Saturday, December 24, 2005

It was written in 1843, after all...

After pulling out my small copy of A Christmas Carol for yesterday's title quote, I continued reading on a bit for the pure enjoyment of the writing. Came to the part where Marley tells Scrooge to expect his visitors on each subsequent night (it is 2:00 a.m. at this point). Scrooge awakes to hear twelve chimes on the clock and is disoriented by the sense of going backwards or far forwards in time:

“Why, it isn’t possible,” said Scrooge, “That I can have slept through a whole day and far into another night. It isn’t possible that anything has happened to the sun, and this is twelve at noon!”

The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way to the window. He was obliged to rub the frost off with the sleeve of his dressing gown before he could see anything; and could see very little then. All he could make out was, that it was still very foggy and extremely colkd, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making a great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten off bright day, and taken possession of the world. This was a great relief because “three days after sight of this First of Exchange pay to Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge or his order,” and so forth, would have become a mere United States’ security if there were no days to count by.

Wow! Slam! Right out of nowhere with that one! Well, who’s your daddy now, Ebenezer?

Moments of aroused chauvinistic patriotism aside, I’m quite happy that A Christmas Carol is out there as one of the seasonal classics. First of all, and most importantly for a holiday story, it can scare the crap out of you as a kid (which it did) and features no less than three speaking parts for ghosts. (TGOCF doesn’t speak…remember?) It stands relatively alone in the field of holiday fiction in its use of the macabre to make a point. The Nightmare Before Christmas now possibly running a close second.

Then there's a whole gamut of family and extended family vignettes: young Ebenezer left at school for the holiday break; the classic office party at Fezziwig’s where we can imagine Ebenezer’s friend Dick dropping trousers and climbing up on the printing press to leave an amusingly inked holiday impression for the Monday morning crew; the lighthouse keepers celebrating alone with grog, song, and companionship; that insufferably cheery nephew’s party (take me away from this, o Spirit!), and – at the heart of it -- the threadbare Cratchit household which is quite depressing if you pay attention to the details. Almost the whole economic scale there.

I believe I’ve read somewhere that Dickens didn’t ‘do’ aristocracy, and their absence in A Christmas Carol is pretty telling. Instead at the very brink of the most cheerful Hallmark moment scene of syrup and sweet, The Ghost of Christmas Present pulls back his robe to reveal two small children:

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say that were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! Are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”

Recommended quick read: John Nichols on “The Rebel Jesus”,


The other great thing about A Christmas Carol is that it has loaned itself to endless variations and parody over the years. I've seen the lot, but have a special fondness for the Jim Backus-voiced version with the song about Razzle-Berry Dressing:

"Oh Ebenezer, you've done it again!"

(From DVD Movie Guide)

and the WKRP one with the brownie-wielding Dr. Johnny Fever as the Ghost of Christmas Future:

Johnny Ghost: Bailey runs a television station in Chicago. Travis is breeding guard dogs in New Mexico. Venus owns a clothing company called "Upwardly Mobile." Jennifer married and bought herself an entire island off the coast of Sardinia. Les Nessman? The Republican whip of the United States Senate!
Mr Carlson: What about you and me? Fever and me?
Johnny Ghost: Well, Fever just sort of ... disappeared. There were rumours, of course, but really not much else.
Mr Carlson: And me? No no, don't tell me, I don't want to know. I'm dead, aren't I?

But this year, after seeing a Lifetime channel ad for some piece of fluff with a soccer mom over-extending her cellphone bill and not having enough 'face' time for the kids (I may be extrapolating on this plotline, but I'll bet I'm close...) called "A Carol's Christmas" I decided to ignore any more Dickensian tributes, homages, parodies, rip-offs and such.

Then I visited Generic Mugwump...

Now whatever little 'thing' the Duke De Mondo has going for Conor Oberst's fringe (yeah, I finally found that essay), it pales in comparison to the torch his otherwise-sensible friend Aaron Fleming keeps lit for Jeff Fahey.

It is a dark world where highways intersect with crash cymbals, and large portraits of varicose-veined eyes line the sky. Fayhey and his guide reintegrate beside a flaming Porcupine having sex with Bodger, this is indeed a mad world. As Fayhey stands looking at the chaos surrounding him, alphabet spaghetti starts to rain down from the sky. “What is the meaning of all this?” he asks the feedback. “Well,” it replies, “this is what will happen if you continue with this propensity to miss classic films at Christmas.”

And from this morning's visit to obtain these last few links, I see that the Uncle Duke De Mondo has had a change of heart and given us a Holiday themed Mondo Podcast #14.

Why, that even beats of bowl of razzle-berry dressing!

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