I hope the holiday season hasn’t been a humbug for anyone (unless we’re talking about the peppermint candy, which is a British thing that sounds delightful)!
Speaking of humbugs—in the lamest lead-in ever—I spent the last couple days revisiting A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens because, you know, ’tis the season.
This story is a classic for good reason, full of seasonable spirit (pun not intended, for once), along with an earnest emotional message. The characters are memorable, the plot spooky and engrossing, and the writing splendid.
Scrooge starts out representing everything we dislike about businessmen. He’s stingy and rude, treating everyone awfully, especially his kind but nearly destitute clerk, Bob Cratchit. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is Scrooge’s polar opposite in cheer and friendliness, to the point he has almost no other defining characteristics. Still, he does the job of driving home the point that we shouldn’t strive to be like the old miser. Other characters, like Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim, are wonderful.
The spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future are iconic and distinctly characterized. Past is kind but stern in his showing Scrooge his mistakes, Present is jolly but determined to teach Scrooge hard lessons about the reality of his fellow man’s everyday life, and Future is chillingly silent in its revelations of the legacy Scrooge could leave behind. Through them, we see what the world of Victorian England was like for many people across different social and economic strata. Yet through these spirits, especially Present, we are also shown that their lessons of charity, sympathy, and kindness and their condemnations of cruelty, bigotry, and prejudice apply to today’s society as well.
Seeing Scrooge’s character develop is fulfilling. One could argue he is frightened and guilted into becoming kinder, particularly after his encounter with Future, but I saw small signs of his kindness early on. With Past, he expresses regret that he didn’t give a young caroler something after looking back on his childhood, and that he could speak to Bob after revisiting his own old boss (I’d give page references, but I read this as an iBooks epub file, so page numbers aren’t reliable. But these lines appear in “Stave Two”). So to me, Scrooge has always had the capacity for kindness; he’s only let bitterness, unchecked greed, heartbreak, and loneliness bury gentleness deep inside him. When he wakes on Christmas morning, his excitement and enthusiasm is almost unbelievable, almost an absurd caricature, but it still gets Dickens’ point across to us. And it’s a relief and great reward to see Scrooge showing warmth at last.
In the end, A Christmas Carol is an enjoyable little tale, with fabulous character development, fantastic characters, memorable lines, and a plot that’s full of holiday cheer (if also some frights for crotchety old Ebenezer).
Overall rating: 8.5/10
P.S. If you’re looking for a fantastic film adaptation of this story, try the 1999 TV movie starring Sir Patrick Stewart. I shouldn’t have to say anything after his name to convince you, but I will. This film follows the book very well; it’s almost entirely directly quoted, in fact. This is the version I’ve watched annually for many years. Because… Sir Patrick.