After his stint as the longest-serving Dr Who, Tom Baker is best remembered for his cameo in Blackadder II and for his salacious continuity announcements in Little Britain. Waste of a talent, or another ageing actor hamming it up? I was dubious about him attempting Dickens' classic favourite, but this performance is superb.
The story is over-familiar, but that is because the structure devised for a Christmas story is irresistible and has been adapted so many times for film or TV; you must have seen one of these, even if you haven't read the book. (The story is also a very easy vehicle for parody - in fact, I've written two short, very amateur ones myself.) The other reason for the familiarity is that this book was one of the major sources of the "English Christmas" - real or mythical, take your pick.
Most of these adaptations, inevitably, miss out much of the detail, in particular Dickens as narrator moralising; this may be sententious and idealistic, but this is how he wanted to write it, with the story as not just a general diatribe against poverty but a full-blown attack on it, following a parliamentary report . Baker's treatment of the full text allows more of the development and nuances to come through. He uses his full range - not hamming it up, but acting - to bring out the three very different moods: the gloom of the opening scene, Scrooge's wonder at the Spirits and dawning terror at their message, and the elation of the ending. Importantly, it sounds as if he thoroughly enjoyed the job. (He does his best with the finale, but as so often the reformed character is much less fun than the villain, and Dickens' philanthropists don't do much to convince a modern audience!)
Unlike many audio productions, this isn't spoiled by the background music. Except for a dramatic chord at a few appropriate moments, there is only a low background continuo to complement the unreality of the hauntings.
It is worth remembering that Dickens was tireless in giving public readings of his works. This was the first he read in public, and he did so over a hundred times. An audiobook is an entirely suitable presentation for our era. I also think this adaptation is a good example of a recorded reading, as a relatively "cool" medium, encouraging the audience to use their imagination, rather than relying on a wealth of visual images. I know this is a very old-fashioned viewpoint, but I challenge anyone to listen to Baker's performance without increasing their enjoyment and appreciation of the story.
An excellent stocking-filler if you're stuck for present ideas this Christmas.
on 19 January 2015
Having never read "A Christmas Carol" before I was a little apprehensive when my English tutor set if for my extended reading.
However, now I HAVE read it I would encourage everyone to read this book as I guarantee it will leave you "glowing with good intentions".
The story starts with the main character Scrooge being described in Dickens fantastic descriptive way as a mean,unkind and uncaring man who has little time for anyone and although he has money does not help people less fortunate.
One night three ghosts come to visit him from his past,present and future and shows Scrooge how his behaviour and actions affect others and during this night the ghosts give the reader an insight into who Scrooge used to be, a lonely boy sent away from home, a brother who loved his sister greatly,a man who lost the love of his life through his greed and a well thought of master and uncle.
Dickens uses his fantastic writing to gently influence the reader into slowly sympathising with Scrooge and before you know it Dickens has turned Scrooge from an oyster to an angel!!!!
Scrooge wakes up and realises that he has been given a second chance to change his ways and goes on to do so.
Personally I think that once you have read this story it stays close to your heart because maybe, just maybe we would all like the chance to reflect on our own behaviour and get that second chance.
on 13 December 2012
The story, about a tight fisted bitter and selfish miser in 19th century London, who despises all that brings joy and comfort, has a plethora of adaptations but is best in it's original.
Ebenezer Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by three ghosts who show him the evil of his ways and its consequences.
A Christmas Carol is one of Dickens's most famous narratives, and written in lively, intelligent, penetrating and witty prose, a prime example of Dickens's literary genius.
Certainly there is the very strong theme, for which Dickens works are well known, about social injustice and poverty, which we read in such works as Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Bleak House and Hard Times.
It is also a ghost story for which Dickens also showed a flare, although his other ghost stories are less well known but equally enthralling.
Essentially the story revived the spirit and message of Christmas and contains a powerful social message about those members of the wealthier classes who shun responsibility for the less fortunate people in their country.
Such pearls as the following light up this story:
"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, which if persevered in, must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change".
Charming and engaging in it's original.
Charles Dickens' most popular tale has seen so many incarnations on big and small screens, stage, radio and any other media platform you can think of that it's hard to imagine any new version bringing much to it but dreary over-reverence or wild departures. Amazingly, this truly superb reading by Tom Baker seems to manage the trick, bringing a freshness that makes it seem shining new. What it brings is what is always lost in its dramatic adaptations, the wonderfully wry humour of Dickens' prose, whether it's describing the badly-located hovel he lives in as having played hide and seek when a young house and never been found by the other houses or speculating that a group of spirits chained together must have been a bad government. And in Tom Baker, AudioGo have made a truly inspired choice of reader. While you might be expecting some of the ripe, grandiose showmanship that's so often his stock in trade, he's surprisingly subtle here, never losing the throwaway wit without playing it up and at the same time never losing sight of the story and its humanity. It's a wonderful performance with a rich, diverse variety of tones and character voices that surprise and delight in a truly splendid rendition that deserves to become a Christmas tradition in itself. Truly wonderful!
on 16 February 2010
I read 'A Christmas Tree' in one sitting on Christmas Eve, and found it a bit strange. There's no story, none of that classic beginning-middle-end nonsense! It really is just twenty-odd pages of A Christmas Tree! But please don't misunderstand me - this in-depth, exhaustively detailed description of a Victorian Christmas Tree is really magical and evocative of a forgotten type of Christmas. Now, I'm not the sort to come over `all Christmassy', but this really did the trick. I reckon that this story is perfect for curling up in a chair in front of a log fire with a glass of mulled wine and a slice of Christmas cake - it will get you in the spirit like nothing else.
