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 Michaelangelo’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 scare him so badly that he becomes a generous person who even saves cute little handicapped kids. It’s so familiar,  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 his description of 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 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.

5 comments on “A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

  1. Christine Harding
    December 17, 2012

    Lovely review. I’m sure you are right and it is so well loved because Scrooge sees the error of his ways, and becomes good, and kindly, and a great benefactor. But I love the way Dickens uses words, right from the beginning, when he says Marley was dead as a door nail, then embarks on a discussion as to whether door nails are deader than any other piece of ironmongery. Wonderful stuff! Now I’ve had to pull all the books off the shelves hunting for my copy of Dickens’ Christmas Books, because I absolutely have to read it again…

  2. sshaver
    December 18, 2012

    As a writer, of course I adore Dickens, and I’m always struck in Christmas Carol by how knowing this pre-Freudian tale is: Dickens is quite clear on how the past has us in its frozen hold, and how re-seeing and re-feeling may free us a bit from its grip.

  3. Jackie
    December 19, 2012

    That’s a really insightful comment about the pre-Freudian aspects of the story. I sometimes forget how new many ideas are that are commonplace now.

  4. literatelibran
    December 22, 2012

    It is frightfully funny, isn’t it?

  5. Pingback: The Queen Is Not Amused « The Broke Bookworm

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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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