A Christmas Carol — Charles Dickens (Audible Edition: Narrated by Tim Curry)
Spoilers abound for anyone who hasn’t read/seen/heard of A Christmas Carol, but I think we’re safe.
If I were to venture a guess, I would say I have read or seen some adaptation of A Christmas Carol in over half of the Christmas seasons of my life. From “A Muppets Christmas Carol” through the Jim Carrey motion-capture version, from my initial reading of it in 9th grade English (and multiple times since then) to at least one stage play, it has been a near-constant in my life as I’m sure it has many others. That, and getting it free on Audible, is why I decided to listen to it read by Tim Curry this Christmas season. At 3.5 hours, it is a quick listen, and I had many thoughts and feelings about this wonderful work as I was already so familiar with the story.
I must have always read an abridged version of A Christmas Carol before this, and I can’t agree more with my friend T-Cope’s response to my declaration of that on Twitter:
I say that I must have read an abridged version because there were numerous passages in this reading of it that I know I would have remembered if I had read them before. And guess what — they were some of my favorite parts of the whole book! For instance, the opening “Marley was as dead as a doornail” soliloquy:
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail.
I, for one, had never seen or heard that expanded version before, and it has to be one of the wittiest passages in the story. This might be obvious, but that Charles Dickens really can write.
A second passage that I don’t remember ever reading before is Tiny Tim’s reasoning for going to church despite being crippled. This, as a Christian, made my heart jump.
He hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.
A Jesus reference! In an otherwise-secular novel that literally everyone knows. That was truly astounding to me, and I’ll be keeping that excerpt for years to come. I just love it.
Another theme that I noticed more than ever this time around: Scrooge’s capitalist ideology is thoroughly pilloried throughout the book. This ideology is embodied in Scrooge’s rhetorical questioning of the charity workers near the beginning of the story: “Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses… Are they still in operation?” He has this deep-seated feeling that the poor should be “laissez faire”-ed to a life of turmoil. He ascribes to this social Darwinian philosophy (though A Christmas Carol pre-dates even On the Origin of Species) that the poor are poor for a reason, and they should be allowed to die in order to “decrease the surplus population”. (These ideas are pervasive enough that they will surface again in Germany about 75 years later.) Also implicit in Scrooge’s worldview is that all taxpayers are freed from obligations to help the poor because of the existence of these less-than-ideal institutions. The chief concern of the spirits seems to be to give this worldview a fatal strike. The first two Spirits show him the plight of poor individuals that he knows, and they repeat his polemic: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” If the Ghost of Christmas Future had spoken at all, I’m sure it would have done the same. This seems to be the crux of the story, and it was an important academic discussion in Dickens’ time: How far should we take Adam Smith’s economic ideas?
I feel that this has enormous implications for our lives today. I am a conservative in most important ways, including economically, but we cannot use conservatism as a salve on our hardened hearts. When the Spirit (in this case not a Ghost of Christmas but the Holy Ghost himself) says “feed the poor”, we should not rest on our laurels and say “well, Adam Smith said no.” This is, of course, an exaggeration, but I feel that I and many others fall into this intellectual trap. A conservative without compassion is useless. The Puritan work ethic is important, but if we use that as an excuse to look down on the poor and say, “They don’t deserve my hard-earned money”, we miss out on another important Puritan doctrine: undeserved grace. If I am nothing apart from Christ, I should not act like I am better than anyone because Christ has saved me. We all can learn a lot from Tiny Tim.
I highly recommend reading or listening to an unabridged version of A Christmas Carol if you have not done so recently. It brought enlightenment to my Christmas season, and I will be considering its themes and exhortations for the year to come. You can buy the book almost anywhere, including in the link in the image above.
A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!