In general I’m not a big reader of fiction. I prefer comedy, autobiography and arty coffee-table books about art, architecture and design – i.e. lots of glossy photography. However, at this time of year there is one short novel that I really do enjoy reading – A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
My father read it to me when I was a young child, his was an illustrated version and it made an impression on me. Hence, A Christmas Carol is something that I have long associated with the season, be it in print or the various film versions. Arguably one of the best adaptions, which remained the most true to the original work, is the 1951 film starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. This is considered by a critic on the New York Times to be the best screen adaption ever made; however, as a young teenager my Christmas just wasn’t complete without either The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, or Scrooged – with a modern-day Ebenezer played by Bill Murray as a morally bankrupt television executive. Wikipedia references more than forty film and television adaptions of Dickens’ novella since 1901, a testament to the continued significance of the tale through many generations.
Last week I saw one such American ‘made for TV’ adaptions which featured a black African-American woman in the role of Scooge. It could have worked were it not for the fact she was an actress in her forties playing a character in her sixties using no more than a hammy ‘little-old-lady’ voice and a cheap grey wig. The peculiar casting was made stranger by the choice of the production stylist to put the leading-lady in mid-nineteenth-century clothing. Oh, sorry, did I forget to mention that this film was set in early-90s urban America? The miserly movie butchered the story, embarrassingly so, Dickens would have been insulted – but most likely not surprised.
When A Christmas Carol was published on the 19th December 1843 it was widely acclaimed by critics and warmly received by the public – to this day it has remained in continuous print. However, because of a disagreement with the publisher of his previous book Dickens decided to self-publish A Christmas Carol at his own expense and, in part due to some expensive mishaps during printing, he was disheartened by the profits he accrued on the book’s sales. Dickens later sued a publishing house for copyright infringement of the book. He won the case but the publishing company went bankrupt, meaning his small profit was largely swallowed up by the costs of his court action.
Last week I felt a need for some festive reading material; within seconds a copy of A Christmas Carol was sent through the air to my iPad from a distant computer server, a magic that Dickens could never have imagined. I have just read the final page of the warming tale of Ebenezer Scrooge exactly 169 years to the day since the first edition was published. The closing paragraph leaves me with a positive feeling for the Christmas ahead of me, ‘…it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that truly be said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!’
Merry Christmas everyone!