Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Revisiting a VL Classic, originally posted in December 2007

I am always startled by how short this book is. A cultural icon ought to be the size of Micheangelo’s David or at least, War and Peace. But this story that has been on stage and screen from cartoons (Mr. Magoo, The Muppets) to a modern setting (with Vanessa Williams as a female Scrooge) is less than 130 pages long. It has been published in many forms since 1843, including volumes illustrated by artists such as Arthur Rackham.

Everyone knows the story; a crabby, miserly man has a vision of 3 ghosts one night which scares him so badly that he becomes a generous person who even saves cute little handicapped kids. It’s so familiar, that people think they’ve read it, even when they really haven’t. If they had, they would remember Dickens’s facility of language, his descriptive passages and eye for detail that makes the story even richer on the page than screen. Passages such as describing Scrooge’s home, “They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with the other houses, and have forgotten the way out again.” A librarian told me that was an example of Dickens appealing to children, since the book works on so many levels: fable, ghost story, Victorian morality tale, social commentary, just to name a few.

The first time I read A Christmas Carol years ago, I was surprised at how much humor was sprinkled through it. The funny asides, amusing incidents and droll irony provide welcome relief to such a dark story.

Dickens is a master at metaphor, comparing Scrooge to weather “The cold within him froze his old features….A frosty rime was on his head…” indicating that not only is Scrooge an icy creature, but also a force of nature. The details are marvelous and one finds new ones with each reading. For instance, Marley’s ghost shackled by a chain full of cash-boxes, ledgers and heavy purses. Noting that Topper prefers “the plump sister” in the game of blind man’s bluff. Or the activities of the spirits when “the air was filled with phantoms” that Scrooge sees out his window.

It’s quite remarkable to think of the impact that this simple story has had over so long a time. Evidently, its message of hope and redemption has a timeless appeal, which I suppose is a heartening sign for humanity. We have some redeeming qualities, after all. God bless us, everyone!

Various publishers originally in 1843 aprox. 128 pp.

4 comments on “A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

  1. cherylmahoney
    December 15, 2010

    I know I really have read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, and yet I don’t remember that beautiful sentence about Scrooge’s house. Definitely time to dig out a copy and read it again…

  2. Nikki
    December 15, 2010

    I first read this last year, in a collection of Dickens’ Christmas stories. I’ve been intending to have a read again on Christmas Eve – the length means that I can do that quite comfortably. It’s been a staple of my Christmases for years though on TV and in the pop-up book version that I got every year for quite a while. I’ve only recently discovered Dickens and I’m so glad I did! I know he could go on a bit, but at this time of year, I like nothing more than his rich use of language.

  3. Darlyn
    December 15, 2010

    Wonderful review! I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never actually read A Christmas Carol. I hope to remedy that situation this week. 🙂

  4. Christine
    December 16, 2010

    My book club selected this for our December meeting, in part because it was short. I’d read it several times, but it has been years. Like Jackie, the writing caught be by surprise after such a long time, despite the many familiar–nearly cliche–lines. (“Are there no work houses?” “Then let them [die] and decrease the surplus population!”) Scrooge was memorable precisely because he was so horrible. And yet, his transformation (in my humble opinion) is believable not because he is scared into being good but because he remembers he once had the capacity for happiness and learns in his night out with the spirits, that he need not stay on the miserable path he has set for himself. Certainly that is a wonderful message for all of us.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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