When I was young, Christmas meant listening to the radio as actor Lionel Barrymore read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Barrymore's rich, deep tones brought the story alive, a far cry from the over-stylized and banal versions which have greeted me these past years on the TV screen. Scanning the Christmas section at the local library, my eye landed on Dickens' book, and I decided to do something that I had never done before - I decided to read the book. What a revelation!
For example, consider this description of Scrooge.
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone. Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin, He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
The mind automatically races from word to word in forming a picture of Scrooge from the images that pour forth. I have met people who carry their "own low temperature" with them, but those words only hint at the fullness of Scrooge's character. Can anyone fully portray this Scrooge on screen?
Somewhere I read that Dickens was paid by the word. That paragraph on Scrooge probably set his publisher to fuming over the cost of such an obvious piling on of words and images. But what word would we want to leave out?
A Christmas Carol, I decided, is not just a book for the Christmas season but is good for all the seasons of human life, for whenever our hearts need to be touched.
--Robert H. Tucker
20 December 1999
© Robert H. Tucker, 1999.
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