I read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol over the holiday. It was free to download on Kindle. Sadly, I don’t believe I’ve ever read it before. I remember Great Expectations from high school (also free on Kindle), but honestly don’t ever remember reading A Christmas Carol. It’s another one of those classics I blame my teachers for cheating me on back when I should have been reading it, but a small town high school curriculum spent too much time on Shakespeare instead.
All of us know the story. It’s Christmas tradition, right? If you tried, you could probably tell a decent version of it out loud to the children at your Christmas party and do a pretty good job at it. First published in 1843, it’s been a part of our American lives for a long time. Like I said before, it’s tradition. Most of us know it from the big screen. If not the 1951 black and white version (also available colorized), you definitely saw the 1984 version with George C. Scott. The Muppets did it. Even Bill Murray spoofed it in 1988, a good spoof which is a classic in itself from the 80s.
Community theatre groups have also embraced it and made it tradition on the stage. I was almost in a musical version myself back in high school, but it got canceled for some reason. I was cast in dual roles, one that I don’t remember, but I was also going to be the Ghost of Christmas Future and I remember the director obsessing over how I should point. When I lived in Memphis, I went to see the annual production of it at Theatre Memphis. My point is, and I do have one, is how many of us can honestly say we first learned the timeless tale from the book itself. I know I didn’t.
It’s like a really good memory that we embellish year after year for whatever reason, until sooner or later we forget how it actually happened. We’re so numb to it. We’ve received more pleasure telling it our way, so why rediscover how it actually began, how it actually went, or what the truth is.
That’s exactly why I wanted to read it. It’s there. Scrooge. Marley. Tiny Tim. The ghosts. All there. As I read, my brain played it out just like seeing it on the big screen, even some of the dialogue (including “God bless us, everyone!”) was right there on the page. So, what does this tell us? Throughout history, we haven’t changed it much. We’ve at least stayed true to it, not counting the Bill Murray version of course. I tried – very hard – not to picture versions of the characters I knew from the movies.
Honestly, it’s not very good writing in most places. Dickens loves to list things in order to describe them, like opening the thesaurus searching for a better word and deciding to just use them all. Case in point, when the Ghost of Christmas Present arrives he is sitting on a throne made from food. Dickens names almost every food there is. I’m paraphrasing here but it was a throne of ham, sausage, turkey, chicken, grapes, apples, bananas, oranges, pies, custards, puddings, bread, muffins, cakes, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, M&Ms, Yoplait Yogurt, Froot Loops, Candy Bars…. and this isn’t the only place he does it. The children were happy, glad, gleeful, joyful, cheerful… bleggh! Some of the lists take up half a page or more!
It was kind of like reading Shakespeare for the first time, be it Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet or whatever you read in high school, and your getting it. You are comprehending it okay, enough to know what it’s about. But your really having to dig through the muck to find the parts that make sense. But overall, in the end, it does make sense. You found yourself scheming through it or focusing your attention elsewhere during parts, at least until you got to something you could understand. I didn’t scheme through any of Christmas Carol – I read every damn word of it – but believe me, there were parts where I found myself slowly drifting off and thinking about something else.
In the end, I felt no different than when I did before I read it. A sense of accomplishment? Perhaps. Now I can at least say I’ve read it. I know the truth, although everything I knew before wasn’t much different. I want to question what makes this a classic, but I already know the answer.
So…I don’t have much more to say about it. God bless us everyone!