Adapted into plays and movies around the world since its 1843 publication, Charles Dickens'”A Christmas Carol” offers a heartwarming Christmas story and is an easy introduction to reading Dickens.
Dickens is not known for being concise or succinct. What can be said in two sentences, he is loath to say in anything fewer than two pages. This is how he tells stories. The challenge for the reader is to sift through his verbose descriptions and meandering dialogue to get to his purpose, his motif, his message.
“A Christmas Carol” is a beautiful diversion from Dickens’ usual writing style. Noticeably shorter than his other novels, this book also relies more on clear dialogue than lengthy descriptions.
Dickens’ protagonist, Scrooge, has certainly made his mark on culture. While we freely borrow from Dickens and call anyone who is cranky or miserly a Scrooge, such an assertion reflects an ignorance of the character, the story, and the author.
The infamous Scrooge is visited by his former business partner’s ghost—the ghost of Jacob Marley. Marley’s ghost comes to caution Scrooge against his miserly ways. He is tethered to chains that he “forged in life.” The links are made from everything he valued, everything he thought worth living for. Marley warns Scrooge of the similar fate he will suffer if he doesn’t change. He tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three more ghosts because “Without their visits…you cannot hope to shun the path I tread.”
The first visitor—the Ghost of Christmas Past—stirs painful memories for Scrooge. He remembers poverty, a broken heart, and a hardened resolution to overcome the trials of childhood. The second—the Ghost of Christmas Present—scratches the truth of Scrooge’s present existence onto his heart and sparks joy and hope into his soul.
The third ghost—the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come—is different. Scrooge converses freely with the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present. The third apparition has no words for Scrooge. Instead, he lets the events of Christmas Yet to Come unfold for Scrooge to make his own determinations.
Given Dickens’ propensity for sad stories, you don’t really know how (or if) Scrooge will change. You think he will. You hope he will. This uncertainty reflects Dickens’ prevailing style. Dickens knows that life is not easy and does not have guaranteed happy endings, a belief manifested in all his stories. However, the growth and change you see in Scrooge shows the softer, more optimistic side of Dickens. It is the type of change self-help books can only ever dream of effecting in a person, the type of change only regeneration can actually effect.
“A Christmas Carol” is a story of hope. There is redemption here. Consider the visit from Jacob Marley’s ghost. Scrooge is miserable and unyielding to change or compassion. Marley’s ghost reaches in with a message. In our sin and darkness, God intrudes with his gospel, his truth. The first two ghosts remind us of the pain of recollection and confession and the joy and hope that follow. The biblical theme halts there because, unlike the third ghost’s doom and gloom, Christians continue in the hope of the gospel. Scrooge’s reformed life after the specters’ visits ties in delightfully with the biblical meaning of his name. Ebenezer Scrooge the miser really becomes a Stone of Help: he is a second father to Tiny Tim, an invested and caring uncle, and a good and generous boss.
It is well worth reading every word of “A Christmas Carol.” It is a fantastic book (a description I never thought I would bestow on anything written by Dickens). Do not be content with movie versions this Christmas. Acquaint yourself with the context of “Bah humbug,” and “God bless you, everyone.”