December 15th, 2009
I guess you can say that A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has been a success. It was published in 1843 and has never been out of print since then. It’s spawned all manner of plays, films, adaptations, and spoofs. It’s been adapted at least twice by Disney, once featuring Mickey Mouse and another time featuring Jim Carey. We’re almost inundated with the story — I’m not sure how many ways I’ve seen it. Yet I had never read the original story by Dickens until just now.
And I must say, what a treat it was. Despite knowing the plot in advance, it was a very good read. The 19th century London setting was done well. It wasn’t some idealized London as is often portrayed in film adaptations. It had depth, as did the characters. Dickens’ Scrooge had a troubled childhood, the son of poor and apparently abusive parents. He turned to business, with which he was successful. Along the way, he lost sight of family, and really of his humanity in general, striving to be a richer and more successful businessman at the cost of all else.
How apropos this story is for us in the 21st century. Our large banks define success in terms of profits made for their shareholders, while adding more gotchas to the terms of the credit cards held by their customers. Our governments play geopolitical games over weapons, oil, and gas, while unwilling to sacrifice anything to prevent a climate disaster. Our politicians, even in the season of Christmas, turn a blind eye and a cold heart to the suffering of those that can’t afford health care for naught but political reasons, rather than trying their hardest to make a plan that will help them reality as soon as possible.
And what of us, the citizens of the 21st century? We consume ever flashier cars, houses, computers, and cellphones with data plans, while poverty intensifies across the globe in this economic downturn.
Well, count me among those many inspired and reminded by Dickens to be a more empathetic person, to remember how good even many of the poor in the West have it compared to other parts of the world, and to try to do more for others.
And that, perhaps, is part of the genius of Dickens. He inspired a complete change of how people looked at Christmas in his time. And his work is no less relevant today; perhaps it hits even closer to home these days. He invites us to carefully consider the question: what does it mean to achieve success in life? And he deftly illustrates that “wealth” is wrong answer. Here’s hoping that many others will also learn a small bit about life from Dickens.
How to find it:
A Christmas Carol is available for free from Project Gutenberg for reading online, printing, or reading on an ebook reader such as the Kindle.
Be careful when buying printed editions. Many have been abridged or “improved for a modern audience”, and thus lose a lot of the quality of the original. I found at least one edition that looks true to the original; I’m sure there are others.
[This review also posted to Goodreads]