Monthly Archives: December 2013

God Bless Us Everyone – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part VII

In the final stave Scrooge is relieved to find himself alive in his bedroom on Christmas morning.  He has time to make amends for his prior acts.  As he frantically dresses he looks around the room and remembers the events of the previous night.  He laughs for the first time in many years and realizes he does not know what day or time it is.  As the church bells toll he opens the window and yells down to a boy on the street.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit illustrated by John L...

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit illustrated by John Leech in 1843 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When asked the boy tells him it is Christmas Day.  He realizes the spirits had transacted their business all in one night despite what Marley had told him about when to expect the ghosts’ arrival.  This is a strange discrepancy, the significance of which has never been explained to my satisfaction.

He sends the boy off to get the prize turkey in order to send it anonymously to Bob Cratchit.  Scrooge is delighted by the boy.  This seems to be the culmination of a theme starting with the caroler Scrooge mistreated on Christmas Eve, Scrooge’s child self, Tiny Tim, and the children duo Ignorance and Want.   As Scrooge waits at the door he sees the knocker says he will love it forever.  The poulterer arrives, Scrooge pays for the turkey and sends him in a cab to Bob’s house.  Scrooge also pays the boy.

Scrooge then returns to his room, shaves happily and dresses himself in his best clothes.  He walks through the streets addressing everyone happily.  He meets the two men he had rebuffed on Christmas Eve seeking money for the poor.  He apologizes and tells them he will give them money.  He then goes to church and walks the streets.

In the afternoon Scrooge arrives at his nephew’s house. Fred welcomes him happily.  This scene has always been very powerful for me.  I always react emotionally when Fred welcomes Scrooge to his party.  It is the Biblical scene where the father welcomes home the prodigal son.  It is the scene where God welcomes us home after our struggles on Earth.

The next day Bob Cratchit arrives late to work.  “What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?” Scrooge asks him pretending to be angry.  Bob confesses that he was “making rather merry” the day before.  I suppose this means he drank too much and overslept or was hung over.  But Scrooge tells him he will raise his salary and help his family and that they will discuss his affairs over a “smoking bowl of Christmas Bishop” (whatever that is).

Dickens tells us that Scrooge was as good as his word and Tiny Tim did not die.  He also mentions that some people laughed at Scrooge for changing.  In other words they tried to shame him for changing.  This certainly fits the pattern of shame-based people.  They fear change themselves and become jealous when they see other people change so they try to stop other people from changing by shaming them.  Scrooge, of course, was unaffected because through the intercession of Marley and the three ghosts he had surpassed this shame-based circle.  He was indeed a new man.

Were the three ghosts real?  That is, were they separate entities intervening in his life for his benefit or were they parts of his subconscious mind fed up with the status quo and affecting their own healing?  The fact that Marley had no one intervene on his own behalf suggests the latter.  This is certainly a topic that can be explored in greater depth.

Anyway, I think I am done with “A Christmas Carol” for now.

God bless us.  Everyone.

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The Ghost of Christmas Future – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part VI

The Last of the Spirits, from Charles Dickens:...

The Last of the Spirits, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the Ghost of Christmas Present disappears the Ghost of Christmas Future approaches.  This final ghost wears a black robe and does not speak.  Scrooge is afraid but states he desires to be a different person and believes that by adhering to the ghosts’ program he will, in fact, transform.

The ghost leads Scrooge into the city among the merchants.  A small group of businessmen talk about a dead man.  They do not seem to care about him except they are interested in who will inherit his money.  One man expects no one will go to the funeral.  Another man says he will attend the funeral if there is a lunch.

The ghost then leads Scrooge to two other businessmen whom Scrooge recognizes and admires.   They have a very short interchange where one of them mentions a certain “Old Scratch” had died.  Scrooge assumes these two conversations are about the same man but at this point seems to be in denial about the dead man’s identity.

The ghost then leads Scrooge into a bad section of the city full of crime, filth and misery.  They stop at a junk shop.  Inside an old gray-haired man named Joe smokes a pipe.  Two old hags and an undertaker arrive at the same time and laugh.  They joke about a man who died alone whom nobody liked.  The three of them sell to Joe items they had stolen from the dead man’s house.  Scrooge listens in horror and tells the ghost that he understands that if he persists in his old ways that his fate will be the same as this “unhappy man.”

