Book Review: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead.

from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

I wasn’t going to do it: I wasn’t going to post yet another book review. That was until my daughter brought home a copy of A Christmas Carol and Other Stories from her school library. She knew I had enjoyed the one Dickens novel I had previously read, Great Expectations, and thought I would enjoy this one, too. And it didn’t take me long to decide that the review of a good Christmas ghost story would be appropriate for this website at this time. So, this is my Christmas gift to you.

There probably aren’t many who aren’t familiar with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his encounters with ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, but just in case, here’s a summary.

Scrooge is a cold man, hardened by years spent in the accumulation of wealth. One Christmas Eve, feeling particularly cantankerous on the cusp of his least-favorite holiday, he is visited by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley. He has come to warn old Ebenezer of his impending fate: to spend eternity bound by the figurative chains he has fashioned for himself during his life. He then tells Scrooge to expect three spectral visitors, who each in turn take the old miser on a tour of Christmases that were, are, and might yet be.

The Good

A Christmas Carol and Other Stories, by Charles DickensI haven’t read a lot of Dickens; this is only the second of his works that I have taken the time to enjoy. I’ve heard a lot of people complain of his wordiness and dry prose, but I have no complaints. First, the quote above shows, he can ramble, but it’s usually in the interest of absurdity (again, see the quote). The opening lines immediately recalled a particular Monte Python skit for some reason, but that’s beside the point. Secondly, I don’t find his prose any more dry than his contemporaries; less so, in fact.

What I learned from this novella (it’s just over 100 pages), as well as Great Expectations, is that Dickens was a master of characterization; it’s no wonder many of his characters have become icons of personality. The names Oliver Twist, The Artful Dodger and Fagan, Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim, all conjure impressions of familiarity. As a writer, I find that the author has a lot to teach in this area.

For all of this, the themes of this story made the greatest impression. The theme of generosity vs. materialism is clear, showing the joy that comes from a generous heart, even in those who are impoverished, juxtaposed with the discontent and loneliness that comes from a miserly heart and a constant pursuit of wealth.

Underlying this, though, is the simple message that it’s always possible to change one’s heart.

The Bad

I love it when I can’t find a thing to write here.

The Ugly

Or here.

Conclusion

When I decided to read A Christmas Carol, my first thought was that it might not hold my attention having seen so many screen and stage adaptations. After reading the opening sequence quoted above, however, I knew I was in for an thoroughly entertaining experience.

I found that the greatest thing about reading this story, though, is becoming reacquainted with the timelessness of its themes. They are, in fact more timely than ever, considering today’s obsession with both materialism and the shunning of the word “Christmas” in the name of being politically correct. In the case of materialism, this tale unashamedly proclaims the cliched message, “it is better to give than to receive,” and does it in an unforgettable way. And in the case of political correctness, A Christmas Carol firmly reveals the truth: Christmas is about loving and giving, about peace and goodwill, and about sharing of hearts; and by these qualities it transcends culture and faith and race and nationality.

It’s on that note, and in that spirit, that I wish all of you a merry Christmas. Oh yes, I also give this story five stars. 5 Stars

About RNAdams2

I write what I call "supernatural suspense"; that is, suspenseful stories involving otherworldly events. I have a lot I could (and will) write about the topic. I could explain what I write as "horror," but I have always believed that an author should have the primary motive of horrifying his readers, which is not the case with me. I could call my writing "supernatural" or "paranormal," but my writing lacks much of the focus on romance/erotica or teenage angst that seems to be prevalent in those genres.
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