Monday, November 30, 2020

Teachable Moment: Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

Charles Dickens is remembered as the greatest creator of literary characters after Shakespeare. He is also a hero of the Victorian Era, being the conscience of the British Empire and exposing the neglect and abuse of the poor in the burgeoning Industrial Age.

He himself suffered as a child when his father was put into a debtor's prison. But from a young man he wrote numerous popular stories marketed in the United States and the UK, and these have continued to evolve into film, theatre, mini-series and are still enthusiastically enjoyed by generation after generation.

Dickens' novel make characters dynamically real. It is hard to deny knowing Pip or David Copperfield or Oliver Twist personally after reading the novels.

"A Christmas Carol" film, 1984
Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit
He also wrote short stories, and "A Christmas Carol" is one now celebrated in every possible creative venue. My personal favorite is the film (1984) of the same title with George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. David Warner, as Bob Cratchit, brings tears to my eyes every year. The script is very compelling. You can show it at a public school because it is not openly a Christian film (Jesus is never mentioned by name), plus there are enough spirits, time travel, etc., that makes it a fantasy.

I've shown it to students of all demographics and they really appreciated it. They felt for Tiny Tim, and were shocked by Ignorance and Want. The kids are relieved Scrooge changes his way and avoids the lonely tragedy of a selfish life. The older students have compared and contrasted two different film versions.

Please consider reading the short story aloud. Dickens can pull the reader into a setting almost miraculously. As Ebenezer Scrooge walks through the streets of London to his home, just to see Marley's face on his door knocker--that is one of the best descriptive passages for mood and tone I have ever read.

How long it would take to list all the various renditions of "A Christmas Carol"? Wow, a couple of days. I do also like "The Muppets' Christmas Carol" with Michael Caine, "Scrooged" with Bill Murray, and Patrick Stewart as Scrooge in the TNT presentation of "A Christmas Carol."

So many Christmas Carols, so little holiday season.

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