The scene changes to a bedroom.  The ghost points to a body lying under a sheet. Scrooge cannot take the sheet off of the body.   On some level he knows the body is his own but he persists in his denial.  He hears a cat behind a door and rats scurrying beneath the floor and knows what they will do to the body if given the chance.  Again, the ghost points to the sheet covering the body but Scrooge cannot remove it.

Scrooge pleads with the ghost to show him emotion connected with the dead man.  The ghost shows him an anxious woman.  Her careworn husband arrives home and she asks him what news he has for her.  The man replies that the news is bad, that the man to whom they own money has died.  She is visibly relieved upon hearing this news.  She feels guilty about feeling happy in relation to a death but happy nonetheless.

Scrooge is not satisfied with this scene and asks the ghost to show him “tenderness” connected with the man’s death.  The ghost shows Scrooge the house of Bob Cratchit.  The family is sad and quiet.  Bob arrives home and they try to comfort him.  He pretends to be cheerful but breaks down crying.  Tiny Tim has died.

Scrooge pleads with the ghost to tell him who the dead man is.  The ghost shows Scrooge his office but it is no longer the office of Scrooge and Marley.  Then the ghost leads him into a cemetery choked with weeds.  The ghost points to a tombstone.  Scrooge is afraid to look.  He knows it is his grave and that his is the dead man who died alone and unloved.  He pleads with the ghost

Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point … answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only? … Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead…  But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me. 

The ghost does not answer and continues to point to the tombstone.  It is obvious that Scrooge does not want to die alone and unloved.  This is interesting because before this evening he did not seem to care for the company of people at all.  It seems strange that such a person would be motivated by the fear of being unloved.  Perhaps Scrooge had buried this aspect of his personality under the psychological defense mechanisms he had constructed to protect himself from the abandonment he suffered during childhood.  Scrooge panics and drops these defenses.  He states that he will keep Christmas in his heart.  The transformation is complete.  The ghosts’ program was a success.  Suddenly the Ghost of Christmas Future transforms into a bedpost and Scrooge finds himself back in his bedroom.

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The Ghost of Christmas Present – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part V

Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens:...

Scrooge’s third visitor, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scrooge wakes again at 1:00 am and pulls back all the bed curtains to avoid being surprised as he was with the Ghost of Christmas Past.  He lies in bed for fifteen minutes waiting and feeling anxious.  At this point he becomes aware of light shining from under the door to an adjacent room.  He gets up to investigate and as he approaches the door a booming voice bids him enter.

The voice belongs to the Ghost of Christmas Present.  When Scrooge enters the room he is surprised to see it brightly lit, richly decorated and full of food.  The ghost is clothed in a robe with a crown of holly atop his head and sits on a throne made of various meat products.

You have never seen the like of me before,” says the ghost.  Scrooge has not.  The ghost tells Scrooge that he has more than 1800 brothers who have walked the earth before him.  This story, of course, takes place in the 1800’s.  It is a fairly obvious assumption that the ghost has had one brother a year walk the earth since the birth of Christ.  This is yet another indirect reference to Christianity.

Scrooge admits that he has changed since the Ghost of Christmas Past’s visit and has a certain level of faith in this transformational program the ghosts have set up for him.  He tells the Ghost of Christmas Present that he is in his hands essentially and goes forth with him.  Suddenly they are walking forth in the busy city streets of London.  It is a bright Christmas Morning.  There is an air of cheerfulness among the people.  Dickens goes at great length to describe an abundance of food.  People are carrying their dinners to the bakers and going to church.  As they mingle the Ghost sprinkles water on people making their mood alter for the better because different rules of civility apply on Christmas Day.

Scrooge asks the ghost why he sprinkles water on the people’s food.  The ghost tells him it is his own blessing that applies to any kindly given dinner and to a poor one most of all, because it needs it most.  Scrooge then asks the ghost why he would close all the bakers shops on Sunday denying people a dinner on perhaps the only day of the week when they can dine at all.  The ghost takes issue with this question and denies that it is his doing.  He then states:

There are some upon this earth of yours … who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.

