“Humbug!” Scrooge, The Novel And Its Adaptations

This is a story which I am certain everyone knows. Mr Ebenezer Scrooge, that mean and penny-pinching moneylender, hated and derided by the members of his town for being a miser and not following the spirit of Christmas. Whenever anyone wished him “Merry Christmas,” he would retort with the words “Bah, humbug” to express his disgust with Christmas traditions.

One Christmas Eve, Scrooge was visited by three spectres namely the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. These ghosts show him a mirror of his own cruelty, throughout the years and make him realise that helping the poor and alleviating their suffering is a reward which is more precious than money.

It was the well-renowned Charles Dickens who wrote this story, which was first published in 1843. There have been not tens, but hundreds of reprints since then, not to mention the multitudes of adaptations not just when it comes to the printed media, but also in movies and films. Too many, in fact, to mention them all. I will therefore only be mentioning my favourite versions.

One of the things which really bugs me is that people generally seem to believe that ‘A Christmas Carol’ is just a children’s fable. Something sweet and harmless Dickens concocted to cheer up and revive the Christmas spirit. This is totally and terribly wrong. Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) was not a children’s writer. He was a journalist and writer who focused on social criticism and satire and who, through his works, denounced Victorian society as being hypocritical and capitalistic. This, in fact, is clearly reflected in the novel ‘A Christmas Carol’, notwithstanding the fact that the media persists in depicting it as a cute, harmless children’s story.

Think about it – so a man does not like Christmas. Does this guy deserve the hate and perjury of all his neighbours? He does not give alms to the poor – now be honest, how much of your annual pay do you donate to ‘L-Istrina’ or any other beneficial event or organisation? He works all hours of the day and night and he keeps his money close, is that so very wrong? Of course not.

The point is that, in reality, Scrooge was not ‘bad’ because he did not follow Christmas norms, he was a hypocrite because, as a perfect product of his society, he revelled in his own wealth while ignoring the fact that 19th century Britain was a corrupt mass of decadence. He did not care that the rich benefitted by giving low wages to the lower classes and drove them to poverty and degradation, thanks to the onset of the industrial revolution, where new machinery was rendering many jobs and roles obsolete.

This unfortunately, is not present in most of the renditions which depict Scrooge as a children’s cautionary fairytale. Most of them – but not all and my favourite depiction of the novel in fact, DOES show one of the most important scenes from the novel, which usually gets omitted.

The movie is George C. Scott’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1984), and the scene depicts the Ghost of Christmas Present who, after bidding Scrooge to eat, drink and make merry amidst steaming platters of meat and golden wines, reveals two thin, dirty and poor children hiding beneath his robe. He tells Scrooge that they are called ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ and that all the richness and bounty of society has been bought using their sweat and blood. They, and people like them, are the consequence of greed and of capitalism.

Another, more recent adaptation which portrays this scene was the animated movie Disney’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ (2009). As usual, Disney’s film was full of song and colour and yet, it had very dark overtones too.

In my opinion, however, the most realistic and satirical rendition of all is ‘Black Adder’s A Christmas Carol’ (1988). This parody, which is a one-off episode, is narrated by Hugh Laurie (the present Doctor House) and was produced by the BBC. In this parody, everything is topsy-turvy, Black Adder is a shop-keeper, and he is the nicest, kindest, naivest man in London, much as Scrooge was by the end of ‘A Christmas Carol’. As a result, everyone takes advantage of him until, swindled and betrayed, he slowly becomes bankrupt.

The spirit of Christmas visits him, and shows him how witty and ruthless his ancestors were, and therefore, how successful they were in life. Black Adder starts to admire them and wants to be like them, and at the end of the film changes into a smart and satirical man, stronger and more in control. As this is a parody, everything is made fun of in the end, even the ‘new’ Black Adder is criticised and put in his place, yet at least here common sense reigns supreme, though to be honest, Dickens’s original message is not all that clear.

Although the name ‘Scrooge’ has become a synonym of miserly cruelty and inordinate tight-fistedness, I think that it is important not only for us, but for the spirit of the season itself, to focus more on the real thought behind the story, that is that everyone, no matter their station in life, has the right to a happy existence, and that improving our lot to the detriment of other people’s, is not acceptable at all.