Upon learning that A Christmas Carol had won a place in the BBC's Big Read extravaganza, it occurred to me that I had never actually read it. Of course, there have been many film adaptations over the years, and Amazon currently has more than thirty different versions of the book available, so it must have something going for it. Let me assure you, it does. The message behind the story is simple, and I believe that is a large contributing factor to its continued success. Although it was first published in 1843, to this day it remains as significant as when Dickens first allowed the public to feast their eyes upon it.
Ebenezer Scrooge is the central character - a lonely old miser of a man, he keeps all of his money locked away, and allows neither himself nor his impoverished relatives to enjoy it. Returning to his chilly home on Christmas eve, he is rather alarmed to find his once-business partner Jacob Marley waiting for him. This is hardly surprising, since Marley has been dead for seven years. Scrooge is warned that unless he changes his miserable ways, he will spend the afterlife repenting. The exchange between the two is followed by a lengthy night, in which three spirits - the ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come, visit Ebenezer.
Although A Christmas Carol is largely aimed at children aged ten and above, many adults can (and have) enjoyed the wealth of description Dickens packs into the novel. The depiction of the streets of nineteenth century London and its architecture is a treat. Also, the way in which the author uses imagery to convey the difference between Scrooge's desolate existence, and the tenderness he could be experiencing had he any kind feeling in his heart towards his family. "... along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, with hot plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn, to shut out cold and darkness."
I would recommend any reader wishing to locate a copy of the book look for one with explanations about words used in the story that are no longer (or rarely) in use. 'Negus' for instance, was a word used in the story, and I was not aware that it was "wine and hot water sweetened with lemon and spice" until I consulted the footnotes in the superb Penguin Classics edition. Similarly, 'twelfth-cakes' being "large, rich cakes, frosted and decorated with icing sugar figures, made to be eaten on Twelfth Night."
Any reader who has enjoyed this splendid, eerie treat may also enjoy Dickens' other Christmas writings (of which there are many). "The Cricket on the Hearth," "The Haunted Man" and "The Chimes" are all fine examples of the author's other festive tales. A Christmas Carol will be around for a long time, indeed, it has already and with good reason. It is only a short story, and can be read in an hour or two. I urge you to read it, it really is a delight.