Tag Archives: foreshadowing

#FineArtFriday: A Christmas Carol, revisited

Today’s images are two illustrations by John Leech from the first edition of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens,  published in book form in 1843.  The body of this post first appeared here on Dec, 23, 2015. This is the first time I have included the original art of John Leech, which Dickens himself chose to include in the book.

From Wikipedia: John Leech (29 August 1817 – 29 October 1864 in London) was a British caricaturist and illustrator.[1] He is best known for his work for Punch, a humorous magazine for a broad middle-class audience, combining verbal and graphic political satire with light social comedy. Leech catered to contemporary prejudices, such as anti-Americanism and antisemitism and supported acceptable social reforms. Leech’s critical yet humorous cartoons on the Crimean War help shape public attitudes toward heroism, warfare, and Britons’ role in the world.[2][3]

Four of John Leech’s etchings were included in the first edition of A Christmas Carol.


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.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker, where Scrooge sees the face of his late business partner superimposed over the knocker.

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.

This is a short tale, but it is a deeply moving allegory of the Christian concept of redemption that remains pertinent in modern society.

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.


Credits and Attributions:

The Art of Foreshadowing: Charles Dickens, first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, on Dec. 23, 2015.

Wikipedia contributors, “John Leech (caricaturist),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=John_Leech_(caricaturist)&oldid=871947694 (accessed December 21, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Christmascarol1843 — 040.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Christmascarol1843_–_040.jpg&oldid=329166198 (accessed December 21, 2018)

A colourised edit of an engraving of Charles Dickens’ “Ghost of Christmas Present” character, by John Leech in 1843. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Ghost of Christmas Present John Leech 1843.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ghost_of_Christmas_Present_John_Leech_1843.jpg&oldid=329172654 (accessed December 21, 2018).

 

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Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens #MerryChristmas

Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” was first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, Dec. 15, 2014 under the title, A Christmas Carol–what I’ve learned from Charles Dickens. Because I adore the works of Charles Dickens, and especially love A Christmas Carol, I reprint this article every year during the week before Christmas. It has become my little Christmas card to you and to the world.


Charles Dickens was a master at creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s take the first line of my favorite Christmas story of all time, A Christmas Carol. I love each and every version of it, will watch any movie version I can get my hands on:

“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.”

I hear a great deal of argument about how modern 21st century genre-fiction is nothing but sixty-second soundbites and bursts of action jammed together in dumbed-down prose.  I hate to say this, but that has been true of popular fiction for centuries–and if you look at this tale, you will see what I mean. The popular prose, at the time it was written, was more descriptive and leisurely than we enjoy nowadays, but even so, the popular tales leaped straight to the action.

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.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker:

“Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face. 

“Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

“As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.”

You must admit, it’s a huge thing for a man of as limited an imagination as Scrooge was known to have, to suddenly see his dead friend staring back at him.

This is also the second foreshadowing of the events that will follow and makes the reader want to know what will happen next.

At this point, we’ve followed Scrooge through several scenes introducing the subplots. We have met the man who, at this point, 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 two subplots are critical, as our man Scrooge’s redemption revolves around the ultimate resolution of these disparate mini-stories—he must witness the joy and love in Cratchit’s family, who are suffering but happy despite the grinding poverty for which Scrooge bears responsibility.

We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well enough 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–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends, and the story takes off.

Dickens raises the tension. The bells begin ringing for no apparent reason and “The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

Scrooge, of course, is dismayed and tries to deny the strange happenings. He desperately clings to his view of reality.

“It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge.  “I won’t believe it.”

However, he can’t deny this phenomenon forever and refusing to recognize it won’t make it go away.

“Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

“How now!” said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

This is the turning point, the place where Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with a situation in which he will either succeed or fail and what will happen to him, the reader can’t guess. A deep sense of mystery now surrounds this miserly old man–what could possibly be so important about him that a man he cared so little for in life would go to such trouble as to return from the grave to save him?

In 1843 Charles Dickens showed us how to write a compelling tale that would last for generations. We start with the hook, use foreshadowing, introduce the subplots that ultimately support the structure of the tale, and arrive at the first plot point–these are the things that make up the first quarter of this timeless tale. Get these properly in line, and your story will intrigue the reader, involving them to the point they don’t want to set the book down.


Credits and Attributions:

Passages quoted from  A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, by Charles Dickens, With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. PD|100

Marley’s Ghost, and Scrooge’s third visitor. These images are two of four hand-coloured etchings included in the first edition. There were also four black and white engravings. Date1843. PD|100. John Leech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Merry Christmas to you and to your loved ones from me, and my favorite author, Charles Dickens!

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#MerryChristmas: Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol”

achristmascarol1999coverCharles Dickens was a master at creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s take the first line of my favorite Christmas story of all time,  A Christmas Carol. I love each and every version of it, will watch any movie version I can get my hands on:

“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.”

I hear a great deal of argument about how modern 21st century genre-fiction is nothing but sixty-second soundbites and bursts of action jammed together in dumbed-down prose.  I hate to say this, but that has been true of popular fiction for centuries–and if you look at this tale, you will see what I mean. The popular prose, at the time it was written, was more descriptive and leisurely than we enjoy nowadays, but even so, the really popular tales leaped straight to the action.

