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Transformation and Reclamation December 8, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Magick & Mystery, Mindfulness, Writing & Writers.
Cover of
Cover of A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is the only book I’ve read more times than you can count (if you don’t count The Grinch or Green Eggs and Ham).

It’s also the movie I’ve watched and re-watched more than any other film, in many enchanting incarnations, starring George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, Mr. Magoo, Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Reginald Owens, Henry Winkler, Jim Carrey, Sir Seymour Hicks, and, even, Bill Murray.

Notably absent from my list . . . The Muppets’ Christmas Carol.  

A serious omission, indeed. 

* * * * * 

A Christmas Carol starts “slowly” with a dead partner, seven years in the grave, and a sour Scrooge in his counting house.

As Scrooge plays with piles of money and columns of figures, we meet Bob Cratchit (Scrooge’s long-suffering “clark”), Fred (Scrooge’s kind-hearted nephew), and various and assorted minor characters as they interact with the hard-hearted Scrooge.  

The real action doesn’t begin until the Ghost of Christmas Past arrives on stage.  Until that point, there is “more of gravy than of grave” for readers to chew upon and digest as Dickens whets our appetites.  

As he sets the stage for this engaging Christmas Feast, Dickens gives audience members a taste of the bitterness which consumes Scrooge in his interactions with the world.  Once we’ve had our fill of Scrooge, Dickens begins introducing us to ghostly spectres:

* A door-knocker morphs into Scrooge’s “dead as a door-nail” partner, Marley.
* Marley’s ghost appears amid the clanging of the chains he forged in life.
* Scrooge greets Marley’s ghost with a “Bah” and a “Humbug!”

By the time Marley offers Scrooge a chance to avoid a fate worse than death, readers are ready for the main act (and action) to begin . . .

This setting of the stage is necessary if we are to understand the full force and effect of Scrooge’s miraculous transformation ~ the audience must know who Scrooge was before they can comprehend the extent of the transformation wrought by his spectral visitors. 

If Dickens had rushed to serve the main course, by commencing with the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the book would be a “classic fail” (not a classic tale) because audience members would have no frame of reference within which to evaluate Scrooge’s heart-felt pronouncement at the end of the last visitation: 

Spirit!  Hear me!  I am not the man I was.  I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.  

Why show me this, if I am past all hope?

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will not shut out the lessons they teach. 

I never tire of Dickens’s wonderful Christmas Carol.  I don’t need to re-watch or re-read it to figure out how the trio of ghostly spectres will bring about the intended transformation . . . I already know that (and have most, if not all, the dialogue memorized).

Instead, it’s the masterful telling of the tale that keeps audience members like me coming back for second, third, and fourth helpings: 

As Dickens shares Scrooge’s story, he evokes emotions in the audience that are “more than usually desirable . . . at this festive season of the year.”

Related posts:  100 Books * 10 Holiday Classics * The Clean Book(Plate) Club *  A Sunset Dinner Cruise * Austen & Dickens Had It Easy


1. theonlycin - December 8, 2010

Really good review Nancy, you evidently know the film very well 😉

nrhatch - December 8, 2010

Thanks, Cin. I watch a few different versions each year, so I really do have most of the dialogue memorized (if it stays true to the book).

This year, I decided to track down and watch EVERY copy I could get my hands on:

Two weeks ago, we watched the new animated version with Jim Carrey ~ just released on DVD. Technically amazing, but not as heart-warming as George C. Scott or Alistair Sims. Last night, we watched the oldest version (Sir Seymour Hicks) ~ 1935. Too short. Left too many of my favorite scenes and dialogue out.

Last week, we watched Reginald Owens (1938) and Alistair Sim (1951). Both quite palatable. Tonight, it’s Patrick Stewart. And in a couple days, Scrooged starring Bill Murray.

My two faves have always been George C. Scott and Alistair Sims. They still top the list. The Albert Finney version is a musical adaptation which is also quite lovely. We’ll watch it next week along with George C. Scott’s version.

2. Partha - December 8, 2010

I agree, this is one book one can read and read again, and again. Although at one level a simple fairy tale, you can read this work at a number of levels, which is what (most) great literature is all about.

nrhatch - December 8, 2010

Great point, Partha.

3. mrtaurus - December 8, 2010

I saw the 1951 version this week at London museum. I’m a Clinical psychologist and it interested me too from a past present future change perspective. I think the ghosts acted in the past as almost PTSD re-programmers and uncovered almost repressed memories.. and present as re-framing and reinforcement… and future was silent- which was the most interesting… I will do a post 🙂

nrhatch - December 8, 2010

Interesting perspective. If not repressed memories, certainly long-forgotten ones. 😉

What we focus on grows, while everything else fades away. Scrooge habitually focused on the perceived negatives in people while studiously ignoring any redeeming features.

His compassion shrunk more and more each year.

His spectral visitors helped him to shift his perspective a bit ~ to become a bit more mindful and aware of the kindness and compassion in others and himself. 🙂

I’ll be interested to read your post. Thanks for commenting.

4. mrtaurus - December 8, 2010

I just whipped something up: http://wp.me/pUZTD-ig

nrhatch - December 8, 2010

Interesting post. As you note, “The Ghosts that Scrooge was visited by could be described by the famous Prochaska’s Stages of Change, something many people spend months in therapy to go through.”

Maybe Spirit just speeds up the process:

“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.”

Happy Holidays.

Here’s to change and transformation!

5. kateshrewsday - December 8, 2010

I have always love this tight-fisted hand-to-the-grindstone, Nancy. Walking round London brings it all close to hand, too. Lovely post 🙂

nrhatch - December 8, 2010

My favorite part of each version is watching Scrooge on Christmas morning as his own Spirit embraces the present moment and revels in the joy we can only find in the “eternal now.”

6. Booksphotographsandartwork - December 8, 2010

George C. Scott thats who it is! Love that one.

nrhatch - December 8, 2010

We just finished watching the Patrick Stewart version and didn’t care for it. They changed the dialogue from Dickens’ words to “dumb it down” and it lost something in the translation from Elizabethan English to present day.

So my favorites remain (1) George C. Scott, (2) Alistair Sim, and (3) Albert Finney.

But I still need to see the Muppets version if I can get my hands on it.

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