A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

$_12…’Foggier yet, and colder’…

The novella that pretty much invented Christmas as we know is, as John Mortimer once wrote, ‘a text of nineteenth century humanism’. There’s not a great deal of God or Jesus in it. ‘For Dickens Christmas didn’t mean the birth of a Son to redeem the sins of the world; it was about helping the poor and buying them a socking great turkey,’ Mortimer went on. It’s a good point. Dickens was funny, outraged, highly inventive, a bit overbearing, sentimental – and all of those traits are here in this 100-odd pages of big bird, ghosts, redemption, saccharine chat and emotional depth. ‘The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already – it had not been light all day.’ Better sentences have been written – even in this book – but there is something about this one which speaks perfectly of the depths of winter. There have been numerous films of A Christmas Carol – the Muppets’ effort is, oddly, among the best – but none of them quite get it right, although Scrooge with Alastair Sim comes close. The Disney motion-capture effort of a few years ago did a great job of conveying the bleakness of the book but didn’t have enough left over for the joy, which rather buggered things up. You do need the happiness. There is a lot of misery but you earn the happy ending – season to be jolly, and all that. Spoiler alert: ‘Tiny Tim, who did NOT die.’ There is something strangely moving about an author with Dickens’ status and ability choosing to cap up a word to make his point. It’s more something you’d associate with a bright eight year old. But by the time you get to it, you’d forgive anything: Dickens has many faults, but there are few writers with more virtues. He wrote several Yuletide-themed books but it’s hard to get past this one. A Christmas Carol is a highly unusual work of art, in that I am genuinely envious of anyone who has never happened across it, but is just about to for the first time. Merry Christmas. God bless us, every one, or something like that. You know the drill.

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