Bah Humbug! The Most Wonderful Character

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MARLEY was dead, to begin with. So begins what many consider to be the second greatest Christmas story of all time. There are many things I love about this time of year: the food, the family, and (as an educator) the break…but one of the things I love the most is the opportunity to read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in the season it was intended.

I took the opportunity to read a portion of the book with my class last week, and before doing so I did a little background research on the story. I actually learned a few things I never knew. I knew that Dickens was actually struggling as a writer when he wrote it. His recent works had been less than well received and money was tight. I didn’t know that his own father had been thrown into debtor’s prison forcing him at twelve years old to work 10 hour days in a boot blacking warehouse. This experience would shape much of his later views, and these remembrances may have been on his mind when he first devised the plan for A Christmas Carol. After several trips to visit some of the less fortunate of the time, Dickens planned to write a pamphlet that would change people’s opinions of the poor. He soon determined that it would have more impact if he wrote a story instead.

Maybe the most interesting thing I learned was the state of Christmas at the time. The celebration of Christmas had been on the decline for some time, but Dickens saw it as an opportunity to not only inject new energy into a once merry time, but also highlight the plight of the poor in a most powerful way–and thus, A Christmas Carol was born.

I have always marveled at the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. He is no hero, not in the beginning anyway. He is a character who you want to see get what’s coming to him. And yet, that’s not what Dickens does. He takes Scrooge by the hand (or by the collar when necessary) and with the help of a handful of ghosts, guides him through a life-changing journey–one that sees him go from the worst humanity has to offer to the best. It struck me as I taught this story to my students that in Scrooge we witness not only one of the most entertaining transformations of character, but we witness Dickens’ effort to change the society he lived in. Scrooge is the England that surrounded him. At the end of the novella, it is said of Scrooge “that he knew how to keep Christmas well”. Just as Dickens hoped, his novella changed the perception of Christmas to many and like-wise, changed the perception of the spirit of Christmas and how the poor were treated.

I often think of Scrooge when I’m writing a character. How can I craft a character that impacts the reader as much as he does? I’m not sure that I will ever create one whose transformation is so powerful, but I think it is every writer’s goal to create characters who not only change but change the reader right along with them.

To your writing,

Merry Christmas, and God Bless us, everyone.

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2 Responses to “Bah Humbug! The Most Wonderful Character”

  1. John, I’ve been reading A Christmas Carol for the past few days and have totally enjoyed it. Thanks for this reminder of why this story was so important and how writers do tend to struggle. I will look for your book! Sounds like a winner.

    • Thanks Becky! Really a refreshing story. As I said one of my absolute favorite characters. Another interesting thing I stumbled onto. According to the Dickens Museum curator, A Muppet Christmas Carol best captures the spirit of the story.

      Merry Christmas!

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