Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book Review - A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Stories--A Christmas Tree Story, Nobody's Story, What Christmas Is As We Grow Older I've realized that despite years of watching A Christmas Carol every Christmas (either in movie or play form), I had never actually read the original text. So this year I decided to take some time and read the book prior to seeing the play. I wasn't fact, I was excited to see that the productions I've seen have been fairly true to the text.


The language is very true to the standard Victorian form and to other works of Dickens. The descriptions are ornate and flowery. The lists of objects, characteristics or actions are often lengthy and overly detailed. Once or twice, the language felt somewhat over-the-top and heavy-handed to the point that I wanted to "scan" rather than "read" the long paragraphs. Most of the time, the language was fluid and beautiful. I was truly drawn into Victorian England and the Christmases experienced by Ebenezer Scrooge.

Characters / Setting

The characters from the story have become so well known that I was curious to see if the modern day interpretations varied much from the original. I was relieved to find that we've stayed true to Dickens' original character sketches. Apart from Scrooge not saying "Humbug" quite as often as I thought he would, the characters were very close to what I've come to know in 20th/21st century media.

The ghosts seem to receive the most descriptive treatment which had some interesting variants I hadn't seen before. I've seen Christmas Past often presented as a female while the book shows this ghost in a more "male" light, although still somewhat genderless...mainly just kind of ancient. It was interesting to me also to read that Christmas Present was seen to age through the course of the journey so much so that he was on the verge of death by the time he left Scrooge. It gave me new perspective into his life as a spirit...he effectively lived only for that day...the "present" Christmas. When it was gone, so was he.

The human characters were excellently treated, sometimes in just a few simple lines, other times with more description, but always just enough to be vivid and full of life.

The settings were wonderfully outlined as per usual Dickens style. I truly felt myself in his world.

Plot, Theme, Pacing, etc.

Again, the plot is fairly commonplace after having seen it so many times. I tried to put myself in the perspective of a 19th century reader. Morality tales were certainly nothing new to Victorian readers. Nor were ghost stories. However, Dickens' treatment of a haunted morality tale set at Christmastime felt somewhat unique. Surely the story was seen as the social and human commentary that it was. The working class and the lower class surely loved the message of the story...that the upper class could reform its ways and see in its heart to help out those struggling at the bottom of society.

The pacing was quick and the message was clear. This is something I could see reading aloud with my family next December.

This Edition...the other stories

Before wrapping up, I wanted to leave a comment on the other stories in the book. While I loved the title story in the book, the same adoration was felt as deeply for the other Dickens Christmas stories included in this book. Because A Christmas Carol is a fairly short story (only about 90 pages), the editors of this edition chose to include 3 additional Christmas tales by Dickens.
  1. The first, "A Christmas Tree Story", was (to me) the most tedious "list" of a story I've read in a long time. It consisted of description after description of Christmas Tree ornaments and the branch on which they were hung. Towards the end of the story, it became slightly interesting by giving small descriptions of the "Ghost Stories" that "we" like to tell at Christmas gatherings. Unfortunately, each of these stories were incomplete and left me wishing Dickens would have devoted time to exploring those stories in depth rather than toiling over the mundane ornaments on the tree.
  2. The second, "Nobody's Story", was an interesting social commentary providing thoughtful insight on the importance of any one person. While a vaguely interesting essay, I felt the way it was tied to Christmastime was loose at best. The best correlation would have been that of the Ghost of Christmas Present when he tells Scrooge that he (Scrooge) is worth less than Tiny Tim. Naturally, the commentary was better presented in Christmas Carol than it was in "Nobody's Story." I wonder if "Nobody's Story" was a predecessor to Carol and is perhaps indicative of Dickens desire to write such a tale.
  3. The third and final story included, "What Christmas Is As We Grow Older", is even more enigmatic. Again, it is a sort of commentary on what people feel is important to them at different points in their lives. It's a good essay, but any "storytelling" element to it is superficial at best.


Dickens' Christmas Carol is truly a perennial classic that should be enjoyed year after year. Whether that enjoyment is through the book or through a well adapted movie or stage version (I've always loved the "George C Scott" version), it shouldn't matter much. Even the movie knock-offs (such as Bill Murray's "Scrooged" or other similar treatments) still have the good sense to promote the underlying themes of the tale.

Like Scrooge, we should all seek to keep the spirit of Christmas with us throughout the year. I don't care what your religion is or what your beliefs are (and Dickens keeps religious narrative to a minimum despite the religious nature of the holiday...perhaps due to the overarching Christian audience, he didn't feel the need to promote the religious fervor). The themes and values taught by this Christmas Carol are morals that can and should be put in place by any member of the human race.

Let us all make the welfare of 'mankind' be our 'business' for the future.

5 stars

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