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Monday, December 6, 2010

Countdown to Christmas #6: A Christmas Carol


I'm not a big Charles Dickens fan, but A Christmas Carol is the one exception. With it, Dickens manages to speak to the subject most important to him (the disenfranchised poor in Victorian England) but due to it's relative brevity compared to his other works, that subject doesn't overwhelm the story.

And that story is perhaps the most iconic Christmas story ever, and one of the most iconic stories of all time. There have been countless film adaptations, television homages, even comic books inspired by it. Its characters (more on Scrooge later), settings and themes have become indelibly seared into the modern Christmas zeitgeist. It's even credited with popularizing the phrase "Merry Christmas".

To this day, I largely equate Victorian England with Christmas because of A Christmas Carol, yet the themes and characters are archetypal enough that they can be shifted to just about any setting, which accounts for all the variations on the story. You just need a skin-flinted miser, a downtrodden everyman, his sickly kid, a few time traveling spirits and a lesson about keeping Christmas in your heart year round. Heck, you don't even need all of those elements for a successful take on A Christmas Carol.

Also, let's not forget: technically, A Christmas Carol is a Christmas ghost story. Which is a pretty ballsy move on Dickens' part, and presages the fad of smashing together two awesome but seemingly contradictory properties (like Cowboys vs. Aliens or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) that's currently taking pop culture by storm.  

Of the various versions and incarnations out there, my favorites are Mickey's Christmas Carol (which first introduced me to the story when I was a kid) and The Muppet Christmas Carol (more on that later as well). What are some of your favorite versions?


Finally, I heartily recommend you check out Michael May's ongoing examination of several different Christmas Carol versions on his blog Old Sinner. He's breaking the story down scene-by-scene, looking at how different versions approach each scene. Fun and fascinating stuff.

11 comments:

  1. for whatever reason, christmas carol doesn't really do much for me. i don't DISlike it, but i'm pretty meh about it

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  2. yeah i'm with Anne. Though i do like the ghost of christmas past part, cuz time travel is awesome.

    Also, what do you mean you're not a dickens fan? Isn't Great Expectations like your favorite movie ever?

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  3. The George C. Scott version is pretty solid, too.

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  4. @Anne: Whatever, you hate Christmas. It's cool. ;)

    @Falen: Though i do like the ghost of christmas past part, cuz time travel is awesome.

    And the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. The lamest Ghost is the present, cuz there's no time travel involved.

    Isn't Great Expectations like your favorite movie ever?

    2nd favorite, technically, and the version I like is the one that is criticized for taking too many liberties with the source material. Basically, it focuses on the unrequited love story (which I like) and leaves behind all the social commentary (which I find tiresome).

    There's a lot to Dickens that I like, it's just that, in general, I find the majority of his novels to be overstuffed and repetitive (granted, I understand a lot of that is due to their original serialized nature).

    But something like Christmas Carol, which is relatively brief and thus more focused, or adaptations that cut to the heart of the story, I like just fine.

    @Jeff: The George C. Scott version is pretty solid, too.

    Yeah, I do like that one, too. It's also one of the versions Michael May is examining on his blog.

    There's also a more recent TV adaptation that had Patrick Stewart as Scrooge which was pretty good simply because Patrick Stewart was Scrooge.

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  5. I'm with Anne. I don't dislike Christmas Carol but it leaves me very meh...unless the Picard is present but that applies to most everything.

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  6. @Hannah: unless the Picard is present but that applies to most everything.

    "Set that drill to warp six. Hannah, open wide. Engage!"

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  7. It seems I’ve known the story of “A Christmas Carol” all my life (starting with Mr. Magoo’s cartoon version when I was a kid), and it was never a favorite UNTIL Patrick Stewart tried his hand. And before he played Scrooge in the recent TV adaptation, he did a one-man show in which he played ALL of the characters. I have his performance on cassette tape, and it’s this audio version that I love best. He did a wide range of vocal characterizations (even a high-voiced Cockney boy singing at Scrooge’s door!) and his performance is brilliant, as you might expect. Because of Stewart’s interpretation, I can now pick up my beautifully illustrated copy of “A Christmas Carol” and see the story come alive in my mind as I read that marvelous text. It’s a lot like my relationship with Shakespeare. I couldn’t get into any of his works until I’d seen Franco Zefferelli’s film interpretations. That’s just me, I know. But now I truly love some of Shakespeare’s works. Likewise with Jane Austen. Her books read much easier after seeing a faithful screen adaptation.

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  8. @Marebabe: he did a one-man show in which he played ALL of the characters. I have his performance on cassette tape, and it’s this audio version that I love best. He did a wide range of vocal characterizations (even a high-voiced Cockney boy singing at Scrooge’s door!) and his performance is brilliant, as you might expect.

    I've heard about that, and heard great things about it, but have never actually heard it. I shall have to track it down.

    It’s a lot like my relationship with Shakespeare. I couldn’t get into any of his works until I’d seen Franco Zefferelli’s film interpretations.

    I don't think that's odd at all. I'm the same way; it's loads easier to read (and appreciate) Shakespeare if you've seen it performed, either live or via film. I took a Shakespeare class in college and we watched a film adaptation of every play we read.

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  9. Classic example from "Romeo and Juliet". When it comes time for some swordplay, all it says on the page is: They fight.

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  10. I'm not a big Charles Dickens fan, but A Christmas Carol is the one exception

    Same here.

    I never really thought of A Christmas Carol as a genre mash-up, but now that you mention it... That's a nightmare before Christmas.

    You cited almost all of my favorite takes on the story, many of which it looks like you devote time to in later installments of what I'm still impressed you didn't call "X-amining X-Mas" — the swingin' Teen Titans translation, Mickey's Christmas Carol (with Scrooge as Scrooge), The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged (oh, Carol Kane with the toaster), and the Patrick Stewart one-man show.

    Ditto everything Marebabe said about that last one, which really has to be heard to be believed. Agreed on needing to see Shakespeare to really get it, too; just reading the plays aloud to yourself helps with the context of some of the now-obscure language and brings out the flow of the dialogue.

    There aren't many people who get the reference, but the first time I read Great Expectations (and thus from then on) I pictured Miss Havisham as Agatha Harkness, who freaked me the @#$% out as a kid.

    VW: redist — Pro-crimson.

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  11. @Blam: later installments of what I'm still impressed you didn't call "X-amining X-Mas"

    D'oh! >slaps forehead< I was going for the alliteration and went with "Countdown to Christmas" when "X-amining X-Mas" was right in front of me!

    I pictured Miss Havisham as Agatha Harkness, who freaked me the @#$% out as a kid.

    Ha! I can totally see that. Somehow, I think I'd like Great Expectations less if I'd done the same thing.

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