Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dickens reminds us what Christmas is really about; and it's not what you think!

[What follows was originially posted last year]

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is rightly heralded as a classic that expresses the true meaning of Christmas. But not often for the right reasons.

Most film versions of the classic are overly sentimental. But the Scrooge we meet in the original novel is a man who is utterly devoid of any genuine relationships with other people. He is both dead to himself, and as a consequence dead to others. As Dickens remind us, he is "secretive, solitary, and self-contained as an oyster."

A Christmas Carol is not a Hallmark card about a stingy fellow who learns to be jovial and kind. It's a tale about the willing blindness of a man who will not listen to himself and thus shuts himself off from his fellow human beings.

The larger point is that for Dickens personal growth and transformation is inseparable from social justice and communal responsibility. If we ignore ourselves we will ignore the plight of our fellows. If we awake to ourselves, we cannot help but be moved to aid others when we can. Personal transformation and social justice are intimately linked.

In this vein the following 1972 Animated version of Carol is the best representation I have seen of the book. The film even uses as the basis for its "look" original illustrations from the 19th century.

This film not only gets the novel's concern with social justice and the plight of the poor, but also provides us with images that are very surrealist, reminiscent of a Dali painting or a Bergman film in some ways. The novel itself has these qualities, but they are not usually well captured in the various films.

Enjoy it! And remember what Dickens' Christmas Carol really has to teach us about the holiday season:

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