This statement (one of a few lectures to Scrooge made by this ghost) may solve the riddle as to why Dickens only indirectly references Christianity within the spiritual universe existing in this story.  I would guess he sees Christianity as good and true in its essence but perhaps corrupted in its practice for the most part.

Next the Ghost blesses Bob Cratchit’s house.  We see Mrs. Cratchit preparing the Christmas dinner.  Peter, the eldest son wears a shirt with a giant collar handed down to him from his father.  There are two young children as well.  Martha, the eldest sister arrives home from her factory job.  The family conspires to hide her from Bob when he arrives home from church with Tiny Tim.  Dickens does not explain why only Bob and Tiny Tim go to church by themselves.  Bob is upset when he hears that Martha is not coming but she soon reveals herself and sets things straight.  Bob tells his wife that Tiny Tim was as good as gold in church and that he gets philosophical telling him that it was good that he was a cripple because it would remind people of the man who made lame beggars walk and blind men see (another indirect reference to Christianity).  The dinner is prepared, table set and grace said.  The goose arrives and then the pudding.  They then settle around the hearth drinking some Christmas mixture.  Bob says, “A Merry Christmas to us all” and Tiny Tim replies, “God bless us every one.

Scrooge is interested in the smallest, weakest member of the family.  He asks the ghost if Tiny Tim will live.  The ghost tells him he sees a vacant seat and a crutch without an owner.  Much like his compassion for his own child self, Scrooge feels compassion for Tiny Tim.  The ghost uses Scrooge’s own words against him and remarks judgmentally that if Tiny Tim is going to die he should do it and decrease the surplus population and then continues with another lecture:

… if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust.                                                                                                                                                                                         

The scene shifts from the ghost to Bob Cratchit toasting Scrooge as “the founder of the feast.”  His family does not agree and lets him know it, but Bob persists remarking that it is Christmas Day and different rules of civility apply.  The family reluctantly toasts Scrooge and in a few minutes the good mood returns to this poor but happy family.

Outside the Cratchit house people are out visiting.  Then the ghost takes Scrooge on a journey visiting various peoples celebrating Christmas.  They see miners, men isolated in a remote lighthouse battered by storm, and men on a ship at sea.  Each celebrated Christmas with a warm heart despite their rough environment.  Once again Dickens makes an indirect reference to Christianity mentioning its “mighty Founder [who] was a child himself.

And then they were in Fred’s house at the dinner party Scrooge was invited to.  They laugh at Scrooge and how he disdains Christmas.  Fred mocks him too but then reveals that he pities his uncle and intends to keep inviting him to dinner.  Later they play games and Scrooge becomes involved and does not want to leave.  Eventually, the ghost removes Scrooge and they continue their travels.

At some point Scrooge notices that the ghost has grown old.  He tells Scrooge that his life on the earth will end at midnight.  Scrooge sees a hand protruding from the ghost’s robe.  Upon Scrooge’s inquiry the ghost reveals two retched children hiding under his robe.  The boy is “Ignorance” and the girl is “Want,” the ghost tells him.  They are the result of greedy men designing social structures that leave people behind.  If ignored, these children will eventually bring about the doom of mankind.

Have they no refuge or resource?” asks Scrooge.

Are there no prisons?” mocks the ghost using Scrooge’s words against him.  “Are there no workhouses?”

The Ghost of Christmas Present then disappears as the clock strikes midnight.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part IV

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball Hand colored etching by Jo...

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball Hand colored etching by John Leech from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Deutsch: John Leechs Illustration Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scrooge wakes to the clocks striking 12:00am.  He thinks this is strange because he did not go to bed until 2:00am.  Who knew Jacob Marley had kept him up that late?  The book says he touched a “repeater” to confirm that this time was indeed correct.  This is apparently a pocket watch capable of vibrating the hour when touched for use in the dark.  Scrooge lays in bed for an hour and precisely at 1:00am (as foretold by Marley) the Ghost of Christmas Past pulls back the bed curtains Scrooge happens to be facing at the time.  Dickens says the ghost was as close to him as he is to the reader and clarifies by pointing out that he is standing in the “spirit at [the reader’s] elbow”.

I am not sure what Dickens means by the phrase “standing in the spirit at your elbow.”  I do not think he is addressing future generations who might read this story because it was in the original version when Dickens was very much alive.  Nor do I think he means his energy is infused in the writing because a reader holds the book in his hands not his elbow.  Perhaps the phrase is intended to elicit the eerie feeling in the reader that there are unseen spirits at work in the room in order for the reader to relate to Scrooge’s experience.

The Ghost appeared amorphously both old and young at once.  Its voice was soft and gentle.  When asked it identified itself as “The Ghost of Christmas Past.”  “Long past?” asked Scrooge.  “Your past,” responds the ghost.  The ghost emitted a bright light like a flame and carried an extinguisher under its arm.  Scrooge asked it to wear the cap and the ghost asked accusingly,

Would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!

The accusation had the desired effect.  Scrooge was humbled and asked forgiveness.  He then asked the ghost its purpose for being there to which the ghost replied it was there for Scrooge’s welfare and reclamation.  The ghost then tells Scrooge to walk with it.  Scrooge protests that he is mortal and liable to fall but the ghost reassures him and they leave together.

Suddenly they are transported to an old country road.  Scrooge remembers he was a boy there.  The ghost tells him what he sees are shadows of things that have been without consciousness.  Scrooge’s immediate reaction is happiness.  There was something about his childhood that brings him release and allows him to let his guard down.  But there is also something about his childhood that brings him deep sadness.  This sadness results from abandonment.  We see him as a child sitting alone in the classroom of his boarding school reading while the other children went home for Christmas.  The elder Scrooge remembers the characters in the books as companions.  At the same time he has compassion for this inner child of his sitting alone.  This compassion makes him wish he had been nicer to the caroling child he chased away earlier that night.

“Let’s see another Christmas,” says the ghost.  Scrooge then sees an older version of himself in the school alone again at Christmas.  This time he is not reading but nervously pacing the room.  Without warning his younger sister, Fan enters the room.  She has come to bring him home.  “Father is so much kinder,” she tells him.  We now know that Scrooge was rejected by his only living parent.  The ghost and Scrooge talk about Fan and how she frail but with a big heart.  Fan is of course Fred’s mother who dies some time later.  This is another abandonment which is perhaps part of the reason why Scrooge rejects Fred’s overtures.

Next the ghost takes Scrooge to the warehouse of the master to whom he was apprenticed named Fezziwig.  This memory also brings forth happy emotions in Scrooge.  He fondly remembers Fezziwig and his associate Dick Wilkins who was apparently attached to Scrooge.  Scrooge and Dick prepare the warehouse for a Christmas Eve party.  The people arrive, dance, eat and celebrate.  By all appearances young Scrooge joins in the festivities and enjoys himself.  In a few dramatizations young Scrooge meets his love interest Belle in this scene.

While viewing this scene, old Scrooge is able to remember the joy he had felt as a young man.  The ghost remarks that it “was a small matter” to make all these people happy as Fezziwig could not have spent much money to host this affair.  Scrooge quickly retorts that it was not the money but rather that Fessiwig had the power to make him happy or sad and his work heavy or light and he chose to make him happy and his work light.  Instantly Scrooge thinks about how he has treated Bob Cratchit and feels remorse.

The ghost remarks that its time grows short (implying it is beholden to supervision as Marley’s ghost did).  In the next scene the ghost shows Scrooge his former self and Belle in his office.  Belle is releasing him from their marriage contract because Scrooge has had a changed heart.  At what point did Scrooge’s heart change?  At some point the wounds from his childhood abandonment caught up with him.  He could no longer trust the world as Belle accused him and so he retreated into the safety of money.  Perhaps this patter he plays out on Belle is the same or a similar pattern his father played out on him.

Scrooge extinguishes the Ghost of Christmas Pa...

