Another Christmas is about to join the Ghosts of Christmas Past–although, until December 26th, it is still the Ghost of Christmas Present. And as always, I want to talk about my favorite Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
Charles Dickens was a master when it came to creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s have a look at the first lines of this tale:
“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”
In that first paragraph, Dickens tosses out the bait, sinking the hook, and landing the fish (the reader) by foreshadowing the first plot point of the story–the visitation by Marley’s ghost. We want to know why Marley’s definite state of decay was so important that the conversation between you the reader, and Dickens the author, was launched with that topic.
At this point we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, as yet, is named only as ‘the clerk’ in the original manuscript, but whom we will later know to be Bob Cratchit, and we’ve met Scrooge’s nephew, Fred.
These subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these two separate mini-stories–he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy in the midst of grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears a responsibility. We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well off in his own right, but craves a relationship with his uncle with no thought or care of what he might gain from it financially.
All the characters are in place. We’ve seen the city, cold and dark, with danger lurking in the shadows. We’ve observed the way Scrooge interacts with everyone around him, strangers and acquaintances alike. Now we come to the first plot point in Dickens’ story arc–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story begins to take off.
I love tales of redemption–and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens remains one of the most beloved tales of redemption in the Western canon. Written in 1843 as a serialized novella, A Christmas Carol continues to inspire adaptations, in both movies and books.
In this tale, Dickens asks you to recognize the plight of those whom the Industrial Revolution has displaced and driven into poverty, and the obligation of society to provide for them humanely. This is a concept our society continues to struggle with, and perhaps will for a long time to come.
It is that deep, underlying call for compassion that resonates down through the centuries, a call that is, unfortunately, timeless.