This column first ran in The Spokesman-Review in 2007 under the headline Revisiting Scrooge.
This week, losing the fight with a miserable cold, I decided to surrender and rest. I turned off my phone and crawled back under the covers with my copy of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. When I finished the book I may not have lost the cold but I was warm and comfortable and filled with the spirit of Christmas.
I pulled the book off the shelf,
plumped up the pillows on my bed and settled in for a good read. The
book is old, almost 100 years old, and the pages are dog-eared and as
brown and fragile as dried leaves. I’ve had it since I was a girl.
Alone in the room, a blanket over my feet, I opened it and read the first line: “Marley was dead; to begin with.”
Six little words and I am deep in a familiar landscape.
the years I’ve picked up my old copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas
Carol many times. I don’t read it every year – I should – but I do try
to read it often enough to retain the feel of the piece. There’s simply
nothing else like it.
This year, like every other time, I was
struck by the power of the bleak and frigid scene described. By the
vivid images painted by words.
You know the story … It is
Christmas Eve, but that doesn’t matter to Ebenezer Scrooge. He doesn’t
keep the holiday. Scrooge is a cold man, frozen by the coldness within
him. He is a bitter and lonely and miserly man who has forsaken every
human comfort. He eats only what he needs to live. He has no use for
celebration or financial – or emotional – extravagance. He is, Dickens tells us, as self contained and solitary as an oyster.
the time I’d finished the first chapter I was so deeply absorbed that
when I looked up I realized I had burrowed down under the comforter
until it covered me completely. It was even draped over my head.
I peeked out, still under the spell of the book, thinking of the
“piercing, biting, searching cold” of London streets, I half expected to
see my breath hang in the air like little clouds. But the lamps were on
and the room was warm and cozy.
I covered my head and went back
to my book. I was swept up in the visits by the spirits. By the quiet
dignity of Bob Cratchit. By the gradual softening of Scrooge’s heart.
was interrupted and had to put the book down and I didn’t pick it up
again for a few days. When I did, I fell quickly back into the story and
read it to the end.
It’s a shame about Scrooge. Oh, I don’t mean what happened to him the night the spirits came to show him the error of his ways. I mean what has happened to him in the more than 160 years since he was created by Charles Dickens.
most people, Ebenezer Scrooge is a cantankerous character from a movie
or a cartoon. He is an actor dressed in stylized Victorian garb, a
caricature of greed and heartlessness. He scowls and spits Bah Humbug to
anyone who approaches. He is a symbol of penny pinching and stinginess.
The lack of Christmas spirit.
But the real Scrooge only comes alive when you read the book. That’s when you see the deepest message in the tale. It
wasn’t just his greed and lack of charity that nearly destroyed the
man. It was the isolation. The lack of human closeness and comfort. His
world drew in tightly around him and he learned “To edge his way along
the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its
distance.” He forgot how to be tender. He grew hard and flinty. He
became “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous
That is what the spirits revealed to him. When he saw
the damage done to himself and others, Scrooge begged to be allowed to
make amends. And his gift – his Christmas miracle – was that the night
was rewound and he was allowed a fresh start.
For the rest of his life, “Scrooge was better than his word,” Dickens tells us. “He did it all and infinitely more.”
is Christmas Eve. The night when each of us, in our own way, is visited
by the ghost of Christmas present and that yet to come. And when, like
poor old Ebenezer Scrooge as he clung to the ghost of Christmas past, we
will be “conscious of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one
connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys and cares long,
God bless us every one.