BOOK REVIEWS

A Christmas Carol Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-01-13 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 11 user ratings
ISBN:1551114763
LANGUAGE:English

"This short parable or morality tale is probably one of the most read novellas within Charles Dickens’ vast body of work, and one that truly embodies the spirit of Christmas. A short book we could all do with on these cold winter nights (here in London, they are, at least)!

I guess everyone knows the story in broad strokes: Ebenezer Scrooge, a disgusting narrow-shouldered old misanthrope and life-denying penny-pincher (the avatar of Shylock, Volpone, Harpagon and many more literary misers) is about to spend Christmas Eve alone in his cold house, after having dismissed his nephew, his underpaid clerk, everyone. During the night, he meets the ghost of Jacob Marley, his late business partner, then three successive spirits, like the three Biblical Magi, each with a terrible vision of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. At the end of this long nightmare, where Scrooge travels in space and time, he sees the error of his ways, repents, promises to amend his behaviour and abandon his avarice.

The story is, of course, if not familiar, entirely predictable, but the genius of Dickens lies in his ability to breathe life into his characters and settings. In particular, the description of Victorian Camden market in Stave four, with the seasonal food and drink and preparations for Christmas Eve dinner is mouthwatering. The chapter titled “The end of it”, when Scrooge wakes up to a bright golden Christmas morning, filled with bells ringing at full peal, is probably one of the most elating pieces of literature I have ever read. In the edition I own, Arthur Rackham’s illustrations, have, as always, the quaint charm of bygone days.

The film industry has plundered Dickens shamelessly on this one. Robert Zemeckis’ version, with Jim Carrey, is probably the most respectful of the text, although the CGI is frankly horrendous. I much prefer Frank Capra and James Stewart’s inverted variation in It’s a Wonderful Life.

And with this, dear Goodreads people, have a holly jolly Christmas, read on, and may Santa Claus bring you three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree!
" said.

""Bah! Humbug!"

Who does not recognise this expostulation, and the old curmudgeon who spat it out. The very name "Scrooge" has entered the vernacular to indicate a mean-spirited skinflint.

"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge, a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint."

And even the phrase "Merry Christmas" only became popular following the appearance of this novella.

A Christmas Carol is one of Dickens' most enduring and well-loved tales. He wrote it in six weeks, and it was originally published in the Christmas of 1843. It evokes perfectly the sensations of a Victorian Christmas, but its lasting appeal lies in its power to speak to us today, 170 years later. In fact it has never been out of print. Starting with this tale, Dickens wrote longish themed stories annually and the five were subsequently published together as "Christmas Books". He also of course wrote many more shorter Christmas stories.

Dickens loved to paint a picture. Everything in this story is heightened; the descriptions are so vivid that in places they are almost surreal, and inanimate objects take on a life - and personality - of their own. A church bell is

"always peeping slyly down at Scrooge…[it] struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there."

There is water with "its overflowings sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice,"

Scrooge's chambers are "a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of buildings up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again."

I cannot remember ever feeling sorry for a house before, but that for me at any rate is "the Dickens effect".

Even today when we think of Christmas we may think of a Dickensian Christmas; he seems to have invented the archetypal Christmas, alongside Prince Albert and his Christmas tree. How has an author managed to do this? To have had such a massive influence on how we celebrate Christmas? And with a secular tale at that, which speaks to people both in and outside the religion which traditionally celebrates this particular festival?

Well everything in Dickens is larger than life. Everything in this tale, at least, has to be the best or the worst. The "wonderful" pudding indicates that the food is the tastiest there has ever been. The carols are sung more enthusiastically and more in tune than they ever could be, the ice on the pond is thicker than ever before, and glinting more spectacularly in the sun, the shops are filled to bursting with good things to tempt and delight the shoppers.

This exaggeration bursts through our gloom at the perfect time of year. When in Great Britain in reality we have have cold dreary weather and long dark nights, we also have in imagination Dickens' heightened perception to uplift us. No wonder then that it stays in our memory and in the memories of generation after generation. And no wonder there have been - and continue to be - such a plethora of adaptations of this wonderful tale world-wide. The original illustrations by John Leech complement Dickens' story to perfection, but there have been many subsequent dramatisations, readings, retellings, films, musicals, cartoons - some more faithful than others, but all paying homage to and honouring this original story - or at the very least its concept.

The writing has a very light touch and Dickens' trademark humour is present on every page. Yet to hammer the moral point of the book home, we are assured of its veracity. The opening lines,

"Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that,"

carry the reader through the story, daring us to disbelieve in the events which follow, and the ghastly phantoms which are about to appear. The author's voice is there at every turn. One part which gave this reader a bit of a jolt, is the arrival of the first Spirit when the curtains of Scrooge's bed were drawn aside. He was thus face to face with the apparition,

"as close to it," Dickens says, "as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow." Phew!

