A Christmas Carol
I’ve got to be honest: I sort of like Scrooge. I like Dr. House and Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares. They are so over the top, so far away from what I know in my own life, I can’t help but enjoy them. My favourite version of Scrooge happens to be Disney’s McDuck from Duck Tales. 168 years after the first publication of A Christmas Carol, the story is as popular as ever. Scrooge’s first name however, isn’t.
In 2009, one brave couple in Alberta decided to name their child Ebenezer. That there even is one, is proof of miracles right there. Scrooge and all his nastiness is seared into our soul like the very holiday itself. Honestly, I’ve always struggled with the popularity of the story. I sometimes feel emotionally tone deaf.
I couldn’t help but think of Occupy Wall Street as I watched the play. The decade before Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol was one of boom and bust and a time of large change. The quick version is that there was an Agricultural revolution that turned farm owners into labourers. The countryside was turned upside down and the cities were flooded with penniless farm hands. There were a few making out like bandits and many without a cent. I watched Scrooge waving his cane at a horde of child beggars and thought, “Imagine what he’d do to a street full of squatters!”
For me, A Christmas Carol is proof of how far we’ve come. It’s also a testament to the power of a story. Its author, Charles Dickens, had a brutal childhood. His father had been placed in debtor’s prison, forcing young Charles to slave-away in a factory. The poor child, obsessed with books and writing, was forced to pawn his collection. Upon his father’s release, Charles still had to work to help the family, a humiliation his father never lived down.
For me, A Christmas Carol is proof of how far we’ve come. It’s also a testament to the power of a story.
The grown up, successful Dickens wanted to write a logical, rational condemnation of all the excesses of the Industrial Revolution. Shrewdly, a friend urged him to write a story instead. Gone are the debtor’s prisons and the child labour. Here to stay are statutory holidays, childhood education, and health care. Everything lacking in Dickens’ day – the stench of soot, the packs of child beggars and labourers – is gone and nearly forgotten in Canada. The life we have is now taken for granted.
What can’t be taken for granted is how excellent the execution of the story was by the cast. In particular, Scrooge and Tim, the most important of characters, were tremendous. I thoroughly enjoyed the haunting Ghost of Christmas Future. After a boisterous performance by the Ghost of Christmas Present, the voiceless, gloomy, larger than life (literally, at over 15 feet tall) Ghost of Christmas Future was awe-inspiring. The voiceless character is like a black and white photograph, stripped of its flashiness, focused on the emotions.
I think, as I get older, the story is getting through to me. Maybe my heart was three-sizes too small and grows with age. Maybe it has taken time because I’m Scrooge-like. Bah! Humbug!
A Christmas Carol runs until December 23.