BAH! HUMBUG, BROTHERS!
The traditional holiday season is bearing down on us with all the misguided
force and chaos of a Democratic presidential debate, and Furthermore, my
Masonic pet raven brother, and I feel compelled to make certain
Before we get started, the word you are looking for is ďcurmudgeon.Ē Or
We canít remember the first time we heard, saw or read Dickensí A Christmas
Carol. Iím certain it was early in my life. We had a high school drama
teacher that did readings of it every year. Later, we had a college drama
professor that did readings of it every year. Itís a thespian thing,
I always enjoyed the story of the spirits that brought the true meaning of
Christmas to old Scrooge. In time, I developed a habit of rereading it every
year, just for myself. And, of course, it is impossible to miss the nearly
countless versions that infest cable television during December, ranging
from the George C. Scott version to Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. Donít
get us started.
In very recent years, however, Iíve had a haunting feeling that I was
missing something that was key to the story. Now, I think Iíve found it.
I discovered a quote from Harlan Ellison. Hereís his observation on the
"Did you ever notice, the only one in A Christmas Carol with any character
is Scrooge? Marley is a whiner who screwed over the world and then hadnít
the spine to pay his dues quietly; Belle, Scroogeís ex-girlfriend, deserted
him when he needed her most; Bob Cratchit is a gutless toady without enough
get-up-and-go to assert himself; and the less said about that little
treacle-mouth, Tiny Tim, the better."
Heís right, pretty much. (Although I do tend to give Belle the benefit of
the doubt, especially the Belle in the George C. Scott version of the
movie.) Scrooge does have character. All his life, heís worked to overcome
being abandoned by his own family. He has created a business that gives
gainful employment to others. He manages his money and the money of his
investors with great care. If the guys at Enron and Tyco had been just half
as reliable, we wouldnít have all those headlines in the business section of
USA Today, you know?
Scrooge, as Bob Cratchit finally admits, truly is "the founder of the
feast," whether his wife likes it or not.
In point of fact, Scrooge is the only one in the entire story who really
knows just who he is and what heís about. Marley and the spooks donít count.
Everyone else is constantly whining about one thing or another, unhappy with
their lot in life or the lot assigned to others.
And itís been that way since 1843.
Except that itís all changed.
Think about this for a moment.
By the 1870s, the story had become a sort of secular scripture, read and
reread every season, just as we do today. That began to change as England
exchanged the Victorian for the Edwardian era. It was seen as not much more
than an engaging childrenís story. Then during the era of the Great
Depression, it became a morality tale of the success of shrewd businessmen
in tough times. In the 1960s, Scrooge became a Freudian figure, calling up
Marley as a way of calling for help. And today? Well, today Iím not sure
about. The hunger and poverty of Dickensí London is mirrored in our own
streets in the most prosperous nation in the world and there is little joy
in the streets as random shootings kill the innocents. And hereís Scrooge
again, at the center of times with unstable economic realities and a sense
of helplessness in the streets, being reread to a new generation. Truly,
there are some striking similarities between London of 1843 and your
hometown of today.
A few years ago, Paul Davis, a professor at the University of New Mexico,
wrote a very thoughtful book The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. It
examines in some detail the historic realities that have influenced our
interpretations of A Christmas Carol during the last two centuries. Itís
worth finding a copy. Yale University Press. 1990.
Scrooge, he suggests, has become one of those priceless Christmas icons,
like the Thomas Nast version of Santa Claus. And, like Santa (who used to
smoke a pipe in less politically correct times, remember?), Scrooge
continues to change to fit the needs of our times.
All of which would probably make old Ebenezer look you square in the eyes
and mutter, "Bah. Humbug."
Forgive me. I couldnít resist using that line.
Hereís another, this one stolen from Ogden Nash, and used on behalf of my
pet raven, Brother Furthermore, and myself:
"Merry Christmas, nearly everyone."
Skip Boyer and Brother Furthermore Raven
And all the creatures, great and small, of
The Chronicles of Furthermore