The Line's Nice List: The Christmas story that has everything, and a version for all
I hate to credit the wordy old man with anything, but I can't deny that Dickens wrote the most-perfect Christmas fable ever.
We at The Line are, we admit, often a bit on the grumpy side. But there are wonderful, happy stories worth celebrating, and in the final week before Christmas, we’re going to make a point of lauding some of what’s good in the world right now. That’s right: this is our nice list.
Today: Sabrina Macpherson on a Christmas classic that still counts as a high point of the holidays.
By: Sabrina Macpherson
Today I want to point out an overflowing cup of blessing that far too many people take for granted in December: the many varied adaptations of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Now I'm no fan of the author generally, as anyone who has heard my spirited anti-Dickens rants can tell you ("Who needs that many words about a goddamn lamp post?!"). But every year in December I decorate our house with garlands and lights, I eat too many sugar cookies, and I queue up at least half-a-dozen versions of the most perfect five-act story known to Christmas.
The story itself has everything. The narrative is powerful because it's tidy: it's a straightforward morality tale about greed and compassion. It has spooky Christmas ghosts. It has ruined romance, the terror of hellfire, and a concluding redemption that's profoundly hopeful.
This is where the movies truly shine: they can go short or long on this story, because its depth is in the details. Maybe you want Mickey's Christmas Carol with the kids — it's 26 minutes long and yet hits every important thematic note. Or go with The Muppet Christmas Carol, where Michael Caine puts on a sincere and moving performance in the midst of a full-throated Muppets musical.
Consult the great Google and you will find dozens of versions, with at least one or ten for every taste. Animated versions are the most extraordinary, because they can lean in extra hard to the fantasy elements, and every mid-to-late-20th-century-cartoon series worth its salt has an episode dedicated entirely to adapting this tale. 2019's Scrooge: A Christmas Carol was a new one for me this year, and its psychedelic portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present was the very best part.
The live-actions are equally worth consideration: Bill Murray's Scrooged is a perfect late-80s entry to the canon. For classic film lovers, you can't go wrong with Alistair Sim and his portrayal from 1951. This year's Spirited with Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell is a delightful redux that maintains the five staves while also telling a new story, mixing in self-effacing musical numbers and spectacular choreography.
Prefer audio only? The radio plays and dramatic readings number in the hundreds. Want a live show? I guarantee you there is a theatre company within easy driving distance putting on the play this month. Check your local churches, too: there are some that do a reading performance as part of their Christmas concert season. There are even operas and ballets out there. I'm telling you, we're spoiled for choice!
For all that the song tells us that "there'll be scary ghost stories" at this most wonderful time of the year, this is really the only one that has held up against the test of time. Dickens wrote a story so remarkably simple and universal that it has been told and retold in every different medium for 179 years as of this December 19th. I hate to credit that wordy old man with anything, but I can't deny that he wrote the most-perfect Christmas fable ever.
Whether you celebrate the season of the winter solstice in a way that is secular, faith-based, or simply doing your level best to ignore all the hullabaloo, we can all appreciate a story that makes us think about how to be better people — and how to carry that energy with us through the whole year.
So go on. Grab a snack and your favourite drink, and enjoy one of the many versions of this story today. You'll be glad you did.
Sabrina Macpherson enjoys them all, but Michael Caine really is her favourite Scrooge. He's too perfect as grumpy old Ebeneezer, even while acting against Kermit.
Note from The Line editors: there will be no written dispatch this weekend, and we don’t plan to return until January, unless there are major news events. Next week, we hope you enjoy our week-long series of naughty list articles. Our final podcast of the year is here. The video version is here.
From us both, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
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