The world needs the wisdom of Charles Dickens now more than ever

Joshua Waddles
Staff Writer

I’ve had A Muppet Christmas Carol on my DVR since last year. It’s one of those movies I’ll watch in the middle of March sometimes, and much more often once we get past October.

I also really liked the version with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. He was the perfect Scrooge, but I like the Muppet spirits much better than those in the Patrick Stewart version. If we could re-write history and put Stewart in the leading role of A Muppet Christmas Carol, we would have the perfect adaptation of Dickens’ story.

There are some subtle things about the original story that I didn’t see in either of these two movies. If I remember right (and I may not be, it’s been a long time since I’ve read it), Dickens had this sort of musing on-paper monologue about what was particularly dead about a doornail after writing that Marley was dead as a doornail. He said he would have thought a coffin nail would be more dead than a doornail. The first thing I thought was “dead bolt,” but I have no idea if they had such a thing in the 1800s.

And after Marley’s Ghost flew out, in the original story, Scrooge looked out and saw this multitude of ghosts on the street. One thing I don’t remember in A Muppet Christmas Carol is that the chains were weighted down with money, gold bars, cash boxes and even a safe. The ghosts spent their entire lives hoarding and now spent eternity shackled to the money that they loved so much.

In particular, Scrooge (and by extension, the reader) focused on one ghost who was staring with sorrow at a woman out in the snow. She had a baby carriage (again, if I remember right) and she was trying to get it up the stairs to get herself and her baby out of the cold. In life, the damned soul never would have given her a second look. Now all he wanted in the world was to help that lady get her baby inside, but he couldn’t touch anything real. He was doomed to feel only the weight of his money chains for eternity.

And they all lived happily ever after. Not really, but Scrooge did.

What I love about A Christmas Carol is that it’s set from a villain’s point of view. Scrooge was a very interesting and sympathetic character and Dickens takes you through the process of what turned him into such a covetous old curmudgeon. Anyone who didn’t know where this story was going would immediately dislike Scrooge over “Are there no jails? Are there no workhouses?”

By the way, workhouses are a place they used to put the homeless. Administrators profited off of their forced labor, and if there was no work to be done, they put them on a treadmill or gave them a crank to turn for hours. The idea was that they had to make it as hard and miserable as possible or else everyone would want to be homeless.

And Scrooge certainly crossed the moral event horizon when he said, “If they’d rather die, they’d better do it. And decrease the surplus population.”

The Ghost of Christmas Present used Scrooge’s own words to stab him directly in the heart after he asked if Tiny Tim would die. In my opinion, this was the beginning of Scrooge’s return to humanity. He certainly knew in his head that children died, but to hear a kid say “God bless us every one” and know that same kid is about to die. Tiny Tim wasn’t a statistic anymore, he was a person. This knowledge, combined with a moment of immense, soul-wrenching shame at his own words, served to shatter the walls of hate and apathy he’d spent decades building around his soul.

It’s an entirely different tone then what’s in Oliver Twist. Centered mostly around a young boy who lived in one of those workhouses, Oliver Twist showed the misery of being a lost child in an uncaring world.

It also showed that apathy and cruelty to the poor can run all through the economic classes, not just the extra-rich and loan sharks. Workhouses were a way for those of higher means, though not necessarily wealthy, to gain wealth. They made money by putting their prisoners to work and saved money by feeding them as little as possible. In the book, Dickens explained how one essay writer tried to adapt a horse to living on only one straw of hay a day by consistently feeding it less and less. That horse died of starvation, but that didn’t stop the workhouse administrators in his story from trying to make that idea work on human children.

Dickens’ anger came from his own life. His father was sent to debters prison and Dickens, then 12, worked 12 hour days in a boot shop. He and the other boys had to do their work in front of a big window where curious crowds could come up and watch them like zoo animals.

Dickens wrote from the perspective of someone who’d been on both sides of the economic scale. The differences between Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol show that he knew the difference between someone who didn’t care and someone who, deep down, just didn’t understand.


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