It’s that time of year again when everything Christmassy appears on the streets and on TV (unless it’s Channel 5 in the UK which already started putting on Christmas films in early October in the apparent belief we wanted this). A Christmas Carol is, of course, one of those things that appears without fail in its many guises. Many, many guises. How many of them are there, exactly?
Dickens wrote the original, published on 19 December 1843 as a humanitarian vision and believed such a novella to be the best way to reach the broadest audience possible regarding his concerns about poverty and social injustice rather than pamphlets and essays. He saw the effects of the Industrial Revolution on poor children in particular and sought to do much social good and bring attention to the evils of Victorian society as detailed in his many books. Nice to see that the spirit of A Christmas Carol continues today with the massive emphasis on spending until you have nothing left, buying as many expensive presents as possible, stuffing ourselves until we burst and—yeah, we’ve lost the point of the original haven’t we despite its numerous inundations? We need a modern Dickens for today’s social ills…
Anyway, the book received immediate critical acclaim. The London literary magazine, Athenaeum, declared it: “A tale to make the reader laugh and cry – to open his hands, and open his heart to charity even toward the uncharitable … a dainty dish to set before a King.” Almost immediately A Christmas Carol was adapted for stage with several rival productions competing for attention in February 1844. Responses to the novella from other authors also followed with versions from W. M. Swepstone (Christmas Shadows, 1850), Horatio Alger (Job Warner’s Christmas, 1863) and Louisa May Alcott with A Christmas Dream and How It Came True, 1882. Dickens himself capitalised further on the success with further stories following the pattern set out in Carol including The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain. While critics savaged these later tales, the public lapped them up. Dickens also gave public readings of Carol to spread his moral messages until his death in 1870.
So what next? Well, it’s been adapted into virtually every form of media you can think of. Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost in 1901 is a short British film that so happens to be the earliest screen adaptation of the book. Scrooge (1951) starring Alistair Sim is widely considered to be one of the best adaptations of the book. Scrooge McDuck (who, let’s face it, was obviously inspired by this particular Scrooge) and Mickey Mouse had their own version in 1983 while the Muppets had their own version in 1992 and it’s obviously the best one of the lot. 😀
In fact, many big-name actors and animated series have got involved with A Christmas Carol over the years. Alec Guinness? Check. Tim Curry? Check. Mr Magoo? Uhhh… check. The Flintstones? The Smurfs? Yeesh, this isn’t even going into the TV versions, radio plays, opera, or graphic novels. It is doubtful that all of the official versions that ever been recorded there have been so many.
Most tend to follow the book closely although many tend to leave out portraying Scrooge’s sister so that people who haven’t read the book may justly wonder how exactly Fred is Scrooge’s nephew. There have been some parodies of course during all this time, the best-known likely being the Blackadder version which turns the central character from kind and generous to mean, grasping and cruel.
Are we done with the variations of this book, possibly the most adapted piece of work ever? No way! Whatever will be the in thing in the future, whether it’s some highly popular cartoon, manga, etc, chances are this will be adapted in some way. Heck, we’ll probably have a version performed by robots in the future if we haven’t done already. And of course whatever the most popular meme is at the time I suppose. If Grumpy Cat can get its own film after all…
And the audience will still lap it up because the oldies are the best, right? Even if you do get sick of it after some time.
Still, I’d recommend reading the original at least once so you know what the adaptations include and inevitably leave out. All of Dickens’ works are doorstoppers apart from this one so you won’t lose too much time of your life while reading this.