Charles Dickens,
A Christmas Carol
(1843; Signet Classic, 1984)

The story is well-known; a miser is visited by the ghost of his business partner and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future, learns his lesson, and becomes a happy and generous person by the end, saving a sick child from death and making the world a better place. A Christmas Carol has been filmed countless times, starring such diverse personalities as Bill Murray, Unca Scrooge McDuck, Henry Winkler, Patrick Stewart, George C. Scott, Albert Finney and, most recently, Vanessa Williams, in a variety of adaptations. The tale is also a favorite stage production, performed around the world during the holiday season. So why, might you ask, should anyone read the original when almost everyone knows the story?

The answer is simple: Charles Dickens is a master wordsmith, and the language of A Christmas Carol is lushly figurative and deeply descriptive. Every film and play version can stick as closely to the dialogue as possible, but his descriptions of Scrooge's personality and inner thoughts cannot be shown, only experienced though the medium of words on the page. His vivid descriptions of Marley and the three Spirits are brilliant, and can only be approximated on screen. For example, part of his description of The Ghost of Christmas Past would stump even the most determined computer animation artists.

"For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness; being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body; of which dissolving parts no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And, in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again, distinct and clear as ever."

Usually the Ghost of Christmas Past is portrayed as an ethereal child figure, androgynous and bathed in light and white chiffon. Dickens' description is a far cry from what is usually pictured.

In any case the language, both because of and despite its complexity, make A Christmas Carol an enjoyable and riveting read. Try reading it out loud with a group of friends, and be surprised at how well this book transforms a company of disparate individuals into a breathless audience. Enjoy!

[ by Beth Derochea ]

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