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Dickens: A Christmas Carol The_Muted_Grimaud Send a noteboard - 07/11/2015 09:49:02 PM

I was at a flea market over the summer, fingering through some old man's old books on a table, when a handsome volume of A Christmas Carol and other stories caught my eye. Of course, The Muppets Christmas Carol was one of my favorite Christmas movies growing up, so I was immediately curious upon seeing this book. Did the author, named "Charles Dickens", adore the muppets as much as I did?

Turns out, it contains three stories: the aforementioned A Christmas Carol, along with The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth. I'll keep this review focused on A Christmas Carol, (mainly because I haven't read the other two as of yet), and hopefully with this review goad you all into reading it as well!

But why read a book rehashing a story we've all been subjected to numerous times via TV, Movies, Radio, Theatre, Opera, and even Graphic Novels? It's a story we know so well that it's main character has become an entry in the dictionary that's defined as "any miserly person." As some one famous once said, "Bah, Humbug!"

I'll tell you why — it's the best! It's the best version, yet, of this classic tale! Now, I'll save you all a long recanting of the story, you know it already.

- The story is set in Victoria, Texas, somewhere in London.
- Scrooge is the biggest tightwad since Marie Antoinette.
- No. He's bigger, she at least let the peasants eat cake!
- On Christmas Eve, he's visited by the ghost of his seven years dead partners, Robert and Jacob Marley.
- The Marleys show themselves as an example of Scrooge's ghostly future, but offer redemption.
- He's visited by three ghosts and shown Christmas Day in the past, present, and future.
- He sees just what a massive, unmerciful, unmeritous, miserable, miserly, monstrously, mammothly motivated miser and malcontent he most certainly is in life.
- ... and vows to change his ways.
- And the end of the book is really happy, as he follows in the footsteps of Carnegie and Rockefeller and starts giving away all his wealth.

So, what sets this version apart from any other? It's more realistic! There's no puppets, there's no song and dance all over the streets of London, no animation, and the narrator is not literally inserted into the story, like Gonzo and the rat were. If you were to be visited by three ghosts on a cold Christmas Eve, this is kind of how it would go down.

Let's highlight a few of the positives.

A. The Narrator.

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.

~Beginning with the paragraph after the first paragraph, the second paragraph. From Stave One (Chapter 1), Marley's Ghost

I love this guy! He tells the entire story, from its happiest moments, to its darkest moments, with a humour and language that is a pleasure to read. He steps out of the book to make asides which have the effect of grabbing our imagination and pulling us into the story and the times. In its ninety page length, the description and narration provided never lose their tone or interest.

"Ha! ha!" laughed Scrooge's nephew. "Ha, ha, ha!"

If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blest in la laugh than Scrooge's nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him, too. Introduce him to me, and I'll cultivate his acquaintance.


"He said that Christmas was a humbug, as I live!" cried Scrooge's nephew. "He believed it, too!"

"More shame for him, Fred!" said Scrooge's niece, indignantly. Bless those women! they never do anything by halves. They are always in earnest.

~From the 3rd Stave, The Second of the Three Spirits

With this level of storytelling, the book is a breeze to read. I did the deed in three hours, mostly while riding the New York City subway. A competent reader could handle this book in one sitting.

B. Balance

What do I mean by balance? Well, the story is split into five parts. You have the intro and Marley's ghost, the past ghost, the present ghost, and the future ghost, and you have the happy ending. Now the Muppet's version, as well as the black and white version staring Alastair Sim, tend to favour one of the first two ghosts, while leaving the poor Death Look-a-Like contest winner Mr. Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come in the corner, to point at Scrooge's grave at the appropriate time.

This slant is done to build out Ebenezer Scrooge's character. But is that really necessary? Mr. Dickens appears to have realized that this story isn't a biography. Instead, it's a story of how the most titanic tight fist in literary history achieved his redemption. Mr. Dickens largely dispenses with his backstory, just leaving us with a vague outline, via the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Instead we focus on what he has lost and lost sight of (Ghost of Christmas Past); the ramifications of his actions in the present (Ghost of Christmas Present), and his future and just how incredibly isolated he will make himself by the time he dies. In truth, it's the 'Yet To Come' that plays just as much a role in his redemption as the past and the present, and Mr. Dickens gives each ghost about equal play in his version.

C. The Ghosts

They are so well described. I'm not sure there's a video recording yet that's captured them quite as well as these words do. Though, I have to question why Mr. Dickens chose to drop Robert Marley, we still have Jacob Marley as the first ghost, and our three prophetic ghosts that make up the gauntlet which Scrooge must go through. Since I've already commended the narration earlier in this review, I won't belabor the point.

What really sets this version apart from others is how the ghosts go about breaking and reshaping Scrooge's soul. It's not good enough to show him his past, but he must also see what could've been his past, which Christmas Past does by showing him the daughter and husband of his former lover Belle, which leads to one of the first truly poignant moments for Scrooge.

And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever, when the master of the house, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him Father, and been a springtime in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew very dim indeed.

~From Stave 2

Nor for the Ghost of Yet-To-Come is it enough to show Scrooge that his death has caused not one drop of heartache or sympathy; that his death had all the fanfare of a passing cloud in a blue sky. But he sees that the shade provided by that cloud, his death, was a pleasantry and source of gladness for the people. From the business man who proclaims he will only go to the funeral if a free luncheon is provided, to his housemaids who ransack his belongings to pawn for their own personal gain, to the deep-in-debtors who see his death as a blessing, that they may look forward to a more merciful creditor.

Most shocking to the reader is the Ghost of Christmas Present, who's geniality turns on Scrooge with the same vigor with which he spreads Christmas cheer. Upon learning that Tiny Tim will die if the future remains unaltered ...

"No, no," said Scrooge. "Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared."

"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. ..."

~From Stave 3

D. In Conclusion

There's not too much more to say about this story that the Muppets made famous. Here, Mr. Dickens takes that tale, and elevates it to a level of all-time classic. I truly do implore you to read it, it seems to be widely available, with free copies online even. Apparently Mr. Dickens has given up his copyright so as to allow this novella to be more widely dispensed.

I did take the time to do some research on Mr. Dickens, but I must say, he keeps his social media profile quite low key. In fact, I couldn't find anything on the author of this story, but on another writer with the same name who lived in England in the 19th century. Who would want to read old boring books like that? Writing's come along way since that error ... err, era.

Well, with writing like this, Mr. Dickens will surely enjoy a great future, and maybe even add his name to the great canon of English writers, like Nora Roberts and Dan Brown. Until the next review!

This message last edited by The_Muted_Grimaud on 07/11/2015 at 09:58:30 PM
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Dickens: A Christmas Carol - 07/11/2015 09:49:02 PM 1454 Views
That was one of the more entertaining reviews I've read recently. - 08/11/2015 07:33:17 PM 672 Views
Thank you! - 10/11/2015 04:24:14 AM 926 Views

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