Scrooge extinguishes the Ghost of Christmas Past. Original 1843 illustration by John Leech (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The ghost shows him one shadow more.  Belle is now married with children and living a happy life.  There is an older daughter that captures Scrooge’s imagination.  He imagines that he might have had a daughter with Belle who in turn might have been a “spring-time in the haggard winter of his life.”  In this image, Belle’s husband mentions that he saw Scrooge alone in his counting house and that his partner was dying.  At this point Scrooge becomes upset and demands the ghost remove him from this scene and haunt him no longer.  The ghost then becomes bright at which point Scrooge seizes its extinguisher cap and attempts to extinguish it but fails to do so entirely.  Suddenly he finds himself back in his room.  Exhausted, he returns to his bed.

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A Ponderous Chain of Events – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part III

When Scrooge closes his office for the night he has a conversation with Bob Cratchit about not working Christmas Day to spend with his family.  I suppose on the year this story takes place Christmas did not fall on the weekend.  Bob protests it is only once a year but Scrooge finds this argument unconvincing.

[I]t’s not fair.  If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound … And yet … you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work… A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!

In the end Scrooge relents and sends Bob Cratchit on his way.  In the book Scrooge proceeds to a tavern to eat dinner and read the newspapers.  In most dramatizations of the story this scene is omitted.  I always had a strange fascination with this scene.  This is Scrooge’s down time after work where I assume he unwinds a bit.  It could offer a little window into his personality.  What did he eat?  Did he have an alcoholic drink with dinner?  The book does not answer these questions.

After the tavern Scrooge heads back to his dark, empty house where he sees the face of his former partner Jacob Marley in his doorknocker.  He is startled at first but then dismisses it as a hallucination.  Up in his bedchambers, he takes his gruel and then sees Marley’s face in the tiles around his fireplace.  This he also dismisses as a humbug.  Then the bell on the wall begins to ring.  When it stops he hears chains clanking up the stairs.  By this point Scrooge is understandably frightened but continues to disbelieve his senses.  Even when Marley’s ghost appears before him he still does not believe it.

Marley’s first task is to get Scrooge to admit that he believes in him.  It is an interesting question, why is it so important that Scrooge believe in Marley’s ghost?  Is it because, if Scrooge does not believe in him he will have no power to change Scrooge?  Is this akin to a belief in God as a prerequisite to salvation and if so why does it matter what Scrooge believes so long as he changes?  In the end Marley screams at Scrooge and terrorizes him into believing thus solving the issue.

Then Scrooge asks Marley, “why do spirits walk the earth and why do they come to me?”  To which Marley explains, “It is required of every man … that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen … and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.”  This description suggests that Hell within this context exists within the material world and not as a separate place.  Marley goes on to explain that he “wears the chains [he] forged in life.”  Each link was forged from all of his sins of commission and omission.  He also says he is permitted only a little time to converse with Scrooge suggesting that his punishment is directly supervised.

Scrooge does not understand why Marley deserves punishment because he was a good man of business.  Marley cries, “Mankind was my business!”  He then makes reference to a “blessed star,” again suggesting a Christian universe but as always in this story indirectly.  Finally he reveals his purpose to Scrooge.  Marley’s purpose is to help Scrooge escape his fate.  This begs the question why Marley was not given the same chance to escape his fate?  Was there no other ghost with compassion for Marley?  Does Scrooge live within a solipsistic universe?

Next, Marley spells out the program by which once completed Scrooge will transform himself and escape Marley’s fate.  He tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts on three successive evenings.  I am not sure why Marley tells him this and yet the ghosts appear to him all in one night.  Perhaps Dickens had an idea in mind that was not fully realized in the story.  It feels that way.

At any rate, Marley exits through the window.  Outside Scrooge sees other fettered ghosts wailing in misery.  He tries to dismiss it with a “humbug” but aborts the effort before completion.  He then goes to bed and immediately falls asleep thus setting the stage for the three ghosts.

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Fellow Passengers to the Grave – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part II

Before Scrooge heads home for the night on Christmas Eve, he has three earthly visitations to his office.  The first (and most important in terms of the circularity of the story) is his nephew Fred.  Fred is an affable fellow and is Scrooge’s only living blood relation in the world.   He has a positive energy about him and wishes his uncle a robust “Merry Christmas.”  Scrooge rebuffs him with his first “Bah Humbug” of the novella.  Fred then launches into a diatribe about the positive things about the Christmas season.

… 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 people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, 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!

