This post contains spoilers for Staves One and Two of A Christmas Carol.
How is the book so far? I was terrified by this story at an early age and have never grown out of it, but I’ve been told it is a very cozy and redemptive story.
I want to talk real quick about the narration, since we’re finally away from first-person, a-character-is-“really”-writing-this-story-which-is-real narrators. The third person omniscient narration in this book is very different from the Dracula narrators, or Jim Hawkins, but it does seem to have a personality of its own. It has a very distinct voice, which we see in Stave One in parts like the opening bit where it insists, confidently and persuasively, that Marley was definitely dead and the reader needs to understand that. In Stave Two, it gets a little more assertive about its existence. When introducing the first spirit, the narrator informs us that Scrooge was as close to the spirit “as I am to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.” Did anyone else take a moment to look around the room uneasily? No? Just me? Another really disturbing scene is when Scrooge and the spirit are watching some children roughhouse, and the narrator cries “What I would not have given to be one of them!” and then goes on to describe how the boys are totally cavalier about touching a girl and how the narrator would “know its value” if it were allowed the same liberty. I don’t know, guys, it got super weird. But I have a long history of being creeped out by this book so, DISCUSS?
Here’s a discussion question for you: is this book more suitable for Christmas, or Halloween? That opening chapter with Marley’s ghost is a doozy. The part where Scrooge can hear the dragging chains approach, from down in the cellar all the way up to his room, gives me the chilly heebie-jeebies.
Speaking of ghosts, I find it interesting that one of the first things we learn about Scrooge (page 3 in my copy) is that “External heat and cold had little influence on [him]. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him.” That’s a very ghost-like characteristic. Scrooge, you’re dead inside and ghosties want to help you! Further, “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it” (Stave One): okay, creeper.
I really love Scrooge’s initial reaction to Marley’s face on the knocker.
MARLEY: Hey dude I’m a doorknocker now.
SCROOGE: I refuse to condone this sort of nonsense.
Scrooge: *closes door*
Scrooge: “Pooh, pooh!”
We’ve also got a reference to another classic ghost story just to add to the chaos:
“If we were not convinced that Hamlet’s father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot-say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance-literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.”
Sassy Shakespeare reference of the week!
And then of course there’s the Ghost of Christmas Past, AKA A Walking Candle. I’ve read this book and I did NOT remember the first spirit being a giant candle with its very own cap. Not only that, but it’s a candle with no feelings: “I told you these were shadows of things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!” (Stave Two). The ghost is merciless, but not malicious. It’s a record-keeper, like a camera or something.
I am very pleased by camera-candle ghost. Candlamera, if you will.
Scrooge himself is a malicious, grouchy old dude, but I was noticing that he’s also very child-like. He’s constantly arguing with Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Past, almost petulantly. When Marley tells him he has to receive visiting spirits, his response is “I—I think I’d rather not” (Stave Two). Scrooge denies that Marley could have done anything very wrong in his life, since “You were always a good man of business,” and Marley’s rejoins that “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forebearance, and benevolence were all my business.” That interaction highlights Marley’s grim reality and realizations and Scrooge’s ignorance, almost childish innocence, of it.
There are two points in Stave Two where we see Scrooge experiencing Charitable Thoughts: one when he sees himself as a boy, and wishes he could have given a Christmas caroler a present; one when he sees himself as a young employee and wishes he could say something nice to his clerk. However, in both cases it’s a very passive wish on Scrooge’s part: he’s not yet to the point where he actively and desperately wants to change.
Stephanie’s Requirements For Change:
There’s a couple of architectural quotes on this section that I absolutely love, where the narrator gives buildings human characteristics. Both are in Stave One:
• The clocktower outside of Scrooge’s workplace “struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterward, as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.” Perfect. Also, while we’re here, pay attention to mentions of time, clocks, clocktowers, etc, in this book. Time is sort of a character in itself, and one that is very important to Scrooge: when time gets wonky in Stave Two, he is concerned that he’s lost a whole day or that time itself has run amok, which will ruin his business that relies on regular timetables and due dates.
• Scrooge’s house: “one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and have forgotten the way out again.” Dark, but also a nice comparison with Scrooge, who was a young man once but got lost in his greed and can’t find his way back to, you know, Christmas and love and joy and stuff.
To wrap up this week’s post, I hunted down a couple of references for you:
- “Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now. No, nor did he believe it even now” (Stave One).
Apparently this is an allusion to the Colossians 3:12, which mentions the “bowels of mercies” (KJV translation). So basically, Marley has no mercy, but also it’s a joke, haha funny, because he’s a ghost and doesn’t have any actual bowels.
- “If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then, indeed, he would have roared to lusty purpose” (Stave One). Apparently Saint Dunstan, as legend has it, was tempted by the devil and, being a blacksmith, held the devil back with a pair of tongs to his face. Fascinating!
Enjoy your reading! I’ll do my best to keep up with posting the rest of this month, in between Christmas madness. If you have questions, comments, let me know here or on Twitter @bahnree or #Carolalong.