Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the best-known, well-loved, most produced, most spoofed, and often-quoted Christmas stories around. It remains immensely popular almost 200 years after it was published.
The Story Of A Christmas Carol
The novella. first published in London in 1843, tells the (now) well-known story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, the crochety miser who hates Christmas, treats his employees with cruelty, and is overall just, well, a Scrooge. Yes, the story is so influential that the name of the character made its way into the English vernacular.
Scrooge is first visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner, who now roams the world as a spirit, burdened with chains and money boxes as a symbol of his greed. Marley tells Scrooge that the same fate—or worse—lies in wait for him unless he takes the advice of three sprits who will visit him. Scrooge is then visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who show him how his greed has lost him the chance to have any connection with other people. Sobered by what he sees in the visions, Scrooge changes his ways for the better, and finally enjoys love and friendship, as well as the true meaning of Christmas.
A Dickens Christmas
The story’s legacy is such that not only have countless versions, parodies and imitations been done (see below) but even the phrase “Merry Christmas” gained in popularity after being used in the tale. In addition, the phrase “Bah, humbug” became used to indicate a reaction to anything overly sentimental.
Dickens’ story fit right into the enormous popularity of Christmas during the Victorian era. The holiday had actually been banned in England for a while in the 1600s, and the advent of the Industrial Revolution turned the nation’s focus elsewhere. The story’s unabashed embrace of the holiday and its meaning not only helped solidify Christmas’s popularity; it also reminded people of the real spirit and meaning of Christmas. It’s one of the many reasons the tale still remains so popular today--its messages are universal and transcend time.
The Most Adapted Book Ever
Dickens wrote the book in six weeks, spurred on largely by financial difficulties. It was largely well reviewed, and he did many public readings of a shortened version of it. The story was made into a play the year after it was published, in 1844, and has been constantly adapted into film, TV, theater, and even radio versions since then.
Despite what many people may believe, 1951's Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim in the titular role, is not the first film adaptation. That honor actually belongs to a 1901 black and white silent film called Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost. Unfortunately, this silent film has largely disappeared.
One of the most beloved adaptations is The Muppet Christmas Carol, featuring Gonzo the Great, Kermit the Frog, the Swedish Chef, and other Muppet favorites, along with Michael Caine as Scrooge. Originally released in 1992, it is actually celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
From live action to muppet, there have also been many animated takes on this classic Christmas story. Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol, a short, silly 1979 version, complete with well-known characters like Yosemite Sam and Porky Pig, aimed at young kids. Mickey’s Christmas Carol, an animated 1983 film featuring Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse as Bob Crachit and Scrooge McDuck as Ebeneezer Scrooge. For 2022, Netflix released an animated musical version titled Scrooge: A Christmas Carol.
Speaking of musicals, Apple+ also released their own musical approach to A Christmas Carol in 2022. Spirited features Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds and Octavia Spencer in a modernized, fresh take on the classic tale that expands on the mythology of the Christmas ghosts and the idea that people can change.
No matter which version you prefer, the story is clearly in no danger of losing its popularity any time soon. There seems to be no end to the variations on tap and the Elf Squad can't wait to see the fun new versions for years to come.
And remember, even if you want to take a break from A Christmas Carol, the next time you wish someone “Merry Christmas” or say “Bah, Humbug,” you’re adding to the Dickens legacy and helping to keep it alive.