas Special this year. But there is one version that I have to watch every December, that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without: The Muppet Christmas Carol.

All together now...
"There goes Mr. Humbug,
There goes Mr. Grim.
If they gave a prize for being mean,
The winner would be him..."

*Actually, if you look in the shops, there are a lot of jumpers with reindeer motifs and suchlike.

1 comment:

  1. Must be an enjoyable read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.


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