Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
Features Writer
8:47 PM 29th November 2019

Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone !

Alastair Sim as Scrooge
Alastair Sim as Scrooge
Think Alastair Sim, Michael Caine (and the Muppets), Patrick Stewart and Jim Carrey. What do they all have in common? Of course, it’s the role of Scrooge in Dickens’ famous novella, A Christmas Carol. The plot sees the miserly old moneylender, Ebenezer Scrooge, visited on Christmas Eve by four spirits (don’t forget his seven-year-dead, ex-business partner, Jacob Marley) who bring about his redemption.

Charles Dickens the great social reformer had a message for his reader, namely that we have a moral, collective responsibility to each other. Set at Christmas, ‘when want is most keenly felt’, this story communicates the real meaning of the yuletide, that of hope, compassion and generosity of spirit as much as money, whilst also reminding us that charity and mercy should be exercised all year long.

Dickens had experience of poverty, his father having spent time in a debtors’ prison, so it was not a coincidence that he chose to make his principal character a heartless usurer. As with all his books, Dickens hoped his readers would understand his intention and that his work would encourage the wealthy land and factory owners, the Church, the Government and even the Monarchy to initiate reform and improve the lives of the poorest in the land so that they need not ‘[die] and decrease the surplus population’.

Dickens’ work isn’t the easiest read for the twenty first century bibliophile since the language is, quite naturally, Victorian in tone and style; but perhaps as an introduction to the novelist, with all of the television and film adaptations to help, A Christmas Carol is more accessible than some. It isn’t long, the structure is as plain as day and it is an enjoyable ghost story, after all. The characterisation is typical of Dickens, more caricature than naturalistic: Scrooge is all bad (before becoming the epitome of goodness), Tiny Tim, too good, and Fred, far too full of Christmas cheer. The Ghost of Christmas Present embodies the essence of the jolly Santa Claus whom we all love (clothed, originally, in a more traditional green, instead of the better-known red which was established by a Coca Cola advertising executive some years later), whilst the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come personifies fear with the exaggerated characterisation of the faceless Grim Reaper.

For those who look for more, the fog may be read as a metaphor representing Scrooge’s moral blindness, which is miraculously gone when Christmas Day dawns bright and cheerful and Scrooge’s redemption is complete. The gothic overtones (so popular in Victorian literature) lend an air of despair; the symbolism of Marley’s chains, weighed down with ledgers and cashboxes to represent the greed and materialism with which we bind ourselves, is not lost.

Watching A Christmas Carol - whichever version - is as much a Christmas tradition in our house as putting up the tree and cooking turkey (not goose as was more popular in Dickens’ day). Alastair Sim will always be Ebenezer Scrooge for me, and the final song, sung, in a more recent incarnation, by the cast of the Muppets and led by Sir Michael Caine himself, always brightens my heart. It is another of those books which I came to as an adult, long after I should have done, believing that I knew the story and ‘must have read it sometime’. If you haven’t indulged, give it a try.