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.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker: “Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face. 

Faux Marley Door Knocker“Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

“As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.”

You have to admit, it’s a huge thing for a man of as limited an imagination as Scrooge was known to have, to suddenly see his dead friend staring back at him.

This is also the second foreshadowing of the events that will follow and makes the reader want to know what will happen next.

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 responsibility.

We see that his nephew, Fred, though orphaned is well enough 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–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story takes off.

Dickens raises the tension. The bells begin ringing for no apparent reason and “The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

Scrooge, of course, is dismayed and tries to deny the strange happenings. He desperately clings to his view of reality.”It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge.  “I won’t believe it.”

However, he can’t deny this phenomenon forever and refusing to recognize it won’t make it go away. “Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

“How now!” said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

1999-xmas-present Desmond BarritThis is the turning point, the place where Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with a situation in which he will either succeed or fail and what will happen to him, the reader can’t guess. A deep sense of mystery now surrounds this miserly old man–what could possibly be so important about him that a man he cared so little for in life would go to such trouble as to return from the grave to save him?

In 1843 Charles Dickens showed us how to write a compelling tale that would last for generations. We start with the hook, use foreshadowing, introduce the subplots that ultimately support the structure of the tale, and arrive at the first plot point–these are the things that make up the first quarter of this timeless tale. Get these properly in line, and your story will intrigue the reader, involving them to the point they don’t want to set the book down.


Thoughts on “A Christmas Carol” was first published by Connie J. Jasperson here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, Dec. 15, 2014 under the title, A Christmas Carol–what I’ve learned from Charles Dickens. It was true then, and it’s true today!

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#amwriting: the importance of foreshadowing

Elements of the Story 1st Quarter of the MSForeshadowing is part of the craft of writing, and is a useful tool a when an author is writing fiction. It is a critical trope when writing fantasy. In the first quarter of the story, you should have a few clues embedded in the narrative, something to subliminally alert the reader, little warnings signs of future events.

The key to good foreshadowing is to not spoil the surprise, yet allow the reader to say in retrospect, “I should have seen that coming.”

We insert small hints, little offhand references to future events, briefly, almost offhandedly mentioned, but almost immediately overlooked or ignored. Some readers will fail to notice the suggested possibility just as the unsuspecting characters do, and others will guess what is going on. In a well-written narrative, both kinds of readers will stick with it as they will want to see how it plays out.

We have many reasons to pursue good foreshadowing skills. They help us to avoid inadvertently employing the clumsy Deus Ex Machina (pronounced: Day-us ex Mah-kee-nah) (God from the Machine) to miraculously resolve an issue. A Deus Ex Machina occurs when, toward the end of the narrative, an author inserts a new event, character, ability, or otherwise resolves a seemingly insoluble problem in a sudden, unexpected way.

Then, there is the opposite ungainly literary device: the Diabolus Ex Machina (Demon from the machine). This is the bad guy’s counterpart to the Deus Ex Machina. In this instance, the author suddenly realizes the evil his character faces isn’t evil enough and wham! We see the sudden introduction of an unexpected new event, character, ability, or object designed to ensure things suddenly get much worse for the protagonists.

We have to avoid cases where a character suddenly gets a new skill or knowledge without explanation. In screenplays and TV shows, when a character suddenly gets a new skill without explanation, it’s usually explained away as a Chekhov’s Skill.

In a book, you need to mention prior examples of the characters using, or having received training in that skill. If you don’t briefly foreshadow it, the character doesn’t have it. If the reader realizes the character never possessed that skill before, it becomes unbelievable.

Wm Shakespeare author central portraitHow has literature and the expectations of the reader changed over the centuries? Nowadays, in genre fiction especially, a prologue may or may not be a place for foreshadowing, as modern readers don’t have the patience to wade through large chunks of exposition dumped in the first pages of a novel.

Consider William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a play that is heavy with both exposition and foreshadowing. According to Philip Weller, Professor of English at Eastern Washington University, on his site, http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com:

“Technically, the Prologue (of Romeo and Juliet) is not foreshadowing. Foreshadowing hints at what will happen later, but in the Prologue, the Chorus doesn’t hint — he tells. The second quatrain of the Chorus’ sonnet sums up the plot of the play:

 

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife (Prologue 5-8)

 

“The next quatrain repeats the same message, and because this message is hammered home early, the later foreshadowings in the play are ominously recognizable.” (end quoted text.)

There is a difference between foreshadowing and telling. How does Shakespeare foreshadow the larger events? Larger events may be foreshadowed through the smaller events that precede them. Again, we will examine Romeo and Juliet. Early in the first act, when Benvolio is trying to talk Romeo out of his infatuation for Rosaline, he tells him,

“Take thou some new infection to thy eye,

And the rank poison of the old will die.”  

As we see later, Benvolio’s advice is correct because as soon as Romeo lays eyes on Juliet, his obsession with Rosaline disappears. More foreshadowing occurs later, in the third act, when Benvolio brings the news that Mercutio is dead. Romeo says,

“This day’s black fate on more days doth depend;  

This but begins the woe, others must end.”

