“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”
And so begins the most iconic of all Christmas stories A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I’m a little ashamed to say that my first exposure to this story came about in movie form and not the book. My dad used to watch an old black and white version of this every time we went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas, which was usually every year. The movie always came on after bedtime and so there I would lay in the other room while Dad and Grandpa watched A Christmas Carol. I could hear every word, and I shivered and shook at the creepiness of old Jacob Marley coming back from the dead to warn Ebenezer Scrooge…oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
As said before, the story begins with Marley being dead, as dead as a doornail, in fact. His former business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge , inherited all the old miser’s money and proceeded with business as usual, practically before the coffin was nailed shut and without taking Marley’s name off the sign at the office. Scrooge is not a pleasant character. As Dickens remarks in the first several pages, “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.” It is at Christmas that this story begins. Scrooge is, as usual, hard at work in his freezing cold office, counting money while his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit, shivers away on his side of the room because Scrooge refuses to add more coal to the fire. After having an argument with his nephew where he refers to Christmas as a humbug, Scrooge departs to eat a solitary supper and from there, to home. A strange incident in which Scrooge sees old Marley’s face in the knocker of the door and is actually visited by a dead Marley, his face tied up with a handkerchief to prevent his mouth from gaping, dragging chains and all behind him, leads to Scrooge’s delightful change of heart. Marley warns Scrooge against his selfish, cold heart, and predicts that he will be visited by three spirits. The Spirit of Christmas Past will remind Scrooge of his better days and his softer heart. The Spirit of Christmas Present will show Scrooge the kind of effect his miserable character is having on those around him, and the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come will show him where his wickedness, if not changed, will lead.
I love Dickens, but I think it’s safe to say that this little story was his crowning glory. It is at once scary, terribly funny and heartwarming. The description is superb, filled with rich imagery that paints detailed pictures in the mind. Consider this little description of the weather on Scrooge’s fateful night: “Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.”
The story carries so many memories of past Christmases with family for me, that perhaps I’m a little biased in its favor. But then again, I don’t think so. Without further ado, find yourself a copy of this story and delight yourself and your family with it in the days leading up to Christmas!