Volume 91, Issue 54
Wednesday, December 3, 1997
Play it again Chuck! Dickens' A Christmas Carol endures as a holiday classic
Graphic by Janice Olynich
By Karena Walter
Like Santa Claus and garland, Charles Dickens' classic tale A Christmas Carol is part of the holiday tradition.
The story is about the ultimate miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who learns how to care about others when he is visited by ghosts.
But why is the story part of so many Christmas days past and present? "I think it goes back to the incredible popularity upon which it was initially received," says Bruce Lundgren, an English professor at Western. "Dickens almost single-handedly revived Christmas customs."
When the book was published in 1843, England was ruled by the Puritans who suppressed a lot of entertainment. "Dickens provided a focus of what Christmas really meant to people," Lundgren says.
David Parker, curator of the Dickens House Museum in London, England, said between 1801 and 1851 the population of the city had more than doubled and in 1843, when Dickens wrote the story, London was very much a town exploding with homelessness and crime. Dickens lived in the house in the 1830s for three years. There is usually an increased number of guests around Christmas time, partly because of increased tourism and partly because of the popularity of A Christmas Carol.
Dickens had a tradition of publishing a short Christmas story every year but it was A Christmas Carol that captured the imagination, Lundgren says. Dickens was incredibly enthused about the project itself and designed the story as a special edition, choosing the pictures, artists and the engravings. He was a celebrated author by then and knew it would have a profound affect on the public, Lundgren says.
He added the book captured the dark side of Christmas time when want and poverty is emphasized by the happiness of others.
Scrooge goes through a transformation from selfishness to selflessness through his dreams. "That transformation became a potential transformation for everyone," Lundgren says.
Toronto Sun film critic Liz Braun says the story has the appeal to a mass audience because, "it is a moral rags to riches story." As a critic she says there are many elements that make the book such a perfect one to adapt for the screen, such as the survival of Tiny Tim.
Lundgren says there is a series of memorable elements from the tale Dickens presents, like the happiness of Christmas dinner and the dark sinister nature of the ghost of Christmas as it should be.
Parker said there is one main reason the book has received such tremendous press. "It was very good."
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