Friday, November 28, 2014

Reread #48 A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens. 1843. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]

MARLEY WAS DEAD, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

 I have watched A Christmas Carol more times than I've read it, and I've read it two or three times at least. The story is oh-so-familiar; the phrasing is oh-so-familiar. It's a book that has an old-friend feel even if you haven't read it dozens of times. There are scenes and descriptions that just feel incredibly right and familiar. For example,
Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach. “Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!” He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.
“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?” “I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.” Scrooge, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug!”
“Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” “Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.” “Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!” “There are many things from which I might have derived good by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew, “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Other details, I've found, are less memorable perhaps.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?” “It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.” From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children, wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. “O Man! look here! Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost. They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. “Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more. “They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the City. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!” “Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge. “Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?” The bell struck Twelve.
I don't recall thinking much of the two children Ignorance and Want, of thinking about what message Dickens was sending. But when I was reading The Man Who Invented Christmas, Standiford stressed their significance. (Standiford called A Christmas Carol, "a bald-faced parable that underscores Dickens's enduring themes: the deleterious effects of ignorance and want.") Why had I not noticed them before? I can only suppose that I've been rushing through the text looking for what was familiar and beloved, not really considering the book as a whole.

I like A Christmas Carol. I don't love, love, love it. I have found it to be a Christ-less Christmas story. A book that doesn't really focus on the Savior--newborn babe or risen Savior--so much as it focuses on humanity improving and changing and saving themselves. The message to Scrooge isn't, you're a bad man; you need a Savior; consider your eternal soul. The message is whether that even Scrooge, as horrible as he was, can change; he can change the way he lives; he can become a good man, a great man. He can avoid after-life horrors by changing his behavior. That isn't a Christian message.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Seth 5:07 PM  

I'm reading it again right now, and we'll be talking about the book and several film adaptations on the December episode of our podcast, Take Me to Your Reader.

I can see what you mean about it being fairly Christ-less, and it's a bit surprising given how something like Dracula can be so unexpectedly Christian.

Still, it's got a positive message and plenty of good Christian role models, not the least of which is Tiny Tim.

Becky 6:51 PM  

Seth, good point about Dracula. Sometimes I'm surprised by the books I read. One book that you might enjoy reading is The Night Gardener. It's my favorite book of the year. And I found it to be "unexpectedly Christian" in its symbolism.

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