Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Good Story 149: A Christmas Carol

Julie takes Bob Cratchit's coal. Scott throws snowballs at carolers. Neither can figure out why the clock keeps ringing 1:00 all night long. Episode 149: a discussion of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

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  • The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford
  • Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World by Simon Callow


    1. Recently I heard Rod Bennett saying that all of the great Christmas stories have an element of terror. I so love insights like this that make you think. This is certainly true of a Christmas Carol and today being the Feast of the Holy Innocents also true for the original Christmas story. Again true for "It's a wonderful life".

      So I was pondering why an element of terror is there. Maybe the root is the fact that Christ's birth and the purpose of the Incarnation was that we are sinners in need of a redeemer. That no Pelagianism tendencies can merit the Beatific Vision. As sinners we can truly merit damnation through our will. To quote C.S. Lewis

      “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done."

      So the arc of a true Christmas story involves a movement of grace and repentance. In seeing sin for what it is. This arc is often hidden in the of the "family/community is important" aspects of Christmas movies. This genre when it has not aspect of terror in it when it comes to repentance is usually because it has been strained of content leaving only sentimentality behind.

      I have been thinking recently about how "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a wonderful life" are very similar. They both contain a look back of ones actions in life, but for different purposes. For George Bailey he saw his life of self-sacrifice and personal disappointments connected to what his self-giving truly gave. That he had to repent of his despair. For Scrooge he saw the opposite, that his selfishness collapsed himself and hurt others around him. He was Henry Potter with no redemption.

      Looking back at all the incarnations of A Christmas Carol in film and so many TV series episodes through the lens of an atheist it was robbed of the reality of the message. Distilled down to "be good", without defining good. A temporary sentimental repentance being affected by the story - soon got lost in yet another stoic attempt without the help of grace.

      So a Merry Christmastide and Happy New Year to you both!

      1. I really love that insight into how A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life are like mirror images of each other, precisely because Scrooge and George Bailey are mirror images. Fascinating!

        That's an interesting idea about the element of terror also. I'm going to think about that one. It feels right, especially considering what you say about suddenly seeing one's sin. Without something to be saved from (or terrified of) then the happy ending is nothing but cotton candy.

        Thank you so much for these insights! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too!

    2. Oh by the way the first Dickens novel I read was "David Copperfield". The reason I choose this one was because W.C. Fields was in the movie version. I am a huge W.C. Fields fan since a kid and have even done stage impersonations of him. His playing of Mr. Micawber in the film was pitch perfect. I loved this character and his "If anything turns up." Apparently the character was based on Dicken's father who had been to debtors prison.

      Oh here is an odd fact for you. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is a huge Dickens fan and named one of his guitars "Micawber".

      1. I'm now much fonder of Keith Richards than I was before!

        What a great reason for you to pick up David Copperfield. I need to watch that version of the movie!

      2. Fascinating as always, Jeff! Thanks for all this, and Merry Christmas to you!

        Keith Richards. Who'd'a'thunkit? How wonderful is that?

    3. I'm another vote for Alastair Sim as the definitive Scrooge. No one expresses the change in outlook as well as he does. His hopeful, joyful Scrooge is just as believable as his miserly, miserable Scrooge.

    4. *Please* do discuss the Space Trilogy in an episode sometime! It's been a beloved series of mine since childhood, when an elder sibling started reading the first book with me (and which I've re-read multiple times since). It's very different from the CS Lewis that most readers usually know, but still fantastic. Each book has enough material for an entire episode - especially That Hideous Strength! Like reading HG Wells, it's amazing to read an account of what space travel might be like from the perspective of a 1930s imagination. I don't follow the SFF Audio podcast that closely, but has it ever been proposed for discussion over there? That would also make for some fun episodes.

      Merry Christmas!

      1. Request noted (with pleasure)! :-)

        I agree each book has enough info for separate discussions, which is how I'd propose we do it. Maybe if we do one a year ... but I definitely feel, however we do it, that the trilogy is in our future! I don't think that SFFaudio has done it.