Friday, December 28, 2012

Book Review - Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Published by: Everyman's Library
Publication Date: 1843
Format: Hardcover, 180 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Ebenezer Scrooge is not a nice man. Miserly and miserable. On this Christmas Eve, the seventh anniversary of the death of his business partner, Jacob Marley, the fates will try to change this man forever. Upon arriving home he is visited by the ghost of Marley who tells Ebenezer that tonight he will be visited by three spirits who will try to change his fate. If he doesn't head their warnings he will be forced to carrying the chains of his own making when he leaves this earthly coil. The ghosts will show him the past, present, and future, and they hope that what they have to show will bring joy and love into Ebenezer's heart... or he too will be cursed as Marley's ghost is.

One of my earliest holiday memories is watching Mickey's Christmas Carol, which had a surprising lack of Mickey, being relegated to the role of Bob Cratchit. But then again, it was only right that it stared Uncle Scrooge... who, while created in the fifties, was in fact based on the Victorian penny pincher. Because of this early exposure, not only was the story ingrained on my very being at a young age, but all other versions tend to be judged by this one, even the source material has to be placed side by side with this magical memory. In my lifetime alone their have been eight feature film adaptations, from Muppets to Murray, to scary Jim Carrey performance capture of 3-D horrors, and twelve adaptations for television, including the Patrick Stewart version which I felt was so flat that it should be excised from the cannon. This doesn't even take into account parodies, which category I technically think Scrooged should really be put in... but you get the picture. A plethora of versions exist and each one has been set up as some kind of "special event." None of them seemed that special to me, but were used as an excuse for family time each time.

I remember going to see The Muppet Christmas Carol in the theaters for New Years in 1992. Now I'm the biggest Muppet fan there is, yet still, it was missing something. Now that I have read the book I think the flaws are in the book, not in the adaptations. Mickey's Christmas Carol is beyond censure because of the glow of youthful memories. I'm sure if I were to watch it now it would make me cringe... but that's how our memories work. Somehow shows like Gummy Bears and She-Ra remain wonderful in our memories, but have you ever tried to re-watch them? I actually did with both these shows... the experiment was painful and shall never be repeated, I'd rather have my memories intact regardless of the truth of the situation. Scrooged is also exempt because it takes the material and goes beyond. It becomes this weird, violent, satirical, horrifying, yet oddly touching movie that you can't look away from. Only by going beyond or mocking the source material has any modern adaptation worked and this is all because of the flaws in the book.

One of my friends chided me saying "Bah! Hum-wha? I thought it was mandatory to love this book?" Maybe that's why I dislike it, because by some mysterious alchemy that I can not conceive of, this book has achieved this hallowed place in literature and the holiday season. Now if I was in a theater listening to Dickens read it to me, well, I might see the appeal. But as it lies there on the page, it was just flat and lifeless. Scrooge, as he is written, is a bit of a milquetoast. He is not as bitter and vitriolic as he has been portrayed over the years. What really got me was that his "goodness" seemed to be buried very shallowly. All it took was the the Ghost of Christmas Present to show him a party with games and Scrooge is all, "can we stay and play games, this is fun." Excuse me!?! You're this bad ass evil man, your name is synonymous with any miserly person, it is in the dictionary for Pete's sake, and just one game and you're ready to throw off your evil ways and help everyone? Sheesh. I expected better of this book, but in the end, I was not swayed... it's lucky those ghosts weren't trying to do a number on me!


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