A Christmas Carol

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

-Mark 8:36

A Christmas Carol cover

For many years, I was actually averse to A Christmas Carol for a reason that I’m rather embarrassed to admit now. You see, when I was younger I never read the book, only watched the movie, and the only movie version we had was A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Let’s just say I found the Muppet’s, well, disturbing.

Thankfully Mom took me to see Charles Dickens Presents: A Christmas Carol, a live performance by Mike Randall. He was phenomenal, dramatically reciting the entire book solo! Seriously, he slipped so easily from Fred to Fezziwig, from Christmas Past to Ebenezer, you would have thought that 40 actors were performing. 

After being cured of my Christmas Carol fear, I eagerly listened to Focus on the Family’s excellent Christmas Carol radio drama, and went to the live performance twice more, but never got around to reading the actual book. This year unforeseen circumstances prevented me from attending, so I decided to read the story for myself.

Written in 1843 by Charles Dickens, the book was designed to serve several purposes:

1. To boost his waning popularity: Dickens’ most recent novel, Martin Chuzzlewit, wasn’t selling well and Dickens was afraid his popularity was on a decline.

2. To support his wife, 4 children, and rather lax budget: Dickens didn’t succeed with this goal as well as the first. Although the book sales were extremely high (it sold 6,000 copies within the first few days), Dickens had financed the book’s publishing himself and ordered costly gilt edging, hand-colored illustrations, and fancy binding. He then set the price at only 5 shillings so everyone could afford it.

3. Speak out about Dickens’ concern for England’s poor, especially children

The plot was already familiar to me. Set amidst the squalor and filth of 19th century England, a misery character named Ebenezer Scrooge edges “his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance“. Blinded by his own greed and selfishness Scrooge ignores the suffering and poverty of his fellow men. One Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley comes to warn Scrooge of the conseques of his apathy and that he will be haunted by three spirits. These three spirits, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, come to open Ebenezer’s eyes to the people around him, and teach him how to “keep Christmas well“.

I still loved reading the book, even though I knew what was going to happen. Dickens tells a tale smothered with suffering, hardship, misery and darkness, but doesn’t forget to sprinkle it with biting humor and the bright light of hope and redemption.

I enjoyed discovering small parts of the book that I had forgotten. For example, I never realized that when young Ebenezer is reading his story books at school the characters actually come to life for old Ebenezer and the Ghost of Christmas Past.

“The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments: wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt, and leading by the bridle an ass laden with wood.
“Why, it’s Ali Baba!” Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. “It’s dear old honest Ali Baba!”

My two favorite scenes are probably Fezziwig’s Ball and Joe’s Pawn Shop, although I love the Cratchit’s dinner also.

I like the first because it’s a beautiful picture of gaiety, joy, and how someone can create such happiness just by doing a small thing. I also love it since I’ve attended 19th century dances before and can perfectly imagine myself in the scene. I practically squealed when reading about dancing the Sir Roger de Coverley  (also known as the Virginia Reel) because I’ve danced it myself!

Fezziwig's Ball (original illustration)
Fezziwig’s Ball
(original illustration)

Joe’s Pawn Shop is full of caustic humor and feels perfectly filthy and base. My sister and I can practically quote all of it, complete with weasel-y voices and shrieking laughs.

Old Joe's Pawn Shop by Fred Barnard (from victorianweb.org)
Old Joe’s Pawn Shop by Fred Barnard
(from victorianweb.org)

I’m very glad I didn’t pass over this book simply because the story was well known to me. It was the perfect Christmas read!

Tiny Tim

Book: A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas

Author: Charles Dickens

Publish date: 1843

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Finish date: December 15, 2013

Book number: 7 of 205

Favorite Quotes:

“His body was transparent: so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.”

” ‘Your lip is trembling,’ said the Ghost. ‘And what is that upon your cheek?’ Scrooge muttered, with an unusual catching in his voice, that it was a pimple.”

“When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, ‘Well done!’ and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But, scorning rest upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.”

“the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and, mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped”

“Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry-cook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding!”

” ‘If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future none other of my race,’ returned the Ghost, ‘will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

‘Man,’ said the Ghost, ‘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. O God! to hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!’ “

“for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself”

-The Farming Daughter

4 thoughts on “A Christmas Carol

      • Your shell-shocked reaction to “The Muppet Christmas Carol” was funny (and appropriate), as well as your excitement over the Virginia Reel (I didn’t know that they were the same dance. That’s neat!), and finally I can picture you and your sister reciting the pawnshop scene with glee and gusto and doing a very good job of it! 😀

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