Ode to Joy, Redux

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

Wood engraving by Sol Eytinge, form the 1839 Ticknor and FIelds edition.
Wood engraving by Sol Eytinge, from the 1839 Ticknor and FIelds edition.

It’s the holiday season, full of stress and cookies and stress and family and stress. Part of me wants to hibernate until June and another part doesn’t want to miss all the fun. In honor of the holidays, I’m rerunning a post I wrote for school, a year and a half ago.

Please do not expect me to make sense or show any critical or dispassionate judgment. Ever since Mr. Magoo first introduced us, fifty years (plus a few months) ago, I have been in love with A Christmas Carol.

I own multiple hardcover editions of the book. (They all have different illustrations. Don’t judge.) I have copies of the movies starring Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, George C. Patton—excuse me—Scott, Patrick Stewart, Bill Murray, The Muppets, and, of course, Mr. Magoo.

I watch at least one, usually two, of the movies every December.

When I hit the ohmygawd, Christmas is almost here and I haven’t done any shopping and I hate wrapping and I’ll never be ready why don’t we just cancel it this year and if I’m forced to listen to another Christmas song I’m going to f&#$ing hurt somebody point, I read the book.

Afterward, I always feel like Christmas. I stop thinking about how awful taking down the tree is and remember that if I put it up, I have ornaments of Scrooge, Marley, Tiny Tim, and all three Ghosts to hang on it. Last year, when the budget was tight and I was worried about running my credit cards up with gift shopping, I read the book and spent the rest of the day baking cookies for gifts. I used a lot of chocolate. Everyone was happy. (I did buy toys for the wee ones, because they are the world’s cutest kids. The toys were the kind that flew around the house and made noise and annoyed parents. That’s what aunts are for.)

I’m not sure when I first read A Chirstmas Carol, but I know it was before I hit seventh grade, when Mrs. Peake had us read the story aloud as a class. Seventh graders aren’t known for their read-aloud skills. I didn’t care; I’d already read it and loved it. Mrs. Peake told us of the British tradition of Christmas ghost stories.1 There’s a good chance finding out some people got ghost stories while I got Andy Williams or Perry Como was responsible for part of my adolescent angst. (Now they get Doctor Who, and I get—oh, wait. Doctor Who. And hey, I still have A Christmas Carol. It’s all good.)

Wood engraving by Sol Eytinge, from the 1839 Ticknor and FIelds edition.
Wood engraving by Sol Eytinge, from the 1839 Ticknor and FIelds edition.

As a ghost story, Christmas Carol has its moments of terror: the phantoms in the night sky, the twins of Ignorance and Want, Scrooge’s horror at seeing his future and his legacy.2 Above all, it is a tale of redemption, and it makes me happy. Even thinking and writing about the book in April makes me happy. A Christmas Carol is Gerald McBoing-Boing/Tiny Tim’s Razzleberry Dressing.3

If you haven’t read the book, go read it. I don’t care how many movie or animated versions you’ve seen. It doesn’t matter if it’s not December. Read the book. If you are one of our country’s political or corporate leaders (is there any difference?), read it twice. Maybe three times. So many of those who spend the Christmas shopping season decrying the war on Christmas spend the other eleven months of the year embracing this attitude:

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Our politicians, corporations, and media could make the world a better place if they embraced Scrooge’s new attitude year round:

He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

I suspect A Christmas Carol inspired much of my sense of social justice and my views in general. Thank you, Charles Dickens and Mr. Magoo.

After you read the real thing, look up the Mr. Magoo version. It, and the 1966 animated Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, narrated by Boris Karloff and directed by the late, great Chuck Jones, are the two best Christmas television specials ever.4

I’ll leave you with a little bit of joy from 1962’s Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, the first animated Christmas special made specifically for television. Why this clip? It makes me happy. I hope it has the same effect on you.



  1. Yes, in Mrs. Peake’s class I got Shirley Jackson and A Christmas Carol. And The Hobbit. Don’t think it was all fun and games and ghosts and Middle Earth. We also diagrammed sentences. Many, many sentences. Not to mention, we were all terrified of her.
  2. At four years old, I had no experience with death, and yet the scene where Future shows Scrooge (Magoo) his grave made me hide my face. It wasn’t the grave that scared me, it was Scrooge’s reaction. I knew this is something bad. A Christmas Carol may have helped form my taste in horror.
  3. Razzleberry is a combination of raspberries and blackberries. I don’t like raspberries; I adore blackberries. I think the latter cancels out the effect of the former. A Christmas Carol always makes me optimistic.
  4. I am detecting a pattern here. You don’t have to point it out to me.