Christmas Audiobook Review: Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”

Christmas Audiobook Review: Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”

About the book: The timeless Christmas classic, yada yada. The novella so popular it’s spawned innumerable adaptations and a new movie specifically about its writing. At this point, A Christmas Carol has been so widely adapted that reading (or listening to) the original book constitutes a lesson in how art is made. What gets stretched, and what gets omitted, when A Christmas Carol is translated to screen or stage?

A few things that might surprise you — or that you might have forgotten:

  • Scrooge’s redemption starts early. He cracks as soon as the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to his boyhood. “He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten!” The ghost notices Scrooge’s first tear that very moment.
  • Belle doesn’t show up at all until she splits with Scrooge. She has tears in her eyes when we first meet her, and her first words are, “It matters little. To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me.” It’s a credit to Dickens that the pair’s early courtship can be more or less immediately inferred from the brief breakup scene she shares with Scrooge.
  • Scrooge is not that old. This point is crucial. When Marley dies, Belle is “a comely matron” with a daughter who reminds Scrooge of the Belle he knew. Let’s say Belle was 21 when they split, and had kids a few years later. This makes Scrooge no older than his mid-50s when the book opens, seven years after Marley’s death. Yet, he’s often depicted as closer to 70, which subtly but undeniably changes the story’s valence. Being younger makes Scrooge’s prophesied death more horrifying, and makes his ostensibly long-lasting relationship with Tiny Tim more credible.

Most Christmasy moment: Scrooge’s awaking on Christmas Day is an obvious candidate, but I’m going to go for a later moment: when he humbly presents himself to his nephew and asks to be welcomed into a celebratory fold that has kept its arms open to him, even as he’s shown it nothing but scorn. “I have come to dinner,” says Scrooge. “Will you let me in, Fred?”

Least Christmasy moment: Scrooge sitting down alone to his Christmas Eve dinner, with his bowl of gruel before a low fire.

It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. He was obliged to sit close to it, and brood over it, before he could extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel. The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh’s daughters; Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley’s head on every one.

About the audiobook: I listened to the Audible production with Tim Curry, who…could be better. Scrooge and his other characters are distinctly froggy, making them all sound more than a little grotesque. A Christmas Carol for those who really want to be appalled.

– Jay Gabler is listening his way through some of the season’s most festive audiobooks.