From a child, I have disliked any and all videos of A Christmas Carol. I understand that there are in excess of fifty adaptions, spin-offs, and so forth. I have seen only three or four, but that was torment enough.
As I grew older, I began to dislike the story even more, as I was introduced to the word ‘scrooge’. As far as I can make out, a ‘scrooge’ is 1) a person who dislikes A Christmas Carol, videos of A Christmas Carol, or It’s a Wonderful Life, 2) a person who opposes minimum wage laws, 3) a person who dislikes clutter, trinkets, and cheap toys to the point that he wishes the people with whom he lives to keep theirs well under cover, 4) a person who does not find the Christmas season, Christmas trees, etc. “magical”.
Also, I cannot forgive A Christmas Carol for maligning the name ‘Ebenezer’, which is quite handsome and has positive associations I consider more important than Dickens’s novella.
Despite these offences, I thought the book was rather good. It had no more than the usual amount of Dickens’s romanticism and prolixity, without superfluous characters or pages. And I confess to be completely won over by the protagonist.
Ebenezer Scrooge is not a dishonest man. He is not a liar, thief, or cheat. His business is successful because he provides a service well. But Ebenezer is not happy or good, because he is unkind and has closed himself off from the kindness of others by putting money before everything else. He is a miser, and, as the dictionary says, literally wretched.
But Ebenezer is not too proud to change. When the first ghost visits him, he immediately sees where he has erred.
“The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,
“ ‘Why! Is it not [a small matter to make these silly folks so full of gratitude]? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves praise?’
“ ‘It isn’t that,’ said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. ‘It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.’
“He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.
“ ‘What’s the matter?’ asked the Ghost. . . .
“ ‘I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.’ ”
The second ghost confronts Ebenezer with the most chilling evidences of his moral decay: his references to the prisons, Union workhouses, the Treadmill, the Poor Law, and the “surplus” population. Here too, Ebenezer is not stiff-necked and stubborn. (As a libertarian and a Christian, I find it particularly gratifying that government programs are spurned for personal responsibility and genuine charity.)
The next morning, Ebenezer immediately changes his life, without haughtiness and before the people he has wronged. I admire his humility. Why are people generally ashamed to change for the better? If it is because we hate to admit that our conduct has been wrong, then we are surely deceiving ourselves into thinking that no one has noticed our bad behaviour.
“Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; . . . His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.”
So much for Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s great, but not great enough to reconcile me to Bob Cratchit or Fred. Bob is rather pathetic. The word ‘feeble’ comes to mind. Although Scrooge did owe him kind words and a good fire, I think it unlikely that his work was worth more than 15 bob a week. I like enterprising, resourceful people. As for Fred, he’s a bit irksome and rude.
However, these weak supporting characters aren’t necessarily a weakness in the story. After all, Scrooge could not be excused changing just because the people around him were flawed. One could go on about the differences between generosity which elevates people and that which enables them to stay dependent. But such fine distinctions are beyond the scope of A Christmas Carol.