The Other Scrooge

There once was a gloomy curmudgeon who hated Christmas and the festivities associated with the holiday. Instead, he preferred dark, dreary, cold environments.  The grouch even assaulted a boy he ran into who was singing and skipping on Christmas. But one day, the man encountered spirits who showed him visions of his childhood and future. These visions, along with the spiritual encounter, led to the conversion of the curmudgeon.

This is the plot summary of A Christmas Carol, but this is also the summary of The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton from The Pickwick Papers.

Hablot_Knight_Browne_-_The_Pickwick_Papers,_Gabriel_and_the_goblin

In The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton, Gabriel Grub is working as a sexton in a graveyard during Christmas when suddenly, goblins appear out of nowhere, drink his liquor, show him visions, and literally kick him upside the head. It is probable that Dickens was not pleased with his original story but wanted to keep the same theme. It worked. A Christmas Carol is a more powerful story.

While both Grub and Scrooge undergo conversions due to spiritual encounters, the Ghosts of Christmas do not beat Scrooge senseless. Rather, Scrooge learns from the Past, Present, and Future; “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” Scrooge realizes that the love of money had made him a monster, but that he still has the ability to change his live and alleviate suffering in the world. Grub, on the other hand, learns that the world is not as bad as he thought; “he came to the conclusion that it was a very decent and respectable sort of world after all.” Scrooge has more free will than Grub. He has more freedom to choose the right path. Scrooge’s conversion is not due to a fear of being beaten by spirits. Scrooge’s conversion is therefore more authentic and probably more lasting.

The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton focuses more on the story itself than on his conversion. After being visited by goblins, Grub hides from the world. Others from his village bring into question his sobriety at the time of the encounter. The morality of Gabriel Grub’s story is not that one should live unselfishly but that nothing good comes from drinking alone. “[T]his story has at least one moral, if it teach no better one – and that is, that if a man turn sulky and drink by himself at Christmas time, he may make up his mind to be not a bit the better of it: let the spirits be never so good, or let them be even as many degrees beyond proof, as those which Gabriel Grub saw in the goblin’s cavern.”

The Most Appropriate Telling of A Christmas Carol

Today is Christmas, so I decided to start my blog with a post on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  I started reading the book last weekend, although I have seen both professional and university performances of the story.  Storytelling can take a variety of forms. And the telling of A Christmas Carol is no exception. The story has been retold through plays, live-action films, animated films, operas, and ballets. After reading the book, I can understand why.

Mr. Fezzwig's Christmas, frontispiece from 1843 Dickens' A Christmas Carol (Public domain)

Dickens’ work lends itself to performance. Ebenezer Scrooge literally watches scenes after scenes of his past, present, and future. Like the spectator of a play, Scrooge witnesses the unfurling of a story.  Indeed, A Christmas Carol often reads as a screen play rather than a novella. Dickens offers an in-depth description of such scenes as the Cratchit dinner, Scrooge’s nephew’s Christmas party, the burying of Tiny Tim, etc., but places little emphasis on what cannot be seen (the characters’ emotions, Scrooge’s internal conflicts, etc.).  What cannot be seen is inferred rather than thoroughly explored. The most appropriate medium for such storytelling is performance.