Dickens' preoccupations are evident in this tale. It is in part an indictment of 19th century industrial capitalism, and part a nostalgic wish to return to earlier times and traditions of merriment and festivity, just as ironically today we wish to return to our perceptions of a "Dickensian Christmas". There are also the recurring themes of Dickens' sympathy for the poor, his social conscience and his ever-present memories of the humiliating experiences of his childhood.

The novella has a simple structure. There are 5 "staves". The first introduces Scrooge himself in all his miserliness. This character is one of Dickens' masterpieces. He is so mean that his clerk has to warm his hands by the one candle Scrooge allows him. And indeed he allows himself little better,

"Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it."

Scrooge begrudges even the one day's holiday a year which his clerk takes, grumbling that it is, "A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!"

The chill of the season seems to emanate from Scrooge himself. "External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty."

Yet he is such an overblown character that we find him funny. We delight in his ridiculous meanness, and the way he has impoverished his own life by such strictures. And after our very first contact with this tale, we delight in our expectations of what is going to happen to this sorry character.

The next three staves introduce the three "spirits" - of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. And the final stave, which I defy you to read without a big fat smile on your face, describes Scrooge's redemption, which is all the more marvellous and outrageous because of his earlier spite and vituperation.

Oh, it is a wonderful book! A simple morality tale but a moving tale which makes the reader chuckle and shudder by turns. Thank you, Mr Dickens. I would like to shake you heartily by the hand. Thank you for giving me my favourite story. For creating such living breathing characters as Ebenezer Scrooge, the Fezziwig family, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and the personifications of Jacob Marley's ghost, the Three Spirits, Want and Ignorance. And thank you most for making millions of people world-wide smile too, and maybe reflect and think a little.

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."
" said.

"One might like Christmas, or one might not; one might be a Christian, or one might not be. Anyway I do not think anybody would be arguing against the fact that this novella became practically ultimate Christmas story. For this reason I will not bother hiding spoilers in my review; if you have no clue what it is about and I spoil it for you, consider it to be my punishment for living under a rock all this time.

Grumpy Cat Christmas
Sorry, there is something irresistible about the Grumpy Cat in Christmas settings and this time the guy strongly reminds me of Scrooge in the beginning of the book.

The main character of the story is a miser called Ebenezer Scrooge. His last name practically became a dictionary word for a miser, so one can easily see the influence of Dickens' tale on the world culture. Anyhow, the guy is visited by a ghost of his former partner who heralded the upcoming visit of three ghosts: the ones of Christmas past, present, and future. As a result of these visits Scrooge realized the mistakes of his way and changes for the better. Amen.

The only reason I wrote completely unnecessary last paragraph in my review is the smooth transition to the discussion of the ghosts. For me the ghost of Christmas past was mostly about nostalgia for time gone. Anybody, no matter how good and kind-hearted a person is, he or she would have some regrets about the past; people that have no such regrets really scare me and are not good people in my book: to err is human after all.

My biggest gripe with the book and the one which reduced the rating by one star came from this part as well. Scrooge became regretful right after he saw his past. This was a little sudden and too fast to be really convincing. According to the book he decided to change his ways right here with the other two ghosts only solidifying his decision. Countless adaptations and retelling handled this better by delaying Scrooge's regret at least until he saw the present.

There is nothing much to say about the ghost of Christmas present except that I was not moved much by Bob Cratchit's family Christmas celebration, but this could be explained by the differences between the views of a Victorian person and a modern one. The other of the people celebrating the holiday as seen by Scrooge were heartwarming though.

I always though the scariest part about the future was not the death itself, but the fact that one dies and nobody cares - in good sense. I had the impression that this was the scariest part about dying in the story for Scrooge as well.

So what about writing style, character development, etc.? This is Charles Dickens we are talking about here; the guy is called a classic of world literature for a good reason. He can be a little long-winded in some of the descriptions even in such a short story as this, but thanks to them he managed to convey a perfect spirit of Christmas and the festivities.

Speaking about Christmas in general I think it stopped being just a religious holiday a long time ago and became just a great holiday for the majority of people and as such is a part of our culture. Even in Dickens' book written around one hundred and fifty years ago the religious themes were not explicitly present. For this reason people that stop others from celebrating because of religious reasons or increasingly popular fear of 'offending somebody' reject our culture, simple as that. Rant off.
" said.

"Amazing. A classic for a reason.

RE-READ: 2015. I read this book every Christmas Eve. It makes me laugh, it scares me, it makes me cry. So good! And so short! :) I must admit my favorite part is the first part where Scrooge is so grumpy and miserly. And the book is so classic, filled with classic lines that are so well-known it's a pleasure to read them because they are so familiar and true.

