I’m crossing my fingers that my feature writing students will heed my advice and read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. We talked about the book’s timeless appeal: a ghost story wrapped up in the idea of redemption at the holidays. When you study writing, it’s important to study all writers. Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, strongly urges writers to read other writers. It’s the only way we learn technique, garner ideas, and think about things in new and exciting ways. ‘Tis the season, I say. Plus, we could all use a little reminder of the importance of giving and caring and loving those around us.
“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that…Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” (From the opening paragraph of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens).
Dickens had the keen ability to write intriguing characters, those that will live on in the hearts and minds of people for generations to come; and Scrooge is simply marvelous. And yet, the brilliance of the novel comes bit by bit, with the Ghost of Christmases Past, Present, and Future all paying our main character timely visits throughout the night. The question for Scrooge is this: Can he change his ways, turn himself around, and become a better person all in one night and will this change last for the rest of his life?
As Scrooge says, “It’s Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like Of course, they can. Of course they can.”
Therein lies the appeal. Show me a person who hasn’t done something in his or her life that he or she regrets, and I’ll show you a ten-legged alien from the planet Outinspace. We fail. We do dumb things. We make bad choices that turn into big mistakes.
Scrooge’s mistakes were just on a grand scale. Yet he repents, changes, and comes to terms with them. He rights his wrongs.
One may question the novel’s incredible, yet simple, theme and whether or not Scrooge’s specters were imagined or real. Did the ghosts actually appear for his salvation? Or, did Scrooge imagine them or dream them in order to save himself?
It really doesn’t matter either way, because what Dickens does so artfully well is he makes us think. He makes us ask ourselves questions such as the following: What would happen if we revisited our own pasts with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and could clearly see the things we’ve said or done that may have been hurtful or have to examine and scrutinize again and again the choices that we’ve made in life?
Dickens’s brainchild allows us to live vicariously through Scrooge. He had to endure a harsh wake-up call for the sake of us all.
The truth is, when we read the novel, or when we see the film, we are reminded of our own capacity to make small and big mistakes in our lives. We cannot help but glide across the cold, night air with Scrooge as he watches the shadows of his life pass before him, and we are reminded that he represents us.
Moreover, it doesn’t matter how many times I read the book or watch the film (and most especially, at the end of the musical version with Albert Finney), I cry. His change is our change; we have become a part of him, and he has become a part of us. We have been redeemed.
Do yourself a favor and read the book—or watch one of the films. Its timelessness and perfection make it a ghost story that will remain a classic for years and years to come.
On a side note, writing A Christmas Carol was good for Dickens’s career and for the Christmas holiday in general. The notion of Christmas as a special, commercial, and magical time of year can be attributed to his artful imagination. You can thank Dickens for promoting Christmas as “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time,” as was stated by Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in the text.
Christmas, as it is now, can be attributed directly to Dickens. And it all started with an old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge.
“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
One other note: If you live in the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan area and you have not seen A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre, you are missing one of the best treats of the season. My husband and I went years ago, and last year, we went with our children. We all thought the stage production was absolutely fabulous.
If you don’t live in the area, I highly recommend the musical version of Scrooge with Albert Finney and Sir Alec Guiness. For classic, non-musical versions, try A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott as Scrooge, or the older version with Alastair Sim.