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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Across The Pond and Beyond - A Christmas Carol

Hey, everyone.

Yesterday's entry was one that was a bit hard for me to write, but it was one that needed to be said. It helped get a lot of the feelings that I was feeling out there. It's never easy to say goodbye to someone who you have developed a close bond with, and just writing about how much that friendship meant to me, it really helped me cope a little better.

Today is a new day, and I'm sure that if I knew my friend as well as I did, she wouldn't want me to feel sad for very long, so today we're going right back into the original purpose of this blog, which is to have fun with it.

After a little bit of a hiatus yesterday, we're going to restart the 7...6 Days of Box Office Christmas. And today's entry was the one that I was going to originally be posted yesterday.

(I decided to forego the arcade Thursday post because the only example I could find takes place on Christmas and the game is a survival horror role playing game. Mmmmm...nothing says Merry Christmas quite like killing off mutated creatures, doesn't it?)

So, today will become Across The Pond and Beyond Thursday instead. Today's topic has been made and remade into various movies, television episodes, stage plays, and operas over the years, and is based on a book written by a prolific British author. The book has remained in circulation for well over a century and a half, and is widely considered to be one of the finest works that Charles Dickens ever wrote.

Keeping in mind that Charles Dickens wrote several books in his career.

That book is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

You ever have some sort of epiphany at some point in your life? One where you're sitting somewhere and you realize that the way that you may be living your life the completely wrong way? Then something just strikes you out of the blue, shows you what you're doing wrong, and then you make the changes necessary to improve things?

That's what this novella is about.

A Christmas Carol was written during the mid-19th century, and was first published by publishing company Chapman & Hall on December 19, 1843. Interestingly enough, the book was written at a time when Britain was experiencing a nostalgic interest in forgotten Christmas traditions. As well, it was written during a time when brand new traditions were being implemented, such as setting up Christmas trees and mailing Christmas cards. The book was also credited with restoring festivity and cheer to the holiday in Britian, in which before it was a period of sombreness.

The one thing I can note from reading and re-reading this book over the years is the amount of contrasting imagery within its pages. It's a very schizophrenic, manic-depressive sort of a book. While the book does a fantastic job of showcasing the joy and festiveness of the holiday season, it also provides darker imagery. Imagery filled with death, darkness, and despair.

What also makes the book a little more interesting is the fact that a lot of the book was influenced by the personal experiences of the author. A lot of these references admittedly were taken from Wikipedia (which I know gets a bad rap from people), but the books that the site cites (heh) are one hundred per cent real. So, you know what? I'm gonna go with it.

Dickens, who reportedly wrote the book in just six weeks, was influenced by a variety of sources. In fact, Dickens used some of his own humiliating childhood experiences as a template for the creation of the main character of the book, Ebenezer Scrooge. The depiction of Scrooge was more or less the conflicting feelings that Dickens had felt for his own father. What had happened was that when Dickens was twelve, his father was imprisoned, and he was forced to leave the life he knew behind for a much more depressing one. Back in the mid-19th century, there were no labour laws for children, and at twelve, he was forced to leave school to go and work at a blacking factory. He was forced to pawn all of his childhood possessions, including his collection of books, and he felt so uncomfortable at the factory that he began to develop nervous fits.

Although his father was eventually released from prison, Dickens was forced to continue working at the factory, his once happy childhood deemed a memory. As a result of this, Dickens' feelings for his father became conflicted. It was almost a split personality. He loved his father, yet hated him at the same time. For it was his father's imprisonment that changed his life forever. As a result of his experiences in the factory, it left him a changed person, and his writing work was ultimately affected in his work. Perhaps a better example of this in action would be Dickens' novel 'David Copperfield', but it also applies towards A Christmas Carol as well.

One has to wonder if Dickens' experiences at the factory, as well as his touring other factories in Britain where poor children often worked in disgusting and appaling conditions, was one of the catalysts towards reshaping the child labour laws in Britain. Regardless of which, Charles Dickens ended up writing a fund-raising speech for a charitable institution serving the poor in October 1843. The speech urged workers to fight ignorance with educational reform. That speech would later be the starting point towards the creation of A Christmas Carol.

Now that you know the story and the influences that went into creating A Christmas Carol, we can continue with the plot.

The tale begins on Christmas Eve, 1843...exactly seven years since the death of Jacob Marley, former business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge. It becomes clear within the first few pages that Scrooge isn't a nice guy. He's stingy, selfish, and would rather end up cutting off a limb than give even a penny of his fortune away. He doesn't even know the meaning of the words kindness, generosity, charity, or compassion.

Of course, this could be because a lot of the reason why Scrooge got so wealthy was by letting other people do the back-breaking labour involved with running a business for him for very little pay.

Oh, he was a real Scrooge, all right.

One of his poor unfortunate victims? Bob Cratchit. Overworked and underpaid, Bob just seems to take the abuse in stride, for it really is the only job he can get. If Bob lost the job, his family would be on the streets, and he couldn't let that happen.

Of course, Scrooge seems to take great pleasure in the poor man's misfortune.

Oh, and one more thing. Scrooge hates Christmas. Scrooge only has two words for Christmas. Bah, humbug!

