Mike's Reviews > A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, classics, british, ghosts, good-adult, good-books-have-bad-covers, magic, third-person, urban-fantasy

If you grew up in America - and probably Canada and the U.K., too, but I wouldn't know - you probably already know this story. In fact, adaptions of this story are so frequent that there's almost no point in reading the original novel. Almost all of the adaptations I've seen quote much of the dialogue word for word - I found that I already knew nearly every line of this novel, even though I just now read it for the first time. I don't regret reading it - it's still entertaining to return to the story, and there is a little here that the adaptations don't quite get. My point is just that, in our culture, this is one of the most prevalent Christmas stories in existence.

This is not in spite of, but because of, the novel's extreme simplicity. This is really a novella, not a full-length novel, so Dickens writes with a brevity that's unusual to him. And it's easy to accuse him of over-simplifying things. There's nothing subtle about Scrooge's transformation - it happens extremely quickly, and he's only shown a few visions before it happens. (It's also not so much a gradual process as something that happens immediately once the Ghost of Christmas Present shows the first vision, making it seem like the story is already over halfway through.) Scrooge's life isn't as fleshed out as it could be - one would think, based on the visions from the Ghost of Christmas Past, that he's only had a few noteworthy experiences in his sixty-something years. But this is Dickens we're talking about. Notoriously wordy, notoriously excessive. Yes, things could've been more subtle and fleshed out, but with Dickens, too little is better than too much. There's still a lot of skill in the writing - it stumbles a bit early on, but it's overall smooth and unusually brisk. It's evocative, and perfectly suited to the haunting story it tells.

And most importantly, the story gives its themes effectively. We see a lot of Dickens' values here, rather directly. Dickens write about class as someone who's seen both extremes - he was raised poor, but achieved success later in life. This is what lets Dickens write about both with understanding. Sure, you're unlikely to feel sympathy for Scrooge at the beginning of the novel, but Dickens lets you understand exactly why he is the way he is, through the Ghost of Christmas Past. Dickens knows that he's not going to move the rich to do anything if he calls them assholes. So he writes about a rich person sympathetically. And he writes about the poor with equally well. Dickens doesn't paint the poor as saints, even if he does give Bob's family additional hardships so that they're more pitiful. Dickens paints the poor characters as people, the same way he paints Scrooge. All of this is important because this book is largely political rhetoric. But Dickens doesn't get so caught up in the rhetoric that he forgets to write a good novel. This isn't an Orwell novel - there's a personal story and well-developed characters beyond Dickens' political agenda. And that's what makes this so successful. The book still resonates today, not just because the issues remain relevant, but because the characters remain real.

I never thought I'd like Dickens. I always assumed his writing would be pretentious, misogynistic, overly-wordy, and overall drivel. But between this and Great Expectations, I'm finding that he's actually not all that bad. Who knows how long I'll continue feeling that way, but of the authors I've had to read for school, I'm surprised to find that he's one of the better ones.
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Reading Progress

November 10, 2013 – Shelved
November 10, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
December 5, 2013 – Shelved as: fantasy
December 5, 2013 – Shelved as: classics
January 24, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read-very-soon
February 8, 2015 – Started Reading
February 8, 2015 –
page 20
19.23% "I've pretty much already read this book, because all of its adaptations quote the dialogue almost word-for-word. It's a little annoying."
February 9, 2015 –
page 40
38.46% "I wish Dickens had a little more space to flesh things out. But then, given this is Dickens we're talking about, too little is probably better than too much."
February 10, 2015 –
page 60
57.69% "Was this meant to be a kids story? It would certainly make the lack of subtlety fitting, and the style reminds me a little of Hans Christian Andersen."
February 11, 2015 – Finished Reading
May 25, 2016 – Shelved as: british
May 25, 2016 – Shelved as: ghosts
May 25, 2016 – Shelved as: good-adult
May 25, 2016 – Shelved as: good-books-have-bad-covers
May 25, 2016 – Shelved as: magic
May 25, 2016 – Shelved as: third-person
May 25, 2016 – Shelved as: urban-fantasy

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