Saturday, December 17, 2016

"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

It's been quite some time since I actually read A Christmas Carol.  Maybe as much as twenty years -- I'm not sure I've read it since high school.  I was curious to see how close my memories of it, and knowledge of it from movie adaptations, were to the original.  It turns out, they were remarkably close!  And this is entirely due to the excellent 1999 made-for-TV adaptation that stars Patrick Stewart.  Stewart had previously read and performed the story as a one-man show on Broadway, and his comfort with inhabiting the role of Scrooge testifies to his close knowledge of the text, I think.  The 1999 version is very faithful to the book, down to much of the dialog, so rereading this story felt very familiar indeed.

I think what I like best about this story is how believable Scrooge is.  Yes, there's a lot of fantasy in all the ghost stuff, but Scrooge himself -- so realistic.  I can easily understand a person turning from lonely to selfish to greedy to isolated.  I think most of us can see a little of ourselves in Scrooge, and a little of Scrooge in us.  And we fear becoming like Scrooge, so we root for him to learn and change and grow.  Because if he can be redeemed, so can we, if need be.

Of course, Charles Dickens entirely neglects to include any mention of where eternal redemption comes from.  Scrooge's ideas and emotions have thawed, but being nice on Christmas (and throughout the year) will not earn him a place in heaven.  And Dickens doesn't imply that it will, does he?  He wants Scrooge -- and through him, the audience -- to focus on the earthly sufferings around us, to do whatever is in our power to help our fellow humans.  But while heartwarming and inspirational, A Christmas Carol is ultimately just a nice story.  Do I like it?  Yes.  Does it reflect the true meaning of Christmas?  No.  It's a Christmas carol, not a Christmas hymn, after all.

Particularly Good Bits:  It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour (p. 77-78).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Utterly clean, and the ghosts really aren't that scary when you're reading the book and not seeing them on screen.



This is my 53rd book read and reviewed for the Classics Club.  And it's my first book for the Literary Christmas reading challenge.

12 comments:

  1. Hello,
    I really enjoyed reading your review!! Makes me want to read A Christmas Carol all over again. I really need to someday... but I still have plenty of books to finish on my reading list for this year, anyways. :)

    I might try to find that 1999 adaptation too. I'm sure it would be good!

    Thanks for linking up on the holiday challenge!

    Tarissa
    http://InTheBookcase.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Tarissa. That's how I am too -- my reading list is so long, I have to make myself take time for some things. Which is why I'm glad you hosted this challenge, because it made me pull this off the shelf at last.

      The 1999 is delicious, not only for Patrick Stewart's performance, but even the smaller roles are excellent.

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  2. Yes! I am hoping to re-read it before/near Christmas and now I really want to and I am looking forward to see all of your points. Really nice review!!!!

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    1. MovieCritic, great! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :-)

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  3. Wow, it has been a long time since you read this. I try to read it every year at this time to my kids. We love it. Hopefully this week we'll read it.

    It is difficult not to think of forgiveness and redemption when reading this, but it is obvious that the true gospel message is missing. It is a feel-good story, for sure; but it isn't biblical, right. Yeah, Dickens doesn't explain salvation at all. And that is what Christmas is truly about. But nonetheless, A Christmas Carol is a timeless classic.

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    1. I have a friend who reads it every year aloud to his family. I think when Eggnog gets over her insistent freak-outs over the word "ghost" I'll try that -- maybe next year.

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  4. My family watches The Muppet Christmas Carol every year -- which is both good and bad. Good, because it's awesome and hilarious and we never tire of it. Bad because the last time I read this novella, I heard Gonzo narrating the entire thing. ;)

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    1. Charity, I really want to introduce my kids to the Muppet version! I mean, I own it and everything -- it's my other favorite version. Buuuuuut right now my 5-year-old freaks out over the word "ghost" because she insists she's scared of ghosts, so guess I have to wait another year. However, yes, I can see how hearing Gonzo for all the narration could make it all a bit silly ;-)

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  5. We are slowly reading this -- slowly, because we have had a lot of other stuff to read aloud at the same time. But it is surprisingly enjoyable -- I didn't know Dickens had a pretty good sense of humor!

    You're right, Scrooge is very realistic, and quite likeable actually, once he starts thawing a bit. I loved the way you said this: "And if he can be redeemed, so can we, if need be."

    I feel like the novel is rather permeated by a sense of the true meaning of Christmas, or at least that gets mentioned somewhat obliquely on several occasions, but it certainly doesn't get into the true source of redemption at all. I find myself wondering how strong of a Christian Dickens was. I know caring for the less fortunate was really important to him, which is probably why it takes center stage in this story, but I wonder how much he actually knew redemption's Source.

    Very fun review though! I certainly wouldn't have thought of the sense in which we are all Scrooge except for this.
    ~Marcy

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    1. Marcy, I love how many people are reading this aloud with their families! And yes, Dickens had a great sense of humor. Sometimes I don't appreciate his humor, but in this book, I do.

      And yes, there are mentions of the True Meaning of Christmas here and there. I think Dickens was a bit of a Social Christian, if that makes sense -- he wanted Christianity to help society.

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  6. My review of Scrooged last year included a history of adaptations of the book down through the years. It is of course, my favorite Dickens story.

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    1. I kind of remember that. It's one of 2 Dickens books I've actually really liked -- mostly I read him because I suspect he's good for me, like health food.

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