on 22 January 2000
The narration brings this Christmas story set in London in the 19th century alive. You can sense the warmth and enchantment of Christmas for the well-to-do Londoners and how this sits uncomfortably with the poverty and cold of London for the poor. Palmer's energetic reading conveys to the listener the amazing transformation in mood and character of Scrooge - from his tight-fisted, penny-pinching meanness at the beginning of the story through to his joyous, bountiful, child-like generosity towards its end. This audio book is a must have for old and young and is particularly enjoyable to hear during the run up to Christmas.
on 24 December 2008
I can't believe I haven't read this until now! Such a short and accessible book, but one that frightened me, made me laugh and cry, and positively dripped with Christmas spirit and goodwill.
It was atmospheric yet amusing, telling the familiar story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his physical and emotional journeys alongside the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet-To-Come. The terrible truths and moral messages uncovered on these journeys save Scrooge from a miserly existence doomed to end in loneliness and eternal despair, transforming it into one of happiness and generosity which will save more lives than his own.
I can see why so many people have a tradition of reading it every December - maybe it'll become a tradition of my own now!
on 6 November 2010
Having watch many versions of A Christmas Carol from Alastair Sim to the Muppets Christmas Carol I had, however, never read the book so thought I would give it a go. I thought, being Dickens, it might be hard going but was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was and how true to what I had seen in films and on tv. I think having seen the Alastair Sim version brought the whole book to life for me. I could see Mr Sim on every page especially when dancing round his room on finding out he was still alive and hadnt missed Christmas, "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man". Its not "Bah humbug" it's a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas tale and well worth reading.
on 19 January 2015
One of the most well-loved and popular Christmas stories of all time is Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’. Set during the mid 1800’s, when poverty and hardship were commonplace for many, this fictional story is centred on the main character of Ebenezer Scrooge, a penny-pinching miser, whose only real love is money. His view on the poor and homeless is that they should either go to prison or the workhouses and Christmas time is a loathsome event. He rejects seasonal goodwill to all, including his only relative Fred, with cries of ‘Bah! Humbug!’ and treats his downtrodden employee, Bob Cratchit, with contempt, paying him a pittance to work in a freezing office.
Scrooge is content with his solitary, lonely existence but is that all about to change with the visit of his former work colleague, Jacob Marley, as a chain ladened ghost. Who warns him that unless he changes his ways, he too will be destined for the same fate, he will be condemned to walk the afterlife with the burden of the choices he made in life. Marley warns Scrooge that he will be visited by the ghosts of Christmases past, present and yet to come. Can they show Scrooge the error of his ways? Will they change his life forever?
Although this novella was written over 170 years ago and at times the language Dickens uses can be difficult to grasp, don’t let this put you off, stick with it as the moral of the story transcends any language barrier; hope and redemption. It shows how one man, a selfish uncharitable man, can change into one with a conscience after being shown the consequences of his actions. Dickens makes us realise that we can all change to become a better person, if we only take the time to look back and reflect on our own life choices.
This book is a joy for anyone to read, however, I would suggest that due to the language Dickens uses, it would be more suitable for anyone over 14 years old. This story defines the spirit of Christmas and foe a feel good read during the holiday season, this is a must.
Since it will no doubt be buried among 200-odd reviews of the print and ebook editions of Charles Dickens's famous yuletide novella, I should clarify at this point that this is a review of the unabridged audio book of "A Christmas Carol", performed by "Doctor Who" actor Tom Baker.
The performer is well chosen. He naturally possesses a wry tone similar to the authorial voice of Dickens, whose narrative includes such wonderfully surreal images as the notion of Scrooge's oddly placed dwelling having arrived there while playing a game of hide-and-seek as a young house. He also gives voice to the wide variety of eccentric characters that populate the piece, including the throaty Marley's ghost, the exuberant Mr Fezziwig, and of course Scrooge himself - nasal tones for the miserly version and higher pitched notes for the redeemed soul. Baker even manages to encapsulate the "most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying" that Scrooge uses when revisiting his own past.
It isn't all fun and high spirits, though - not that sort of spirits anyway. The actor also conveys to us, with the aid of incidental music and sound effects by Simon Hunt, the spookier aspects of the tale, as Scrooge is visited by a series of spectres. He expresses Scrooge's fear in breathless tones, then lowers his voice as Dickens's narrator sends a shiver down the listener's spine by addressing the audience directly: "Scrooge ... found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor ... as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow."
Because it was first published in 1843, you might think that "A Christmas Carol" is an old-fashioned story, with little to say about the modern world, but you would be mistaken. Scrooge's attitude to the poor and deprived - that they are merely lazy, and that allowing them to die off would "decrease the surplus population" - is unfortunately alive and well among wealthy misers today, including certain politicians who would rather cut benefits to the disadvantaged than tax the mega-rich. Perhaps they should give this three-hour audio book a listen.
I'm a bit "bah humbug" myself when it comes to Christmas, but I was carried away by Dickens's narrative, which I had never actually read before, and Baker's characterful realisation of it - the ending of which fair brought a tear to my eye. Delightful!