A short novel from 1843 written by Charles Dickens. You know the drill by now: Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four ghosts -- his late partner, Jacob Marley, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come -- and then changes his evil ways to become a good man and to embrace the joy of Christmas.

What most people don't know is that the Christmas celebrations described by Dickens in this book did not actually exist at the time he wrote the novel. A few centuries before, Oliver Cromwell's Puritans had stripped the holiday of anything they considered pagan or Catholic, and the greedy factory owners of Dickens' day usually refused to give workers time off on Christmas Day. Seven years after reading and enjoying a vivid description of a Christmas celebration written by Washington Irving, Dickens penned his Christmas classic, and celebrations of Christmas were almost immediately reborn, influenced by Dickens' novel.

The novel has been adapted for screen and television many times. Though I enjoy "Scrooged," respect the Alistair Sim version, chuckle at the musical with Albert Finney, and deeply admire the acting in "The Muppet Christmas Carol" (seriously, there's never been a better performance of Mrs. Cratchitt than Frank Oz/Miss Piggy), my favorite version, far and away, is the one directed by Clive Donner, with George C. Scott as Scrooge. The sets and photography are lush, and it gives you a great idea of what things were like in London while Dickens was alive. Scott overacts enjoyably (and, in my opinion, appropriately), and I also enjoy Edward Woodward (the Equalizer!) as the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present. And this version also boasts the best, most eerie, most terrifying Ghost of Christmas Future ever. I think it should be getting much madder propz than it currently gets.

There are approximately twenty-three zillion versions of and variations on this story available on home video and as TV movies, and every year brings a bunch more. They recreate the classic Charles Dickens story and setting as well as transplant it into modern settings (Scrooged) or implement it using unusual casts (Mickey's Christmas Carol, A Muppet Christmas Carol). It's an annual tradition for many to watch the movie, so Hollywood tries its best to give it to us in a new package (or two or three new packages) every single year.

However, among them all, the 1951 black-and-white version starring Alistaire Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is by far my favorite. It's almost fair to say it's the favorite, seeing as it's still selling and showing on television fifty years after its release and long after color television and CGI special effects have rendered it quaint. My mom watched it on PBS every year when it came on. I bought a tape of it when I had the chance, and now that I'm living on my own, I pop it in whenever the season is right for it. It's one part nostalgia, two parts homage, because no modern version of this story will ever feel as "classic" a Christmas story as this one does.

One thing about the modern movies of this story that's immediately different is the attractiveness of the actors playing Scrooge. Patrick Stewart couldn't help but be lassoed into the role, but he's just too good-looking for the part. Sim makes Scrooge wrinkled, bent, bland, clearly more interested in hoarding his money than in spending it. He's the ugliest Scrooge I've ever seen, and this fact alone turns the story from a seasonal fairy tale into something believable.

There's the script, also. The characters' lines are nearly letter-perfect with Dickens' story throughout the movie (only a few liberties are taken with the ending). And why would you want to mess with Dickens? Sure, the language is a bit archaic, but it's supposed to be a period piece. Let it be archaic, let the accents be thick, let the references be a little obscure. Anything to keep this story from becoming just another myth.

But without a doubt, Alistaire Sim's acting is the key to it all. He howls when he's frightened, he barks when he's angry, he cowers when he's scared, and he hops and dances and sings when he's joyful. Throughout this story Scrooge actually spends more time being terrified of what the spirits are showing him than he does being bitter and miserly toward people around him. And no actor I've seen yet has been able to convey that sense of gibbering, weak-willed, cowardly fear on which Scrooge's life pivots as well as Sim does. It makes his laughter, his giddiness, his generosity, and his surprises at the end so much more effective -- and these, too, Sim does with excellence.

If you're not offended by the idea of watching a movie in black-and-white in this digital day and age, look up this version. Encourage your kids and friends to watch it, but you don't have to force them. Just let it be in the background year after year, telling the original story in its own original way.

by Charles Dickens

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,
C. D.

December, 1843.


Stave 1: Marley's Ghost
Stave 2: The First of the Three Spirits
Stave 3: The Second of the Three Spirits
Stave 4: The Last of the Spirits
Stave 5: The End of It

A song by the mighty Tom Lehrer. The great man here performs his usual flippant-cynical stylings on the Christmas period and its rituals. The tune is tinkly and jingly, except in the fourth verse, where it mirrors the appropriate hymns and carols.

Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don't say "when".
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.

On Christmas Day you can't get sore,
Your fellow man you must adore,
There's time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four.

Relations, sparing no expense'll
Send some useless old utensil,
Or a matching pen and pencil.
"Just the thing I need! How nice!"
It doesn't matter how sincere it
Is, nor how heartfelt the spirit,
Sentiment will not endear it,
What's important is the price.

Hark the Herald Tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest you merry, merchants,
May you make the Yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!

So let the raucous sleighbells jingle,
Hail our dear old friend Kris Kringle,
Driving his reindeer across the sky.
Don't stand underneath when they fly by.

© Tom Lehrer; Appears on More of Tom Lehrer (1959) and An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer (also 1959). CST Approved. Lyrics appear with his written permission.

"A Christmas Carol" is the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas Special, starring Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor, Karen Gillam as Amy Pond, Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams, Michael Gambon as Kazran Sardick, and Katherine Jenkins as Abigail. It was written by Steven Moffat, although as the title suggests, it is based off of Charles Dickens' work.

The adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" for any television show that needs a stock plot for a Christmas episode is a well-worn tradition. It is such a cliché that it has come out the other end of cliché. And Doctor Who is certainly not a show that shies away from the corny.

The specifics of this plot are that Amy and Rory, after the events of The Big Bang, are on their honeymoon on a galaxy class starship, that falls into distress. It tries to land on a near-by planet, but the planet's weather is controlled by the Scrooge character, via a machine that is tied to his brain patterns. And he refuses to help. Luckily, The Doctor is there to reform him. He does this by going back in his past, meeting the young Kazran, and trying to teach him some humanity. In the present, the older Kazran's memories are changed at the same time as these events happen in the past. The young Kazran also falls in love with a poor woman, Abigail. He is almost saved, but when he finds that Abigail is suffering from a terrible sickness, his heart is broken. But this being a Doctor Who story and a Christmas special, the story eventually ends on a happy, if bittersweet, note.

This is a fun story, and perhaps my favorite Doctor Who Christmas Special. It is sweet without being too treacly, and the otherwise predictable plot is leavened with some odd weirdness and clever jokes. Not every Christmas Carol adaptation has Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, or a flying shark. And despite the ease and watchability, the show has some symbolic links to the upcoming epic of Series 6.

The opening line of A Christmas Carol has a curious punctuation:
Marley was dead: to begin with.

Why the colon? The frustrating second half of this conjunction, which would suggest an appropriate list begins with 'to begin' and yet stops right as it's begun, as if a metaphor for the snuffing of a life just started. The phrase 'To begin with' is only used, well, to introduce the beginning of a tale. In many electronic version and editions this opening line has been corrected with a comma in the colon's place, but we can trace back to the original editions to see Dicken's chosen punctuation.

The use of it is a style of rhetorical punctuation: the form of the mark overwhelms the exact function. In this case, Dickens is exacting a pause in reading which is a bit longer than a comma in a sentence, but shorter than a period. The carol (itself divided into 5 stanzas) is written to be read out loud and with specific elocution staging built in, from the first sentence to the last:

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
(I won't even get started on enforced capitalization influencing inflection)


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