Reread and Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Christmas has plenty of classic Christmas stories, but A Christmas Carol is perhaps one of the most well-known, and oldest. Due to the fact that it’s in the public domain, the basic plot has been adapted numerous times over the years, and most people are probably more familiar with an adaptation than the actual source material.

That includes myself. Before I set out and reread the novella for this month, I had only read it once before as part of a school assignment. Yet, there are several adaptations I’m quite fond of and will always re-watch this time of year such as Mickey’s Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, and the Doctor  Who episode “A Christmas Carol“.

Normally if there’s an adaptation of a work, like in the case of Coraline, I try to review just the book and not the adaptation. Unfortunately, I can’t take such a stance with A Christmas Carol because I’m far more familiar with the adaptations, having seen them way before I actually read the original material. That’s why for this review, I will take adaptations into consideration.

For those who don’t know, A Christmas Carol is about Ebenezer Scrooge, who despite being very wealthy, is quite frugal and a bit of a miser. On Christmas Eve he’s visited by four ghosts who eventually convince him to become more kind-hearted. It was published in 1843 by Charles Dickens, and greatly influenced how Christmas came to be celebrated as we know it today. If you want to read the whole thing, you can do here.

The Good

First, the good. Because it is a novella rather than a novel, A Christmas Carol is short. So short I was surprised that I finished it in under an hour, and actually had to confirm the original text was actually that short. I’ve tried reading other works by Charles Dickens before, but given their length and dense writing style, never enjoyed or really understood them. Such was not the case with A Christmas Carol.

There are also many well-written lines throughout it as well that will continue to stick with me for years to come, and I don’t just mean Tiny Tim’s classic line, “God bless Us, Every One!” There’s a line towards the beginning, “There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” I don’t know what it is about that line, but it’s so simple, and sets the tone so well for the rest of the story. Then there’s Scrooge’s line when he encounters Marley’s ghost, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” That’s then followed up by his simple line, “I think I’d rather not,” when Jacob Marley proceeds to warn him about the three ghosts he’ll be visited by. For being such a short and simple tale, it really does have a lot of good quotable lines.

The Not So Good

It’s quick, which also works against it. Compared to modern adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and just modern stories in general, I felt like the story moved too quickly. The pace was so fast, Scrooge acts almost OOC at certain parts. In the beginning he’s the classic curmudgeon, but once the plot gets going he becomes soft and sentimental rather quickly. He doesn’t stick to that curmudgeon shtick as long as he probably should have. Granted he’s supposed to have a change of heart in just a few hours, but it seems like he barely made it into the first hour before starting to show signs of change. I’m all for redemption arcs, but it needs to be believable. A character as old and set in his ways as Scrooge shouldn’t change that easily.

Usually the saying is, ‘the book was better’ but in this case I have to disagree. I didn’t realize, and most people probably don’t, but the image of Scrooge showing up to Bob Cratchit’s on Christmas Day with a Christmas feast and sack full of toys ending with Tiny Tim saying his line, isn’t in the actual book. Scrooge does have a turkey, but he goes straight to work the next day, and tells Bob about his raise there. Then there’s a long paragraph stating all the good he goes on to do, how beloved he becomes, and then it ends with Tiny Tim’s final line. I prefer the other version that’s usually done in adaptations where the story ends at the Cratchit’s. That ending doesn’t leave me with the impression that Scrooge spent the rest of Christmas day at home twiddling his thumbs until the next day when he could go to the office, and is a more satsifying end to Scrooge’s arc.

There’s also a bit with lighthouse keepers and miners, and the Ghost of Christmas Present revealing that Want and Ignorance are children hanging onto his legs underneath his robes. It’s so random, that I see why adaptations do not include it. Yes the story is about encouraging charity and good will towards man, but you don’t have to whack the audience over the head with the message. If a work is too preachy, I personally feel like the message gets diluted and loses it’s emphasis.

Does it Hold Up?

Yes, and no. The question is less does it hold up to the first time I read it, and more, does it hold up against the beloved adaptations. It does hold up to the first reading, but less so against adaptations which do a better job regarding plot, structure, Scrooge slowly changing, and getting rid of the random bits. If your’re curious as to the original text, then by all means check it out. If you just want the core message and warm fuzzy feeling it leaves you with, then check out an adaptation instead.

That’s all for this year! Happy holidays and see you next year when I review a historical fiction book that was one of my favorites when I was younger.

—Kay S. Beckett

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