Classic #3: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, by Charles Dickens

I finished this one a few weeks ago but have been avoiding the review because I have felt inadequately equipped to do justice to such a well-known, well-loved, and well-respected work – especially since I claim to dislike Dickens so much. For once, I don’t want to offend anyone who may (like me) harbor fond childhood memories of hearing, reading, or even watching this story each year at Christmas and maybe each summer too. Furthermore, it’s just such a short piece that it’s difficult to find much at all to say.

However, I will begin by saying that I’m glad I read it. I know I was able to identify one or two differences between the original and the Muppet rendition, which is the version I am of course the most familiar with. (Without Gonzo narrating, it really is a different experience. And it was difficult to imagine Tiny Tim as a human and not a mini-sized Kermit the Frog.)

In hindsight, as I look back through my written comments in the margins of the book, I find that what I wrote most often, by a long shot, was “haha.” Comments that come in a close second, at least as far as their frequency of appearance, include “well written” and “I like this.” Beyond these, I made notes on the progression of the story and truly seem to have enjoyed myself and the read.

I discovered a newfound respect for Dickens and his skill that I didn’t know I could possess. I think I am willing to concede at least that he’s a good writer and had a pretty good sense of humor. However, prevalent in this narrative too are the telltale descriptions of poverty and brokenness that are so characteristic of Dickens, so I did have a proper measure of sorrow and depression through the read as well. (Thanks, Charlie. Wouldn’t have recognized it as your work without that stuff.)

My one complaint is actually double sided. On one hand, I like that the book is so short. It makes Dickens digestible and manageable for the first time ever. On the other hand, I’m not sure the progression of character development and Scrooge’s extreme maturation are entirely believable. After all, we’re merely glimpsing snapshots of his life but are also getting the impression that he has been angry, grouchy, and miserly for many, many years now. And for all that to change in one measly night? Stretching it. But again, since it is such a beloved story, I’ll say only that and hold my tongue against further lashings.

One surprise I encountered is in the portion of Christmas Future, when we witness the looters going through Scrooge’s stuff. I wrote in the margin, “I don’t think I’ve ever known this part of the story.” I’m not sure if it’s been left out of the re-tellings I’m familiar with or if I have just ignored it every time and somehow blocked it from my memory. In any case, it was certainly nice to be confronted with a detail I didn’t feel like I already knew backwards and forwards.

Other than these things, my final three notable margin comments were as follows:
“I had no idea Dickens could be so funny.”
“I know the dang story, yet I find tears in my eyes still! That blasted Dickens…”
[upon finding a word in all caps]: “All caps! Good. I need something to keep hating Dickens for.”

That last comment was written in the margin of the very last page, after I had filled the rest of the book with praise, laughter, and warm words about the story, the style of the narrative, and the author’s skill. So even in my final, defiant stand of hatred, I find myself admiring and feeling grateful to Dickens for throwing me one last bone so I can continue my persistent effort to dislike him. It’s noble and rather old world of him. Which I guess makes sense.

To sum up – read A Christmas Carol. It’s short and it’s great.

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11 Comments

Filed under books, classics, goals, reviews

11 responses to “Classic #3: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, by Charles Dickens

  1. I really like your last paragraph. I like the insinuation that Dickens did that especially for you, just so you could continue to dislike him.

    Also, when you said “to sum up,” I immediately thought of Friends:
    “So, to sum up, we’re having fun. You look young.”
    Pause.
    “But that’s not enough.”
    Pause.
    “So, here’s a key to my apartment.”
    …later…
    “I didn’t just give her A key. I gave her THE ONLY key. I am now a homeless person in a very serious relationship!”
    {top five fav. Friends moment.}

    • Thanks, Reese. I liked that part too. I think maybe me and Dickens will be buddies in the afterlife. But like, the kind of buddies who love to bicker.

      And YES. I love that scene too. Thanks for recreating it here and in my head!

  2. b longfellow

    I like your nod to Gonzo, one of the top 5 narrators of all time. Wonder who else I might include in such a list . . .

    On the characterization of Scrooge: I’m rather certain I will agree with your assessment if I ever read this one, but I also think it’s true that many of us have experienced something that has abruptly changed not only our hearts but our behaviors as well. It’s happened to me a couple of times. I suppose that doesn’t mean Dickens’ characterization is quality, just that abrupt changes can happen. (It does seem to become more difficult the older one gets, of course, which means Scrooge is dealing with a massive accumulation of inertia.)

    More posts please! :)

    • Thanks, LF! I am curious now too about who else would be in the top 5 narrators of all time list. And I’m certainly interested to hear in more detail (maybe in person, though, not on the blog) about these events that abruptly changed your heart or behavior about certain things. And about the age thing – yes. I do think one of my margin notes addressed this issue, just with the sheer number of years Scrooge has been a grouchy old codger. It’s just a lot of undoing to have to take care of.

      More posts? On what subjects? Surely you don’t want me to post on The Coffee Incident, do you? I hope not, because I’m not going to.

