Charles Dickens - Wikimedia
“A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens’ most popular work of fiction, was published in 1843, and was the most successful book sold in the holiday season that year. It sold over 6000 copies. The story is just as popular today as it was in 1843, and has been adapted many times over to film and stage.
Charles Dickens was very concerned with impoverished children who turned to crime and delinquency in order to survive. He was aware that education would provide the means to a better life for these children. His own childhood was fraught with difficulties, and his love/hate relationship with his father, in some ways, was the basis for the development of his main character, Ebenezer Scrooge.
A Christmas Carol - First Edition - Wikimedia
“Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.” These words were spoken by Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) in the early scenes of the film.
The misanthrope Ebenezer Scrooge was feared and hated by everyone. He had spent his life exploiting people, particularly his dedicated employee Bob Cratchit who had a wife and five children to support. His loving nephew Fred received no special treatment from his uncle whom he always treated with respect. Scrooge’s own life had been filled with such disappointment that it was impossible for him to believe that there was any good in all of humanity. He distrusted everyone. His main focus was to make money, regardless of how he had to cheat his customers.
Scrooge’s Cruel Nature
In this 1938 black-and-white film edition of Dickens’ masterpiece, Scrooge was visited by his nephew Fred (Barry MacKay) who invited his uncle for Christmas dinner the next day. Fred had just become engaged to his fiancée Bess (Lynne Carver) and wanted to show her off. Scrooge turned down his invitation with his famous line “Humbug” and dismissed his nephew. His suggestion to him was “Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.” Scrooge reluctantly gave his clerk Bob Cratchit (Gene Lockhart) the next day off and paid him his measly earnings. On his way home, Bob Cratchit got involved in a friendly snowball war with some youngsters. As Ebenezer Scrooge walked by, Cratchit accidentally pelted him with a snowball. Scrooge fired his clerk summarily and even deducted a shilling from his wages. Cratchit spent the rest of his money on supplies for his Christmas dinner for his family the next day.
Marley's Ghost by John Leech - Wikimedia
A Visit from Marley’s Ghost
Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll), the former business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge, was just as mean and miserly as Scrooge, but had died seven years ago, leaving Scrooge to fend for himself in scratching out a living in their failing business. That evening, Scrooge awoke to see before him the ghost of Jacob Marley with his arms and legs wrapped in chains. Marley warned Scrooge that he must change his miserly ways or he would be condemned to the same eternity that Marley had to face. He suggested to Scrooge that he should make some provisions for the poor and destitute by setting up a fund for the poor to buy food and drink. He informed Scrooge that he would be visited by three spirits who would explain things further to him, and that the first one would arrive at one o’clock in the morning.
The Spirit of Christmas Past
The Spirit of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford) came just in time at 1 p.m. The Spirit showed him his happy childhood spent with a loving family and his access to a wealthy boarding school where he learned how to make a living. Scrooge saw his happy years working for Fezziwig before he became consumed with making profits from his unsuspecting customers. Fezziwig was very kind to Scrooge. He remembered that Fezziwig had given a sovereign each to Scrooge and his fellow worker, Dick Wilkins, that Christmas.
The Spirit of Christmas Present
The Spirit of Christmas Present came, just as he was told, at two o’clock Christmas morning. Scrooge learned that his nephew Fred did not have enough money to marry his fiancée Bess and could lose her because of that. He was also shown Bob Cratchit and his family having their Christmas dinner with a goose and all the trappings. Bob did not tell his wife that he had been fired from his job, and was happy just to spend the day with his family. The Spirit referred to Tiny Tim (Terry Kilburn), Cratchit’s young crippled son who could possibly die unless he received expensive treatment.
Scrooge and Bob Cratchit - woodcut by John Leech - Wikimedia
The Spirit of Christmas Future
The Spirit of Christmas Future came right on time at three o’clock. He showed Scrooge what his future would be like if he did not change his mean and miserly ways. Tiny Tim would die. He saw his own gravestone which no one visited. Scrooge promised the Spirit he would indeed change his ways and returned home. When Christmas morning arrived, Ebenezer Scrooge was transformed into a kinder, gentler soul.
A Transformed Ebenezer Scrooge
His first act on Christmas morning was to buy turkeys and Christmas presents for the agency that took care of the poor. He had dinner with his nephew Fred and told him he wanted him as a partner in the business, which would pave the way for Fred to marry Bess. His next visit was to Bob Cratchit’s family, laden with gifts and a promise to Bob of a forthcoming raise. He also said he would have a job waiting for Peter, Tim’s older brother, when he came of age. He spoke of his intention to keep the Spirit of Christmas in his heart every day of the year. His toast to the Cratchits was “To all of us, everywhere, a Merry Christmas to us all. Then Tiny Tim spoke his famous line “God bless us, everyone.”
I confess that this is the first time that I have viewed this all-time classic film, and have never read the book. It has been an annual stage production in my city, to everyone’s delight, but again I never participated. I was aware of the complete story, however, and there were no surprises for me. I now regard it as a must-see on an annual basis, to remind me of the real Spirit of Christmas which we often forget in our rush to meet shopping deadlines.