Again, Philip Weller explains,

“It’s as if Romeo is envisioning the death of Mercutio as a dark thunderhead, racing across the sky above him and into the unknown future. Romeo knows he has reached a point of no return; he will fight Tybalt to avenge Mercutio, but he knows that won’t be the end of anything. Then, after he has fought and killed Tybalt, cries out, “O, I am fortune’s fool!” (3.1.136). Here “fool” means “plaything” or “dupe.” Romeo knows he is no longer in control of his fate. (end quoted text.)

William Shakespeare understood the difference between foreshadowing and telling the story, and he made use of both techniques to good advantage.

Modern authors writing genre fiction must be gentler with their foreshadowing than Shakespeare was required to be. Foreshadowing should be woven into the narrative in such a way that the story flows smoothly, allowing the reader to remain immersed, but tantalizing them with hints that will keep them reading.

ok to write garbage quote c j cherryhSmoothness is the key word here. I’ve seen manuscripts that seem schizophrenic as if they were “Frankensteined” together. The author begins by telling one story, and somewhere around the middle, we find ourselves reading a completely different novel as if it were two manuscripts inexpertly sewn together and reworked into one. Foreshadowing, if there was any, seemed like a thread to nowhere.

Clumsy foreshadowing, or neglecting to foreshadow are things we do when laying down the first, rough draft, of our story. These flaws are a fundamental part of the creative process and are why we never publish a rough draft. Let it rest for several weeks and work on something else, then come back to it. In the second draft we check for, and iron out, these kinds of issues. During the second draft, if you have used subtle foreshadowing in advance of the events (usually in the first quarter of the story arc, before the first plot-point) the novel really begins to take shape.


Weller, Philip. Romeo and Juliet Navigator.

Shakespeare Navigators, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
<http://shakespearenavigators.com/romeo/index.html>

>>><<<

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Philip Weller.

Hamlet Navigator. Shakespeare Navigators, n.d.
Web. 20 Sept. 2016. <http://shakespearenavigators.com/romeo/index.html>

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#amwriting: The Art of Foreshadowing: Charles Dickens

Ghost of Xmas Present[ Desmond BarrittAnother 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.

1999-xmas-present Desmond BarritHe picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker, where Scrooge sees the face of his late business partner superimposed over the knocker.

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.

christmas-carol-1999-patrick-stewart-scrooge-desmond-barrit-ghost-of-christmas-presentI 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.

This is a short tale, but it is a deeply moving allegory of the Christian concept of redemption that remains pertinent in modern society.

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.

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A Christmas Carol–what I’ve learned from Charles Dickens

1024px-Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843Charles Dickens was a master at creating marvelous hooks and using heavy foreshadowing. Let’s take the first line of my favorite Christmas story of all time,  A Christmas Carol. I love each and every version of it, will watch any movie version I can get my hands on:

“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.”

I hear a great deal of argument about how modern 21st century genre-fiction is nothing but sixty-second soundbites and bursts of action jammed together in dumbed-down prose.  I hate to say this, but that has been true of popular fiction for centuries–and if you look at this tale, you will see what I mean. The popular prose, at the time it was written, was more descriptive and leisurely than we enjoy nowadays, but even so, the really popular tales leaped straight to the action.

Patrick Stewart - A Christmas CarolIn 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.

He picks it up and does it again several pages later, with the little scene involving the door-knocker: “Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face. 

carol-disneyscreencaps_com-1887_gal“Marley’s face.  It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.  It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.  The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.  That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part or its own expression.

“As Scrooge looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a knocker again.”

You have to admit, it’s a huge thing for a man of as limited an imagination as Scrooge was known to have, to suddenly see his dead friend staring back at him. This is also the second foreshadowing of the events that will follow, and makes the reader want to know what will happen next.

achristmascarol George C ScottAt 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 enough 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–Marley’s visitation. This is where the set-up ends and the story begins to take off.

Alastair Sims - A Christmas CarolDickens raises the tension, the bells begin ringing for no apparent reason and “The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

Scrooge of course is dismayed and tries to deny the strange happenings. He desperately clings to his view of reality.”It’s humbug still!” said Scrooge.  “I won’t believe it.”

However, he can’t deny this phenomena forever, and refusing to recognize it won’t make it go away. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before: he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

“How now!” said Scrooge, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

disneys a christmas carol jim careyThis is the turning point, the place where Ebenezer Scrooge is faced with a situation in which he will either succeed or fail, and what will happen to him, the reader can’t guess. A deep sense of mystery now surrounds this old miserly man–what could possibly be so important about him that a man he cared so little for in life would go to such trouble as to return from the grave to save him?

In 1843 Charles Dickens showed us how to write a compelling tale that would last for generations. We start with the hook, use foreshadowing, introduce the subplots that ultimately support the structure of the tale, and arrive at the first plot point–these are the things that make up first quarter of this timeless tale. Get these properly in line, and your story will intrigue the reader, involving them to the point they don’t want to set the book down.

 

 

 

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