For our first ever ‘Books I’ve read’ we’re going to look at something relatively light and fitting for the season – ‘A Christmas Carol’. We’ve all grown up with this story. However, for all the cartoon, film and Muppets adaptations, I’ve never actually read it, as Dickens wrote it. Until now. And I heartily suggest you do the same.
This little book is pure delight. I’m relatively new to Dickens, having only read ‘Great Expectations’ before, earlier this year (and loved it), but already can see in him a master of his craft, able to write beautifully both in larger, preponderous works and in this smaller, lighter fiction. I sometimes feel that some of these classic authors write profound and weighty tomes without the skill to actually maintain control over their prose, ending up with sprawling, absolutely painful tomes that might benefit the human race if anyone could actually get through them (I’m looking at you, Hugo). But Dickens, he could tell a story, and across a range of forms. It’s well worth visiting Dickens’ original even though you more or less know the story for his prose alone. He paints a scene or character with incredible vividness and colour, and yet in doing so never feels forced or overwrought as so many writers do such as his depiction of a cold, dark, foggy London Christmas Eve, the coldly haunting manifestation of Marley’s ghost or this description of Ebenezer Scrooge:
Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out a generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.
Apart from the prose, there’s nothing like a good ghost story, and this one’s a classic. When the Ghost of Christmas Past forces Scrooge to look on the path he chose in youth I found myself uneasy at the thought of what I might find if my childhood was presented to me. Would I weep as well? The Ghost of Christmas yet to come perfectly embodies the shadowy and unknowable fear in which the future is shrouded for us. As a kid I always thought he was the coolest, but now I was most moved by the Ghost of Christmas Present. For in this episode is Dickens’ most direct indictment of his fellow-man and society, whose children are Ignorance and Want, so easily turning a blind eye to the needs of those around them. As a piece of satire Scrooge seems extreme beyond reality (sadly not actually true), and Dickens’ society seems far removed from our own in some respects. But in all our consumerist materialism and waste in the name of lifestyle, in the condemnation of the poor and destitute as ‘surplus population’ not worthy of help by so many living in comfort,the ghost’s criticism still rings true.
Nevertheless Dickens doesn’t bring this little story into the angry attacks of some of his other novels. It combats greed and avarice with a lovely celebration of and invitation into charity, kindness and goodness. The Ghost’s criticism is powerfully conveyed by the touching stories of love and friendship he shows to Scrooge. We are invited to not only see Christmas as a time for love and fellowship, generosity and compassion, but to make every day Christmas Day. As Dickens says in the introductory note of his book: ‘I have endeavoured in this ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea…May it haunt their house pleasantly…’
And it is, Dickens. It is.