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THE MANIC MANIAC- Who is Ebenezer Scrooge?

The most frightening ghost story of all...on Christmas

By Joe Crosby     December 22, 2008


Scrooge (Alastair Sim) gets visited by the spirits in the classic tale A CHRISTMAS CAROL(1951).
© United Artists

 

Stories of fear, ghosts and pitiful fates are as much a part of Halloween as costumes and candy. But the holiday season--Christmas, if you're so inclined--is decidedly more optimistic ... or maybe "merry" is the better word. Its tales are spun with garland, dripping sweetly with tree sap and eggnog, and warm like the flickering hearth 'neath your stockings. This, however, is contrary to the greatest Christmas (holiday?) story ever told. That story is one of phantasms, dark spirits, regret and sadness. It's about dreary distances, past and future. It's about an epitaph written long before the final breath. It is fear, a representative of our coldest hours and our most loathsome thoughts. Not least, it's pretty effing scary.
 
See, A Christmas Carol is only a cheery--ahem--is only a merry Christmas tale at the end ... "God bless us everyone," and whatnot. But the previous four staves (divided in five, like the parts of a song or carol) are only as warm as Ebenezer Scrooge's temper. There are soft spots, sure, but they're soft with nostalgia or regret on his part, and soft with sympathy on the audience's. Even Charles Dickens' full title tells the tale: A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. And ghost stories, in popular fashion, aren't necessarily knee-slappers.
 
To wit:
 
Scrooge blasts Christmas for its absurdity, and taking into account its tawdry commercialization of today, maybe that's not far off. He lives in a large, hollow space with little more than a bed to sleep in. It creaks and bends, and an apparition approaches up his rickety stair case with the whistling of an imminent steam engine.
 
The Ghost of Christmas Past reveals to Scrooge a life he might want to forget, but very much remains in and forms his bitter consciousness. As a boy, he's lonely. As a young man, he's a workaholic and loses the woman he cares most about. The scenes depicted are drab: a student alone in a schoolhouse as the cold, desperate winter swirls around him; a party of which he is an outsider, where happiness occurs through a lens, not within himself.
 
HIs harsh reality is revealed to him by the Ghost of Christmas Present. His apprentice, Bob Cratchit, plays patriarch to a lean holiday and a leaner, sickly young child, evident is his foreboding future. The Cratchits scorn Scrooge, and his nephew, whom he earlier rebuffed, mocks him. And as the spirit nears death, he opens his green fur-lined robe to reveal two grim visions. Two tired and hungry children, Ignorance and Want, represent the world's blind and suffering state.
 
And finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, the most horrifying in both form and message. With only a grotesque hand visible from his black and ominous cloak, the spectre points to horrible deaths, of Tiny Tim and of Scrooge himself. By now, Scrooge is sad, frightened and defeated.
 
It's not until the end that any sort of merriment is introduced. And even then, it proves not what actually is, but only what could be. A Christmas Carol is an allegory, mostly because Scrooge's life is intended to represent everything that Christmas is not. But in the process, we're left wondering about our own shortcomings, our occasional moments of selfishness and our more somber moments, at work, with anger, living amidst the less merry parts of life. Because the reality of A Christmas Carol, if the second ghost were to confront it, is not that we are the ideal that Scrooge contrasts. We are Scrooge, living in a world of want and ignorance despite the possibility of peace.
 
Still, Dickens' Christmas classic has been re-imagined more times than Santa Claus. There's a long version, a short version, a version for readers and a version for listeners. It's a play, a movie and a television special. It's been modernized (Scrooged) and bastardized (A Diva's Christmas Carol). And during this time of year, some form of it becomes a near requisite for the holidays, as necessary as pine needles, wrapping paper and some other Christmas Story. It's intended to, so it's said, capture the Christmas spirit.
 
But as it stands, it captures the opposite, leaving the spirit of the holidays at arm's length. It's a haunting depiction of who we are in our meeker moments, battling our own ghosts. So, this holiday, when the fifth stave arrives, and Scrooge embraces his family and saves the Cratchits, don't smile in complacence of how things are. Instead, smile because you know it's within your capacity to fulfill how the holiday can be. And remember that it's a ghost story that helped get you there.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 9 of 9
1 
KingOfMelnibone 12/22/2008 5:33:05 AM

My favorite interpretation has always been Albert Finney's portrayal in Scrooge, a musical take on the classic story. Alec Guiness was brilliant as Jacob Marley.

There's quite a bit of memorable scenes and two songs I really enjoyed: "Father Christmas" & "Thank You Very Much"

tombaker 12/22/2008 10:17:07 AM

Each year i put the book on tape on my ipod and listen to it a couple times to "prep" for Christmas. You feel for the young Scrooge when the ghost of Christmas past shows him the old school house where he grew up. See the excitement come back to him as he remembers back in those days, like when you see a little kid get excited for christmas (it makes things so much better). But it is a haunting tale and of course dickens is amazing so he does such a good job of throwing all of scrooges words back at him whether on the plight of the street people to the children. I always enjoy reading/listening to it. I always feel for the Cratchet family when Mrs Crathchet is talking about how late Tom is coming from the cementary when he visited tiny tim's grave. Breaks your heart even if it is fiction. Makes you appreciate your position in life and want to help others which is what Dickens was hoping for. So I applaud him on his ability to still touch a generation so different than the one he left behind.

Merry Christmas maniacs. I hope you all get all the Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, BSG gifts you can hold and a big orange at the bottom of your stocking to fight off the flu...

God bless us everyone.

stevespikes 12/22/2008 11:40:49 AM

I'd have to say my favorite telling of A CHRISTMAS CAROL has to be with George C. Scott as "Scrooge", followed by the TNT version with Patrick Stewart portraying "Scrooge".

To all you MANIACS, Happy Holidays.  May all your geeky dreams come true.

Flint521466 12/22/2008 11:50:06 AM

I'm w/you stevespikes.  To me George C. Scott is the definitive Scrooge.  I do enjoy the musical telling Stormbringer spoke of but for me "musical"  Christmas Carol begins & ends w/ "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol".  Check it out if you haven't seen it.

Merry Christmas everybody!

 

Hobbs 12/22/2008 2:03:20 PM

No one beats Bill Murray in Scrooged.

ClemsonChuck 12/22/2008 8:24:42 PM

Wow...that's really insightful.  Actually, its quite moving.  Very well said.

 

Anyway, you are right Hobbs.  Bill Murray "owned Christmas" [in that movie].

ripum853 12/22/2008 8:43:48 PM

Been decades since I saw the Disney/Scrooge McDuck one.  That was my favorite as a kid anyway.  Muppett's is good, and I love the songs in it.

redhairs99 12/24/2008 4:20:57 PM

George C. Scott...period, end of story.  His Scrooge is hands down the best adaptation of Dickens' great work.

I will say that Mickey;s Christmas Carol with Scrooge McDuck is a very close second.  I just have some great Christmas memories watching that old cartoon.

galaga51 12/29/2008 7:34:31 AM

Is that the Burger King in that photo?

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