Sunday, December 13, 2020

Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL

We all know Charles Dickens' story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his visits from the three ghosts on Christmas Eve (four if you count the initial visit from his former partner, Marley).  A story of redemption—a miserly man whose concept of the Christmas spirit is "Bah, Humbug!"  Then his life is turned around after Marley tells him about his upcoming visits from the Christmas ghosts. The first one from his past to remind him of what was and the promise of what could have been, the second from his present to open his eyes to what he had become and how others felt about him, and the final visit from the ghost of the future to show him where he was headed if he didn't change his ways.

From a writer's perspective, it was the first time a story had been told from the point-of-view of a character within that story rather than an omniscient point-of-view of an unidentified narrator.  Point-of-view—something vital for today's writer of fiction.

The novella, first published in London on December 9, 1843, has been a staple of the Christmas season as a movie, television show, or play for well over a century. I wondered how many different versions of Dickens' story there were.  So, I did what I usually do when I want a quick answer to something…I Googled it.

And the results came as quite a surprise.  Things I knew, things I had known but forgotten, and things I never knew.  Twenty-eight films, twenty-three television productions, plus other miscellaneous offerings such as staged plays.  Live action, animation, a 3D computer generated images theatrical movie from Disney in 2009, one television movie version set in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and even a couple where the character of Scrooge was portrayed as being female.

The first filming of A CHRISTMAS CAROL was a fifteen minute silent movie made in 1908 followed by two other silent versions made in 1910 and 1913.  There have been the dramatic theatrical films, musical versions, and animated versions with favorite and very familiar cartoon characters taking on the roles of Dickens' famous characters.  Of the twenty-eight movies, ten were released under Dickens' exact original title of A CHRISTMAS CAROL as were six of the twenty-three television productions.

I have noticed over the last few years that several game shows, especially this time of year, have used this trivia question—How many ghosts visited Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol? And most of the time the contestant got it wrong. They usually answer with the number three when in reality it's four. They seem to forget about the first ghost being that of Marley, Scrooge's former business partner who sets the scene for the appearance of the next three ghosts.

Even though all the various productions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL tell Dickens' story of Scrooge and the visits from the Christmas ghosts, many had their own unique twist and flavor on the original.  I think my favorite is a 1970 theatrical musical version titled SCROOGE which stars Albert Finney as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge who learns the lessons of the spirit of the Christmas season.


Margaret Carter said...

Excellent summary. My personal favorite is the Patrick Stewart movie. Love the Muppets version, except that they completely omit Scrooge's little sister (raising the question, for any unlikely viewers not familiar with the story, of where his nephew came from).

However, I can't agree that A CHRISTMAS CAROL is the first piece of fiction with a point-of-view character. Do you not count first-person narratives such as Defoe's MOLL FLANDERS and ROBINSON CRUSOE in that category? Also, A CHRISTMAS CAROL does include some omniscient-narrator passages.

Samantha Gentry said...

Margaret: I don't consider a viewpoint character to be the same as first person. In first person, the reader is not allowed anything that the first person character cannot see/hear/feel/think. That first person character must appear in every scene. If the reader needs information that is not part of what the first person character is involved in, it can only be conveyed by the first person character after-the-fact such as another character telling it to the first person as dialogue, etc. There are no omniscient-narrator passages or dialogue that does not involve the presence of the first person character. There is no switch to a different pov/or different first person character. Scene transitions can only be what is known to that first person character [there is no 'meanwhile, back at the ranch' type of transitions :)]. All those limitations makes first person more difficult to write, in my opinion, and doesn't allow the reader any information about what is in another character's head such as the hero being the first person narrator which makes the villain a lesser character rather than equally important to the story because we never know his thoughts or feelings.

Thank you for your comment.

Samantha Gentry said...

Margaret: And yes, the omission of the sister from Christmas past leaves the reader with no information about the presence of a nephew in the present. Since the story can't just eliminate any mention of the nephew, in this case it must include mention of the little sister.

Thanks for your comment.