Favorite Quote: They…went into an obscure part of town, where Scrooge had never penetrated before, although he recognized its situation, and its bad repute.  The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; the people half-naked, drunken, slipshod, ugly.  Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offenses of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, and filth, and misery.

First, can we talk about that quote above?  Dickens was an absolute master of setting a scene, the master of stringing together perfectly chosen adjectives to make the reader truly see and feel a person or place.

I think that because this story is so well-known (almost to the point of cliché), that people don’t realize what a real gem it is and what a true genius Dickens was.  This story was a game changer in so many ways.  Not only did it popularize the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ and add the words ‘Scrooge’ and ‘Humbug’ to regular English vocabulary , but it represented a shift in how Christmas was viewed and celebrated.  Christmas went from being a solely religious holiday to one that included celebrations of family, feasting and generosity.  So, basically Dickens deserves some of the blame (or credit – depending on how you look at it) for the secularization of the holiday. Thanks, Obama!

Reading Dickens is an absolute privilege and a pleasure, and reading him aloud to Izzy was an experience I’ll always treasure.  You know an author is good when you know every single detail, character and plot point of a story backwards and forwards and yet it still enthralls you. Genius, I tell you!

This novella is perfect to read with a child because it’s a nice blend of literary challenge and fantastic story.  The story is so pervasive that most kids will already know the story (Hello, Muppet Christmas Carol!) and that helps them get through some of the more challenging Victorian phrasing.  The themes are universal and easy to understand and discuss.

For our discussion, we zeroed in on the themes of forgiveness, compassion, and choice.  We talked about how Scrooge *chose* his life of misery and loneliness because deep down he didn’t believe he deserved any better.  The story briefly alludes to the fact that Scrooge’s father banished him from the house at a young age.  A lot of movies try to flesh this out and assign motives to his father, but in my opinion it doesn’t really matter why he did it.  The end result is that Scrooge was rejected at an early age and carried that with him for the rest of his life.  We decided that among all the wronged people in the story, the main person who needed to be shown compassion and forgiveness in this story was actually Scrooge himself.  In the immortal words of RuPaul:

“If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”  

Finally, I think if you are going to share this with a child, you MUST do it with a beautifully illustrated version.  Because I’m a geek, I own several versions of this book. I let Izzy choose and she chose the one illustrated by P.J. Lynch.  His illustrations are absolute perfection.

I think the hardest ghost to ‘get’ is the Ghost of Christmas Past because it’s sort of a strange intangible old man/child with a bright light emanating from its head.  Most movie versions don’t seem to know what the hell to do with this and usually either cast a woman or an elderly man.  Surprisingly, I think the Jim Carrey version did pretty well (a sort of creepy androgynous candle thing).  The much lauded George C. Scott version is nearly ruined by the god-awful 80s style lady ghost.  More on that later.

Anyway, all of that is to say that I think Lynch nailed it!

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Of course, once you read the book you really should follow it up with a film version and, boy, are there plenty to choose from!  Of course, we’d already seen The Muppet Christmas Carol which Izzy and I both highly recommend.  Michael Caine plays Scrooge, Kermit is Bob Cratchit, and Grover plays Dickens!  There’s singing and, despite being a sanitized kid version, it’s fairly faithful to certain elements of the original story.  Plus it’s just lots of fun!

We’re also pretty familiar with the Jim Carrey version. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s also not as bad as some critics say.  It’s also a pretty surprisingly faithful adaptation.    I recommend it with some reservations – mainly that a few scenes could really scare the dickens (see what I did there?) out of some younger kids.  I think my main criticism is that this style of animation sometimes feels a bit hollow to me.  For example, I absolutely loathe the film version of Polar Express.  It’s dull, creepy and lifeless feeling. (Love the book though!)  However, I do feel the technology and artistry got a little better during the five years between these two films.

One of the most critically praised versions is the 1984 version staring George C. Scott.  It’s good, but I have to admit that I don’t love it.  Izzy and I were underwhelmed by the cheesy 80s special effects and, oy vey, that Ghost of Christmas Past! Seriously, look it up!  Even so, I could probably get past all that, but I just can’t get on board with Scott’s portrayal of Scrooge.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a remarkable actor, but I just don’t feel that he got it right here.  He’s grouchy but in an overly confident, blustery way that doesn’t fit. He’s also physically wrong for the part. Scott’s Scrooge is way too hearty and hale, way too neat and well-dressed.  Scrooge is supposed to be a thin, withered old man who has neglected his own comforts and personal appearance through his miserliness.   He is also way too resistant and combative with the ghosts.  In the story, after his first bout with Marley, he is fairly submissive and compliant with the rest of the ghosts.  However, the redemption scene at the end is very well played and very satisfying indeed!

I’m very interested to see the 1999 version staring Patrick Stewart (of Jean Luc Piccard fame).  It wasn’t the most critically acclaimed version and Stewart still isn’t exactly physically right for Scrooge (at least he’s more angular than Scott), but I do adore Stewart and generally feel he can do no wrong.  I’ve also read that it’s one of the few versions to include the scenes with the lighthouse, miners and sailors.

And, finally, I’ve still never seen the classic 1951 black and white version staring Alastair Sim.  It was officially titled Scrooge, but is also sometimes listed as A Christmas Carol which can make it difficult to locate.  I gather it plays it a little loose with the source material, but that the actor does a stellar job conveying Scrooge’s inner pain.

Title: A Christmas Carol: In Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas

Author: Charles Dickens, with illustrations by P.J. Lynch

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars