By Mark D. Roberts
I have ambivalent feelings about "get-to-know-you" questions that ask things like: "What is your favorite movie?" or "What is your favorite vacation spot?" On the one hand, I find it fun to force my mind to answer such narrow questions. On the other hand, pointed questions like these drive me crazy because they are so focused. "My favorite movie?" I want to ask, "In what genre? Comedy? Drama? Adventure?" "My favorite vacation spot?" I want to protest, "Well it all depends. For a rest, I'll take Hawaii. For inspiration, give me the High Sierra. For adventure, I'll take Europe." I have a hard time choosing just one movie or one vacation spot.
So I'm about to do something that might make me a little bit crazy. I'm going to claim to have a favorite book (not counting the Bible, which pastors always have to like the best). Are you ready? Here I go: My all-time favorite book is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Immediately my mind starts protesting, flooding my consciousness with other options for my favorite book, including: A Tale of Two Cities, Les Misérables, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I could make a good case for any of these. But A Christmas Carol still wins the prize for my favorite book. Notice, I didn't say "best book." Here Les Misérables would get the nod, I think. I wouldn't even contend that A Christmas Carol is Charles Dickens's finest book. A Tale of Two Cities or David Copperfield would get my vote in this category. But, still, A Christmas Carol is my favorite book, favorite in the sense of most beloved.
And favorite also in the sense of most frequently read. For several years now I've made it part of my Christmas tradition to read A Christmas Carol in its entirety. Now, as you probably know, that's not as impressive as it sounds, because the book is relatively short. One can read it in less than two hours. When Dickens himself used to do public, oral readings of the book, he'd take only three hours or so. In truth, A Christmas Carol really isn't a novel. It's more of a novella, or, as Dickens himself labels it, "Ghost Story of Christmas."
Why do I love A Christmas Carol as much as I do? It has many things going for it. It's short enough to be read and re-read with ease. Its main theme is Christmas, one of my favorite events of the year. It's filled with mouthwatering descriptions of luscious food and drink. It's got lots of suspense and lots of humor. And, of course, it's a salient example of Dickens's inimitable narrative style, a kind of "I'm-your-friend" storytelling that draws the reader into the tale. But none of this accounts adequately for my love of A Christmas Carol. It ranks as my favorite book because of what happens in the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge . . . and because of what happens in my heart through his experience.
This is the first post in a series I'm calling "Christmas According to Dickens." Why am I doing this? Partly because I love A Christmas Carol and like to talk about what I love. But I also think that this wonderful little book can help us focus on the true meaning of Christmas. So I will be reading Dickens, not just as a lover of his work, and not as a scholar of English literature, which I am not, but as a Christian pastor, which I am. One of the questions I want to ask along the way, in fact, has to do with the presence of Jesus in A Christmas Carol. Does he show up? If so, how? And why in this way?
I also want to get back to a question I began to ponder years ago, namely: Why did Ebenezer Scrooge change? Again, my point isn't mere curiosity. I'm also interested in the larger question of what transforms people.
If you'd like to do some reading on your own, let me suggest a number of helpful websites:
Helpful Links for Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol
- The Charles Dickens Museum in London has lots of online material.
- David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page, an exceptional collection of resources.
- Movie versions of A Christmas Carol, including an extensive collection of photos of actors (and cartoon characters, Muppets, etc.) who have played roles in film versions of A Christmas Carol.
- A collection of the original John Leech illustrations for A Christmas Carol.
- A Finnish website known simply as Charles Dickens features a broad collection of diverse resources.
- The Victorian Web has extensive scholarly and popular resources on all things Victorian, including a broad collection on Dickens.
- Finally, there's a site that has a recipe for "Smoking Bishop," a festive drink featured in A Christmas Carol.