What I’m reading: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

You know the story: An avaricious accountant is transformed from a creature of bitterness and despair to a fellow of happiness and generosity after the Christmas Eve visits of the ghost of his former business partner and the spirits of Christmas past, present and yet to come.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

The list of movies, TV shows, plays and other media forms engendered by Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol seems endless. For most of us, those films and TV shows are how we know the story.

To kick off the holiday season, however, I returned to the source, the 70-some pages of the beloved Christmas classic. I should say, in the spirit of full disclosure, that I am charmed by Mr. Dickens and his fiction. Yes, I hear the groans now, and I sympathize. For no matter how much I cherish the Victorian author’s work, I, like many, do wish he hadn’t been paid by the word, for the guy does go on.

Still, the opening of A Christmas Carol instantly reminded me of the author’s gift, as in a few lines he can move from darkness to light, outrage to compassion, gloom to humor. Consider the miser’s blast when his nephew wishes him the greetings of the season: “If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Now there is a finely wrought sentiment; a nasty Christmas wish with all the proper holiday accoutrements.

The author deserves our deepest respect for his gift to us, a coal of social criticism wrapped in an allegory of redemption. However, if the idea of reading the story rates only a “bah, humbug” from you — although you can find it free online, if you do wish to read it — I suggest you pay homage to Dickens and his celebration of Christmas by watching an adaptation of his work.

One of my coworkers is a fan of The Muppet Christmas Carol. And the 1970 Scrooge, a musical take of the tale that stars Albert Finney, who sings the amusing song “I Hate People,” ranks high on my holiday viewing list.

To truly honor Dickens’ story, however, the version to watch is the stark, 1951 A Christmas Carol, which stars Alastair Sim. He is the definitive Ebenezer Scrooge, and this movie is the closest adaptation of the written tale available.

So amid the parties and dinners and gift-giving and church services, take time to feast on a holiday cultural touchstone. And whether you read A Christmas Carol or watch or listen to one of its many adaptions, take a hint from the redeemed Scrooge: “It was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”

Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.