I was desperate to get in the Christmas spirit this year. With agonising deadlines in full force I was in dire need of some festive cheer. A Christmas Carol seemed like the perfect choice to fill that void and tide me over until the holidays. 🙂 My vintage classic edition contained three of the five Christmas stories in the collection Dickens created, A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Haunted Man which I didn’t realise until I began reading. I will have to make an effort to search out the others next year! Oddly enough I also discovered that Washington Irving’s writings on Christmas I waded though last April were a big inspiration for Dickens when writing these stories, who knew? 🙂
This book was also read as part of The Rory Gilmore Challenge.
Ebenezer Scrooge is unimpressed by Christmas. He has no time for festivities or goodwill toward his fellow men and is only interested in money. Then, on the night of Christmas Eve, his life is changed by a series of ghostly visitations that show him some bitter truths about his choices. A Christmas Carol is Dickens’ most influential book and a funny, clever and hugely enjoyable story.
If you like Dickens writing style this may be your perfect Christmas book. His wonderful descriptions transport you to 19th century England walking along the cobbled streets catching whiffs of roasted chestnuts as everyone greets you with a heartwarming Merry Christmas, the cold making their rosy cheeks appear full of life and happiness. It is hard, no, impossible not to get sucked in to Dickens quaint and quintessential descriptions of imaginary people indulging in the holiday cheer. Not even a lack of money or turkey can dampen their spirits! While I had mixed thoughts about the individual stories I still managed to get a good laugh out of each due to the writing style. There is a definite theme woven throughout which I imagine would continue in the two omitted from my version. I think the man himself sums it up perfectly in the preface:
‘I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.’
Dickens is ever the champion of the people, both their biggest advocate and their conscience keen to present people with morals even during the Christmas period, or should I say especially then? Each story contains a character that has lost their way and become disillusioned with the season or life in general. By the end they seek redemption or see the error of their ways. Don’t we all love a story about a lost cause that turns out to be not so much of a lost cause? 🙂 I also liked that there was a supernatural element to each story left up to the readers interpretation – did it really happen or was it all a dream?
The first story in my version was A Christmas Carol, my original reason for purchasing the book. His famous story hardly needs an introduction, who doesn’t know of poor old Scrooge, hater of all things Christmas who makes it his life’s mission to enforce his misery on everyone else around him. I must say I have never been a fan of any of the film adaptations, I have always approached them in a positive way but they never quite fulfill the image I have in my head. Luckily, not only did A Christmas Carol meet my expectations but it exceeded them! At only 107 pages this is a short but sweet read and I can easily see why this story of all of them has stood the test of time. Within the first two pages I was drawn in and in awe of Dickens magical way of phrasing things. The plot flowed well and was divided into five stages making the pages race by, I finished the story in two sittings because I became so immersed! Scrooge was a fantastic character as you can imagine, cruel, self absorbed and horrendously rude to everyone.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did. – Pg 7
For all his shortcomings Scrooge is not an unlikable character, in fact, he’s brilliant. It was fun watching Dickens slowly peel back his layers to discover what his core was made of.
The other characters were wonderful too, Fred with his inability to give up on his Uncle, wishing him a very Merry Christmas every year with only insults in return. Blessed Tiny Tim with his weak body but fierce mind and wisdom far beyond his years. Bob’s determination to provide for his family and keep up the cheer despite living a modest life. And then of course there are the ghosts who were both interesting and a little terrifying. I thought Dickens depiction of the afterlife was quite unusual and fun. One of the ghosts wore a belt made up of all the things he was greedy about during life which I thought was very inventive.
Overall I thought A Christmas Carol was a brilliant book and that Dickens writing added a extra layer of magic and wonder the film adaptations lacked. I give this story a riveting five stars!
Next up was The Chimes, a story following an old man named Toby and his daughter Meg. Toby has become disillusioned and sad about life believing the working class are doomed to a life of hardship and misery no matter what they do. He often takes out his frustrations and thoughts on the bells in the church which he has always admired, until one day something goes very wrong.
This was my least favourite tale of the three and I didn’t find it that Christmas-ey either. The plotting dragged and felt quite muddled. The transitions between character storylines often confused me; although this could have been down to the language or busy student life I didn’t have the same sort of trouble with the other stories. Dickens characters weren’t as solid as usual, he is good at making people either inherently despicable or inherently good creating entertaining caricatures but I was unsure how I was supposed to feel about Toby and Meg. Toby was the character who sought redemption but I didn’t think he was doing anything that wrong in the first place. Sure he was feeling a bit sorry for himself and like he had no control over his life, but don’t we all feel like that once in a while? Maybe the message of this story went over my head and that’s why I didn’t connect with it. I have to give it a satisfactory two stars.
The Haunted Man was the last story in the book about a professor named Redlaw who was always looking back at the past, holding grudges and focusing on the negative side of life. The people surrounding him although worse off, were full of cheer and joy. One night Redlaw is visited by a ghost who offers him the chance to forget his feelings of sorrow, wrong and trouble with the condition that these will in turn be bestowed on all he encounters. As he transforms those normally so cheery around him to despair reflecting his old countenance, he begins to realise the error of his ways.
What I loved about this story was the concept. Redlaw has become a self obsessed man who holds grudges and only focuses on the terrible things around him instead of enjoying his luxuries. We all have the tendency now and again to look solely at the negatives when we are in a slump not realising there are others out there far worse off that would give anything to have even half of what we have. Redlaw is the epitome of this, showing what it looks like when resentment begins to define you. I loved the idea that he only began to understand the horror his life had become when he saw it reflected in the eyes of others. His despair and desperation to change was somehow satisfying and heartbreaking at the same time. Unlike The Chimes, this story had plenty of Dickens trademark characters to keep the reader entertained, like the Tetterby’s who were utterly charming and entertaining. However I did feel the pacing of this story let it down, elements of it dragged on too long and my brain would go for a little wander until a funny line or dramatic moment brought me back and I would have to read the paragraph over again. I think the story would have benefited from being shorter which is a real shame as it had a lot of potential. I give this story a middling three stars. 🙂
Overall the stories were mixed, A Christmas Carol was spectacular, The Chimes forgettable and The Haunted Man somewhat entertaining so I have decided to give the full book four stars as it is somewhat it the middle! Since I originally bought this book for A Christmas Carol alone my thoughts on that story also carry the most weight. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick Christmas read full of beautiful imagery and all the spirit of the season!
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Definitely A Christmas Carol, the other stories not as much.
Overall Impression: 4/5
Book Cover: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6632860-a-christmas-carol