And, once again, it's short. No trouble to get through! Merry Christmas!

http://www.gocomics.com/bliss/2015/12/25

2017 Carmen checking in! Re-read this Christmas Eve. I'm always, always blown away by how good this book is. Very evocative, very well-written, funny, sad, touching... Dickens makes you laugh and cry as you are reading this. Powerful language. Short and easy to get through if you are scared to read Dickens for some reason. Highly recommended.
" said.

"One should never judge a book by its cover, but this edition surely deserves an award for ugliest and laziest book cover ever made (should we start a contest?), which is a shame since a theme like Christmas is quite easy to illustrate and has a lot of recognizable symbols and its own emblems that could've been used to enhance this poorly conceived design. However, if all the budget available went to the translator, it was a good decision as it was beautifully done and, in the end, it's all that really matters.

It's curious how I managed to completely ignore this story: never read the book, never saw any film adaptation, neither went to watch a play in the theater or an opera or even a television special for kids. It simply wasn't a big deal here in Brazil and my family hasn't been too fond of Christmas so I never looked for the theme - how Scrooge of us! Those of you who love Christmas by now are probably feeling sad for me, but I can be optimistic and see it through a good perspective: I approached A Christmas Carol innocently, as one might put it, and enjoyed this magical experience once and for all, while being able to extract some lessons I probably would have passed by without noticing or looking back as a child.

Although Charles Dickens wrote here a nice but simple story of redemption, at first glance one might not capture some of the deeper self-analysis it might awake in more attentive readers - or simply in those who are in need of such a message as time and life itself seem to toughen our feelings and our reaction's to people's actions. While I would consider myself nothing alike Scrooge, I guess I am to blame for overlooking the basics of life, and that is something that I love about reading and one of its many beneficial sides: being able to absorb lessons, even on matters that we seemingly can't relate to and that seem so simple but have great effects upon ourselves. Isn't happiness completely based on simplicity? More and more - as I live and read - I tend to think it seems to be, otherwise why would we be so emotional revisiting simpler, uncomplicated times?

One story to illustrate my point is how I travel to my parent's town every year for Christmas. It's a 12 hours trip in a suffocating and uncomfortable bus - there are no other transportation options - that I dread to make, arriving there and welcoming ungratefully my mother's dear smile and warm embrace with my monosyllabic answers and my grumpy face because of how exhausting the trip is. Now, reading A Christmas Carol was in no way life-changing - although there could be a point in assuming that life-changing experiences need not to be grand ones, like epiphanies, as simple changes ('simple' seems to be what I got from this reading) still can be beneficial and make a big difference -, but I did take a pledge to myself that I would approach my tiresome travel with better winds.

What would you know? Just for focusing on what I would get from this trip - to spend quality time with my family, my dog, extended family, the airs of my hometown - instead of the dislocation part of it already made it a nicer time. I wish we would learn things rapidly but unfortunately I can't promise to myself that it will always go as smoothly as it was this time, for the person I am now will no longer exist and will consist of added experiences and newer feelings, but I guess it was a nice start to change something that bothered me for over ten years. Perhaps all I need is to make reading of Dickens's tale a Christmas tradition of my own and turn this time into a period of self analysis.

It's been repeated time and again how you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Had we the opportunity, the privilege, to look into the future and learn that the things we normally take for granted now will by then be gone, perhaps we would value them better. This is what Dickens proposed to his old Scrooge, through my own words: you don't appreciate your life, your things, your acquaintances? Well, this is the alternative, the result you'll have once things are all done and gone. Does it seem a better situation to you in any way?

Although such a device of looking into the future and far back into the past doesn't exist, Dickens gave us the inspiration to look upon our actions - past, present and planned - and reevaluate how we want the outcome to be. In a way, literature can help you travel through time.

Rating: for this nice, full of hope story that aims to show how everything is still inside of us and how we must simply learn how to look for it, teaching us that all it takes is a deep dive within oneself to collect the needed goods, where as deeper one goes, the further in time one will be - kind of like the farthest light in the observable universe we see from a telescope represents the past -, among the most precious memories and feelings, in places we should revisit more often: 4 5 stars. (re-rated in 2015.)
" said.

"It's not the season for A Christmas Carol, I know!

And we all know it by heart too, from reading it as children with our grandparents maybe, as young adults for essays in high school, as adults to our own children. We have watched the Disney version many times, and seen it performed on stage, for decades, in December.

So why do I have to drag out my old, torn copy of my earliest traditional December Dickens in April? Because April is the cruellest month, and it made me realise how many Scrooges are out there, celebrating their narcissistic personality disorder as a virtue and key to their success while ignoring the needs of their families, friends and business partners. My fear, however, is that we have no willing ghosts left to show the Scrooges of our times the path back to caring and loving community.

Where is the ghost to tell the greedy self-absorbed rich of today:

"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it."

