With all the film versions of this classic Christmas story portraying it as a moral fable for children, it's easy to forget it's actually a ghost story, and at times really scary. The terror isn't nihilistic—Ebenezer Scrooge has demons that need exorcising, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future visit him to ensure he's properly cleansed. Any reader who isn't purged of ill-will with the old miser is either unimaginably hard-hearted or dozed off after chapter one.
But who'd fall asleep? This is a fast-paced tale with humor, excitement and tenderness to keep anyone intrigued. The plot is well-known: Scrooge is a bitter old man who sees no value in Christmas or joy because they serve no utilitarian purpose. To show him the error of his ways, Scrooge's old colleague Bob Marley—now a ghost—informs him three spirits will take him on a tour of his own life. The spirits are punctual, and before the end of the night Ebenezer has revisited old Christmases of the past and a very dark one yet-to-come, exposing a life of pain given and endured. His eventual embrace of "Christmas cheer" is justly famous.
What is perhaps less well-known is the genuine horror of Scrooge's ghastly voyage. Certainly there is a supernatural element (particularly when the Ghost of Christmas Future shows his terrible by-blows to Scrooge), but the true horror exists in a life of real loneliness and perpetual ill-will exemplified by Scrooge's conscious rejections of love and happiness. His disregard for the destitute is appalling, but so too is the deep sense of abandonment the old man has felt throughout his life.
In the end we're changed by Scrooge's change of heart,and the realization that he wasn't the only guilty party. The ghosts offer him not only redemption, but also sympathy for his suffering at the hands of others. Dickens lifts Scrooge from the determinism of villainy and virtue and places him in the ambiguous realm of humanity, showing a man both guilty and victimized, a man closer to our experience, whose change of heart and behavior we can believe. When it comes, one can't be certain whether the tears are of remorse or gladness at the chance to turn remorse to good deeds.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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