I love the line about people being “fellow-passengers to the grave.”  By this he is saying that life is like a roller coaster ride that we all hopped on to at one point and we are all destined to hop off when the ride is over.  This begs the question, where and who we are when we are not on this ride.  There is also a subdued reference to Christianity but the spiritual universe that eventually unfolds in this story is somewhat different than (but not altogether incompatible with) the spiritual universe typically conceived by traditional Christianity.

Scrooge somewhat out of left field demands of Fred the reason why he got married.  Fred responds, “Because I fell in love.”  Scrooge objects to this reason for financial reasons.  That is, it would be irresponsible to get married if someone did not have enough money to support the family that the marriage generated.  It is funny that despite Scrooge accusing his nephew of being poor and his nephew tacitly agreeing with this description, in every version of “A Christmas Carol” I have ever seen Fred is depicted as well dressed and living in a very well apportioned house.  Perhaps he was living on credit.  At any rate we know that Scrooge’s real (but perhaps subconscious) reason for objecting to Fred’s nuptials is that Scrooge himself had missed out on marrying the woman he had loved for supposed financial reasons.  More on that later when I get to the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Fred then invites Scrooge to dinner on Christmas Day.  Scrooge rejects the invitation thus setting the stage for the story to resolve itself in the end by Scrooge accepting the invitation.  On his way out Scrooge wishes Bob Cratchit (who sympathizes with Fred’s view of Christmas) a Merry Christmas.  Bob is conflicted because he wants to be both loyal to his employer and to his heart at the same time.

The next Earthly visitors are the two gentlemen seeking money for the poor.  Scrooge rudely rebuffs them.  They also set the stage for Scrooge’s eventual redemption.  I don’t consider them as important as Fred in this regard but they do add some extra bulk to it I suppose.  The same is true with the last Earthly visitors, the children caroling outside.  They are also rejected by Scrooge.  There may be a parallel here with the boy outside Scrooge’s window on Christmas morning but I suppose I am getting ahead of myself.

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The Ghost of an Idea – Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” Part I

Charles Dickens, a former resident of Lant Street.

Charles Dickens, a former resident of Lant Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I tried reading “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens to my kids (ages 10 and 7) but we did not get very far.  The language is not very kid friendly.  Dickens dances around the ideas he is trying to convey especially in the beginning.

The tangent he goes off on about the door nail is a good example.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind!  I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail.  I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.  But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.  You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

I love the line “the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile.”  It is true.  Ideas bubble up through our societal and historical subconscious making elegant connections and if we discard them or tamper with them they undermine the social fabric.  Kids, of course, want to be read a more straightforward story, which is too bad because I love the book.

I suppose my kids will have to be introduced to “A Christmas Carol” the way I was.  That is, by watching one of the many dramatizations produced over the years.  I think the first one I ever saw was a cartoon version.  I remember watching TV lying on my parents’ bed one afternoon around Christmas time.  I was alone and it felt cozy.  There are so many images in this story that make the outside world dark and cold but the inside is lit and warm.  The best version I ever saw was the version where Patrick Stewart played Ebenezer Scrooge.  The actors were appropriately cast.  Whereas, the worst was the one where George C. Scott played Scrooge.   He did not convince me that Scrooge was a terrible man.  Also, the actor who played Bob Cratchet appeared too well fed and philosophical for the role.  There was also a musical version I remember liking but it has been so long since I have seen it I am not sure I would like it still.

In the opening paragraphs, Dickens goes on and on about how Marley was dead and that this must be understood if anything good was to come from the story.  I have often wondered why Dickens thought the reader would have a problem believing that this particular character was dead.  My suspicion was that this phrase, “Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that,” popped into his head and inspired him to write the story about a dead character reaching back from beyond the grave to affect matters in the material world.  Perhaps Marley was originally intended to be the main character before Scrooge revealed himself to Dickens through the creative process.

Really the first four or five paragraphs can be removed without taking anything from the story.  It seems to me that Dickens was brain storming here and arrived at what the story is really about in the sixth paragraph, Scrooge and his redemption.  But then, I suspect there were a few turns of phrase that Dickens became attached to (like “the ghost of an idea”) and left them in.

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