Where is the understanding that laughter and humour is worth more than gold can ever pay for? Where is the LANGUAGE of Dickens to express that there is hope for humanity if we open our eyes and dare to see what is going on around us, rather than a reflection in a mirror of our own ugly fake face - hiding Dorian Gray's real portrait under the shining surface?

I fear that the ghost of Old Marley may be dead as a doornail too!

But I call on the Ghosts Of Literature Past to come back and teach us something of humanity's potential. Come now, today, in the cruellest of months. You can do it. Don't be scared of us humans. We are not as dangerous as we look.
" said.

"I have to admit that, at the ripe old age of 66, I finally listened to the full text as Dickens wrote it.

It definitely deserves all the accolades it has ever deserved. I recommend it not just for graceful language, but for continued relevance to our day and age.

A Christmas Carol is a very short book, easily read or listened to in just a few hours. Even if you've experienced the story via a dozen different movie versions and spin offs, I think getting back to the original is well worth your time.
" said.

"The Christmas classic that everyone knows – even if they haven’t read it. It's quite short, and at some levels quite an easy read, but there is plenty of depth, so I think it's worth reading it in a thoughtful and slightly leisurely way.

Plot
It is a simple tale of how a normal man turns cold-hearted and mean and how, when confronted with memories of his past and the possible outcomes of his actions and inactions, he is redeemed by making positive changes to his life and thus that of others.

Typical Victoriana or not?
The book opens with wonderful bathos, “Marley was dead, to begin with.” So right from the outset it is clear it is not a straightforward factual tale. Apart from the famous ghosts (of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come), which were not unusual in literature of the time, it has time travel and parallel worlds, where each significant choice leads to a branching of reality, which is a staple of much great sci fi. Not such a typical Victorian novel after all.

Whilst it is a book whose unhurried and detailed descriptions of Christmas are the epitome of the season (“apoplectic opulence”), it is a book of great contrasts: humbug/festivities, hot/cold, company/solitude, poverty/wealth, worthy poor/wastrels, past/future etc.

Corruption and redemption
Scrooge’s name has become synonymous with meanness and sociopathy, which is unfair. Quite apart from the fact that the whole point of the book is that he changes for the better, right from the start there are hints that he wasn’t and isn’t irredeemably bad. For example, he never removed Marley’s name from the sign above his office. I don’t think the reason was solely parsimony because during and after the ghostly encounters, we see different aspects of Scrooge, surely exposed by the ghosts, not actually created by them. So maybe part of the reason for leaving the name was a fondness for the memory of his partner - a link to happier times. Certainly Scrooge had sunk to nasty depths, and maybe "It was all the same to him" reflects Scrooge's conscious and observable attitude, rather than the deeper, painful mix of happy and sad memories that he tried so hard to suppress, even though Scrooge would have denied it and believed his denial.

Charity is shown to be not merely financial, but personal too (being pleasant, complimentary, thinking creatively about what to do). A counterpoint to that is that regret is pointless and self-indulgent: the way to overcome it is through reparation – which takes us back to charity.

Ghostly significance
The ghostly visitors are not of the Christian kind, but ghost stories were popular in Victorian England. Each ghost is very distinctive in appearance and manner. The first is pale, shadowy (long forgotten?) and “like a child; yet not so like a child as an old man” (the child is father of the man?); the second is a convivial festive spirit wanting to share joy and the third is dark, solemn and scary, reflecting Scrooge’s fears of death and also the sadness that will emanate from him if he does not change, but also with an indistinct face and shape, perhaps suggesting the potential malleability of the future.

Christmas Weather and Traditions
This story is perhaps almost as much of collective British consciousness about Christmas as the nativity itself and the presence of snow, gifts, family - and turkey all feel an essential part of the festivities, possibly more so than when Dickens wrote it.

Apparently, snow features strongly in a Dickensian Christmas because of an unusual number of white Christmases in Dickens' childhood; for him, the two went together in his mind, if not always in his adult life.

Christian or Secular?
It has been suggested that it is a surprisingly secular book, but we live in a less religious society and so don’t always notice religious symbolism and allegories unless they’re spelt out. The whole story is a parallel of the Christian gospel, and the fact it’s set at Christmas emphasises that. The main message of Christianity is that no sinner is beyond salvation if they genuinely repent, and that is also the story of Scrooge.

There are other links too: three people profiting from the spoils of the dead man (like the Roman soldiers at the cross, albeit they cast lots to decide who got what) and Peter Cratchit reading from the Bible in Christmas yet to come.

In those days, religion was so much part of quotidian life for most people that it almost fades into the background at times, like having a wash. Dickens had no need say the quotation is from the Bible or to talk about baby Jesus being part of Christmas because all his readers would know that and most of them would believe it. In our secular times, perhaps that makes the story more powerful now than when it was written?
" said.

January 2019 New Book:

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