  3. Keef

    The greatest version of the character Scrooge was played by Bill Murray in the movie Scrooged. It reminds me of a time I was at a club. I was hanging out with a bunch of friends and we had been going bar hopping and settled on this interesting little night club. The place was a mix of dance floor, bar and bondage parlor. Quirky and unsettling, but whatever. It was a different phase of my life. There was nothing really sexual about this type of bondage; unless you consider a gimp saran wrapped to a pole erotic. I will say it was a little odd seeing people on one side of you dancing to techno and on the other, people bound to poles in their underwear. Again, different phase of my life. Don’t judge.

    After consuming a copious amount of alcohol, I was met with a dilemma. Do I dare venture into the restroom to relieve myself, or do I perform my best little dutch boy imitation and hold out for a less risque venue? The fog of alcohol on my brain and its pressure on my bladder won out. So I waited until I was certain that there would be no one in the restroom. Memorizing faces as they walked in and out, I was convinced there would not be another living soul in that room. Sweet relief was moments away. My retreat to the restroom was hasty.

    Upon entry, I saw stadium-style, trough urinals. My wait proved to be a wise decision as there were no partitions for privacy. These troughs had rust spots at the bottom where urine had remained stagnant for too long. The florescent overhead lighting illuminated the room in a manner that provided a harsh contrast with the darkness beyond the entrance. The smell was pungent. My mind instantly went through horrific scenarios that could have played out in that room.

    I stood at the far end of the trough with a cinder block wall on my right and open room on my left. Then it happened. Horror upon horror! The door opened and footsteps could be heard from the other end of the restroom. I froze, unable to perform with my equipment exposed to the room. Slowly the footsteps got louder as the stranger got closer. I stood there frozen, praying that my muscles could relax so that the flood gates would open. There was nothing I could do but stare straight ahead. Who knows what sort of secret signal I would transmit if I inadvertently made eye contact with this man? Finally, I managed a meager stream.

    To my astonishment and horror, the stranger stood right next to me! What could I do but stare forward and focus on the task at hand. As I glanced down to assess my situation, that’s when I noticed a second stream coming dangerously close to intersecting mine. I leaned hard into the wall hoping that it would budge just for a centimeter and provide me with desperately needed personal space. Then I heard a voice in my ear, “Don’t cross the streams.” I couldn’t help it at this point. I had to see who would say such a thing! There standing next to me, Bill F-ing Murray.

    As he finished up, he leaned in close and whispered, “No one will ever believe you.” Then he zipped up and walked away.

    • Awesome story, man. But you’re right. I don’t quite believe it. However – do you have a blog or something somewhere? You’re a great writer! When will I gain your trust enough for you to come out from behind your curtain of anonymity?

      • Keef

        Just had to spread the legend of Bill Murray. He really is a national treasure.

        I can forgive most story writers who choose their endings to be happy or employ the dramatic change without the aftermath. We just get a glimpse through the window. Anything else could be too cumbersome or may not serve the story well. As for the sudden change in Scrooge’s momentum, I’m fine with A Christmas Carol since Dickens makes use of a rather large force to stop it.

        It’s interesting how everybody seems to have the same skepticism about Scrooge’s new outlook. It appears to be a testament to how ingrained the idea of a broken world is in everyone. That in itself gives me more hope than any happy ending could.

  4. JJC

    I feel you on the skepticism of Scrooge’s ability to change so dramatically over such a short amount of time. Scroogey Scrooge….that codger … heartbroken and bitter for so long…so scared to love, to let someone in, to warm his heart to those around him – such a relatable, sad beast.

    I have the same problem with The Christmas Carol as I do with rom-com’s. The story/movie ends right where the real work of changing your inner self, and working on a relationship really begins. We are left to believe Scrooge remains this magically renewed wonderful self – just as in rom-com’s we’re left to believe the couple was happy ever-after. It’s bollocks.

    Scrooge may have improved and I believe in transformative moments – but as any “sanctified”/”saved” Christian knows – there is a difference between feeling this huge change within yourself and then having that reflect consistently through your actions. Habits and patterns are hard to break. And what happens when Scrooge gets shut down again? He’ll have to be very intentional about keeping the codger at bay and forgiving and staying warm hearted.

    What I think you’re pointing out Audra – is not that his moment of Super Scrooge the day after the ghosts isn’t possible – but that it’s maybe more like coming back from church camp. You’re always the best Christian EVER! for a while – but then it fades and old habits and thoughts etc. return. ??? maybe???

    Also – the looters are in the real play version. it’s a powerful scene. They run The Christmas Carol every year in KC at the Missouri Repertoire Theatre – it’s an EXCELLENT show – we went just 2 years ago. It was fantastic – I highly recommend you make it a point to go this year!

    • That’s exactly what I was pointing out, thanks for articulating it in more detail than I felt like going into! And I had no idea about the KC Repertory Theater, so thanks for the heads up on that. I will definitely try to squeeze that into the budget!

    • b longfellow

      yeah, like Audra wrote, nice expansion on her point, especially the issue of maintaining change, and the comparison to romantic comedies. the rest of happily-ever-after must be boring or something?

  5. Pingback: I Can’t Help it if My Personality is Chocolate | A Literary Illusion

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