I have to admit that I am a NUT about A Christmas Carol, it’s my favorite Christmas story and I have seven versions on DVD. Period pieces, mind you, not the updated, modern versions, although many of them are quite well done and I’ll gladly watch any of them when I see them listed on TV.
Several years ago I finally got a copy of the book so I could see which scenes were actually created by Dickens, and which were created for the purpose of entertainment; what was left out and what was embellished. It was written in 1843 so there are a few places where the terminology is timely or the wording is odd, but on the whole it is an easy story to read and since it’s free to read on the internet, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
The book begins with a short note from the author to his readers:
“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant:
Let’s start by clearing up any questions about what Mr. Dickens actually wrote, then if you have no interest in the movie comparisons, you can move on to something more interesting. I will try very hard to keep this article short even though there is so much I could say.
“What is Christmas time to you…
but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older but not a penny richer.” This is the line Scrooge says to Fred in many of the movies but it’s inaccurate and not as interesting as the book which finishes: “but not an hour richer.” Now that’s a wonderful line! Why did they change it?
“I’ll see you in hell.”
The newest movie, the animated one with Jim Carrey’s voice as Scrooge, has Scrooge telling Fred that he would “see him in hell” rather than have Christmas dinner with them. Wow, I don’t remember hearing that in any other version, but is it in the book? Sort of. It doesn’t actually say “hell”, only implies it: “Scrooge said that he would see him– yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first.” Maybe “dead” is implied, which would also be a very rude thing to say.
The Lord Mayor’s Banquet
Only a couple of the movies show the Lord Mayor’s household preparing for a Christmas feast so is it in the book or just modern writers making a point? “The Lord Mayor…gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should…”
Sliding on the ice
A couple movies show Bob Cratchit sliding on the ice on his way home on Christmas eve, one shows him throwing snowballs with some boys. So how did Bob celebrate having a whole day off for Christmas? He slid on the ice, twenty times!
Did Scrooge stop somewhere to eat?
The movie staring Reginald Owen shows Scrooge going to a dingy little place to eat but no other version I’ve seen shows that. He did, in fact, take “his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern” where he would read the newspapers and look over his banker’s-book before going home to bed. He also has a snack of gruel before bed.
Did he see a hearse or not?
The staircase in the old house Scrooge lived in was wide enough to take a hearse up, broad-wise even. After seeing the knocker transformed into Marley’s face, and in the gloom of the foyer, Scrooge did think he saw a hearse going on before him.
The face which appeared where the knocker had been, “had a dismal light about it”, spectacles were pushed up on his forehead and his hair stirred “as if by breath or hot air”. His appearance in Scrooge’s chambers is much the same, his clothing and hair moving as if in a breeze Scrooge could not feel, and his eyes unmoving. A kerchief is bound about his head, and the chains “wound around him like a tail” were made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses of steel.
What time is it?
This has to be mentioned if you have even the least amount of curiosity in your body. The ghost of Marley tells Scrooge to expect 3 ghosts and what time to expect them. The movies are inconsistent and always left me wondering what the heck is going on? The book leaves me with the impression that the ghosts have some power over time, which is why Scrooge is amazed at the end that “the ghosts have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can.”
The book says to expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one, the second on the next night at the same hour, and the third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Seems simple enough but… Scrooge wakes and hears the bell ring twelve times but knows that it was after two when he went to bed. This and Marley’s ghost occupy his mind for another hour when the hour strikes one, and the first ghost appears. So it seems the ghosts are messing with his mind even before they show up!
Ghost of Christmas Past
This ghost is depicted in so many different forms and from the description in the book, I can understand why.
“It was a strange figure– like a child; yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin… It wore a tunic of the purest white, and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful… from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.”
Did Scrooge get angry at the ghost, grab that extinguisher and try to put out his light? Yes, he did but he was not shot into the air like a rocket as shown in the newest Disney release. But the ghost’s face did have “fragments of all the faces it had shown him”, which was nicely done in the animated movie.
How old is Fan?
Sometimes she looks like a small child, other times she seems closer to Scrooge’s age or maybe even older. “…a little girl, much younger than the boy…” And no mention is made of why young Scrooge has been left here for so long, even though at least one movie mentions that his mother died giving birth to him, just as Fan dies giving birth to Fred.
One movie has changed the name of Scrooge’s lost love to Alice, I have no idea why. Most movies show them meeting at the Fezziwig’s Christmas party, which is a logical place to put their meeting, but in the book we never learn where or how they meet, only their parting. We do, though, see Belle surrounded by her children, a glimpse of what Scrooge lost.
Fred’s Christmas party
There’s great variety in how Fred and his friends pass their time on Christmas day, mainly because they do everything! There is music, and games like Forfeits and Blind-man’s-bluff (Topper cheating so that he could catch a particular girl), How, When and Where, and finally Yes and No where the disagreeable animal Fred was thinking of turned out to be his Uncle Scrooge.
Any other questions?
Everything else follows the book pretty closely, only elaborating a few scenes to flesh them out. If you have a question that I didn’t cover, let me know; I’ll try to find the answer.