Not only does he hate Christmas, but it seems as though he wants everyone else to hate Christmas just as much as he does. He slams the door in the face of a couple of men seeking donations for a charity, and he turns down a dinner invitation from his nephew. He does allow his employee to have Christmas Day off with pay, though the only reason he does this is to follow social custom. If Scrooge had his way, Cratchit would work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

That night, Scrooge closes up the business for the holiday and heads back home. But as soon as he arrives at the front door, he is shocked by the appearance of the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. The ghost of Marley practically begs Scrooge to change his ways, or else he'll be condemned to an afterlife filled with torment and pain. The chain that Marley is forced to carry around with him is the burden that he had to shoulder from his ruthless business practice when he was still living...the very same practices that Scrooge still committed on a daily basis.

That encounter would be scary enough, but then Scrooge is visited by three more ghosts. The Ghost Of Christmas Past, The Ghost Of Christmas Present, and The Ghost Of Christmas Yet To Come.

The first spirit that Scrooge is visited by is the Ghost of Christmas Past, and this ghost takes Scrooge back in time to when he was still an innocent youth. It is here that we discover the reasons behind why Scrooge hated Christmas so much. We learn that Scrooge was a lonely child, who was left at the boarding school he attended by himself while his schoolmates returned home for the holidays. The fact that the story showed him being entertained by his books makes me wonder if Dickens didn't base this part of the book on his own life story. The ghost takes him on a journey through the past, which includes the time he worked as Mr. Fezziwig's apprentice, and how his fiancee, Belle, ended her relationship with him, due to the fact that he seemed to care more about money than her. We also see how Belle fell in love with another man and married him happily, which angers Scrooge.

Some variations of the story have slight additions to the Ghost Of Christmas Past arc of the story. In the 1984 film adaptation, starring George C. Scott as Scrooge, we see an additional scene where Scrooge's father arranged an apprenticeship for him, making his homecoming last mere days, and is suggested that the reason his father had such resentment for him was because of the fact that his wife died while giving birth.

(On a similar note, I highly recommend the 1984 version of the movie. Very well done.)

The next ghost to visit Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and this ghost takes Scrooge on a different journey. He shows Scrooge through the city square, filled with dozens of joyful people picking up supplies for their Christmas celebrations, dinners, and parties.

After seeing a vision of Scrooge's nephew, they also drop in on the family feast of Bob Cratchit, where Scrooge gets his first glimpse of the Cratchit's youngest child, Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim is not a very well young boy. He walks with crutches, and while Tiny Tim's disease is curable, the Cratchit family lacks the money necessary to give Tim the medical treatment he needs...mainly because Scrooge doesn't pay much money.

Scrooge is shaken to the core by this image...not just because of the fact that he realizes that Tiny Tim is very sick, but because of the fact that despite this, the Cratchit family still manages to find joy and peace from the Christmas season.

Using the images of two young children who the ghost gives the names of Want and Ignorance, the ghost does a pretty convincing job of making Scrooge eat all of the unkind words he uttered beforehand, along with a nice slab of humble pie to make the taste seem even more unbearable. The more the Ghost of Christmas Present speaks, the worse Scrooge feels.

The proverbial cherry on top of Scrooge's dessert from hell comes courtesy of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, which paints a portrait of a rather gloomy Christmas, should Scrooge fail to change his ways.

People on the streets seem to be in celebration of the death of a known miser, and how they were making light of it...about how they would only go to the funeral if a free lunch was provided. Clearly not someone who was well-liked by the community.

Scrooge also watches in horror as the dead man's belongings are stolen and sold to Old Joe, a man who specializes in making money from stolen merchandise. Poor families are relieved and overjoyed that the man who they owed money to was no longer alive to collect it. It puzzled Scrooge in a rather sobering way. How could anyone treat anyone so cruelly and without dignity after they died?

But when the ghost shows Scrooge images of the funeral of young Tiny Tim, and the Cratchit family mourning his death, Scrooge suddenly gets a sickening feeling inside of him.

And when Scrooge gets a picture of the unkempt gravestone in the middle of a lonely graveyard, and sees that a newly dug up grave was meant for him, Scrooge realizes that the cruel man that everyone was talking about was him all along.

What a nightmare to experience. Imagine being so ruthless and cruel in your life, only to have nobody caring about you after you die. That would be the worst possible feeling in the world, right?

But, fear not. That was just one possibility that could arise. If Scrooge could only find it in himself to change his whole personality around, and become more kind and generous to those around him, then maybe a brighter future would come to him.

This is Scrooge's epiphany.

I suppose I don't need to tell you what happens next, except for the fact that the Cratchit family gets a Christmas miracle, courtesy of the once cold-hearted Scrooge.

Even though the story was written almost two centuries ago, it is still one of the most classic tales of Christmas ever written. As a result, several specials and movies have been made, each one with an ingenious method of storytelling.

I already talked about the 1984 George C. Scott movie, but if you get a chance to watch it, the Muppets did a version of the classic tale which is worth watching.

And of course, there's one of my own personal favourite versions...Mickey's Christmas Carol, from 1983. I mean, you have Scrooge McDuck playing Scrooge...what could be better?

Watch it below!

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