‘Tis the season to get out “A Christmas Carol”. It shows up every year and everywhere, either on TV and on stage. But have you actually read the story? I reread it every year. For those who haven’t read it, “A Christmas Carol” is first and foremost a ghost story. The images of mist and darkness and gloom hardly make for the cheery Christmas scenes we see in the TV versions. Scrooge is haunted not so much for despising Christmas, but for locking himself away from humanity and his family. It is not his money but himself he is not sharing with others.
In the movies, his epiphany and change are saved for the ‘head stone’ scene, to create theatrical drama. In the book, he starts to change and ‘warm up’ right away with the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Dickens is a master of description and detail; the actual characters are sometimes not accurate when portrayed in the movies – and for good reason! The Ghost of Christmas Past is quite a spectacle of fast altering shapes and images, as is fitting for vague memories. He is also a mixture of spring and winter symbols. In most versions they leave out he has a bright, shining light coming from his head. Scrooge extinguishes the spirit with the candle snuffer the ghost is carrying. (The George C. Scott version does this well).
Another detail left out in most productions is the aging of the Ghost of Christmas Present. He lives for 12 days as he takes Scrooge to several celebrations around the world. By the time his ‘time on earth has spent’ on Twelfth Night, he is a white haired, frail old man. By the way, The Children of Man, Ignorance and Want, are two of the best images created by Dickens. In the book they are hideous.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is not a really well defined specter but a vague image hardly distinguishable from the surrounding darkness. Only the extended pointed hand is clear. It is more Death than Christmas, which is apt our futures all lead to the same end.
I disagree with some critics Dickens’ “Carol” removed “Christ” from Christmas. There are various references to the Christ child throughout the story. It is mostly the TV versions that leave out the religious statements, so we should not blame Dickens.
Tiny Tim is a arguably the greatest challenge of the story. Nowadays we find cute and sickly children cloying but in Dickens’s time they were common and considered one of the ultimate tragedies. And if we no longer cry at the pathos of a dying child we should ask ourselves why.
By the way, some of my favorite lines of literature reside in “A Christmas Carol” :
“Are you the spirit whose visit was foretold to me?”
“Who are you?”
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past”
“No, your past.”
What is your favorite version of ‘A Christmas Carol”? I still like best the 1950s ‘Alastair Sim’ version despite some liberties taken. It also has one of my favorite lines from a movie –
“Can you deny that when this juicy little scandal leaks out, the next meeting of the stockholders will resemble an orchestra of scorched cats?”