“A Christmas Story” paints a dark house for a dark soul
Editor’s Note:A gift that continues to offer! This Richard Mize column was originally published on December 19, 2015. At the request of the author and the continuing timelessness of Charles Dickens, The Oklahoman is republishing the play.
Home for Christmas? Here is a Christmas house that is etched in my imagination.
“He lived in rooms that had belonged to his deceased partner. It was a suite of dark rooms, in a yard-building pile, where he had so little business to do, that one could hardly help himself to think that he must have run there when it was a young house, playing hide and seek with other houses, and still forgot the exit. It was quite old now, and quite sad, because no one lived there except S —-, the other rooms all being rented as offices. The yard was so dark that even S —–, who knew every stone, wanted to fumble with his hands. and the frost clung so tightly to the old black door of the house, that it seemed as if the Genie of Time was sitting in gloomy meditation on the threshold. “
Such words! Not for the poorly literate. At 739 characters, including spaces, it would take 5.28 Tweets (now less, given that Twitter has changed its character limit since 2015). Even on Facebook, you have to click “Continue Reading” to see everything.
“S —–“, of course, is Scrooge, Ebenezer Scrooge, his name retained above certainly not to protect the innocent (!) But to let your imagination catch up with Charles Dickens and “A Christmas Carol”.
It’s the season – the Advent season – for my annual reading of the masterpiece, first published exactly 172 years ago. (178 now) on December 19, 1843, in London. It met with immediate success and “critical praise” which, according to Vocabulary.com, means “even cranky critics approve.”
Even Scrooge himself, the cranky one, would rather growl “ghost!” – but would have secretly enjoyed reading his own story, notwithstanding, perhaps, his annoying and happy ending, the grunts be damned, so to speak.
By serendipity, if not Providence, coming to the sublime ending of “A Christmas Carol” – “as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” – like waiting during the dark but merciful season of Advent itself, is its own blessing.
A room can take the face and the air of its occupant. Dickens relied on it.
“A Christmas Carol”: Stave One
“Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing special in the knocker of the door” except that “Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without he undergoes no intermediate process of change: not a knocker, but Marley’s face. “
Not a single gratuitous exclamation point: “Marley’s face. It wasn’t an impenetrable shadow like the other objects in the yard, but there was a dismal light, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. . … “
“A Christmas Carol”: Stave Two
“You can talk loosely about driving a six-man car down a good old staircase, or through a bad young act of Parliament; but I mean you could have taken a hearse up that staircase and taken it in the broad sense, with the bar towards the wall and the door to the balustrades: and it’s done easily. There was a lot of width for this, and room to spare, which may be why Scrooge thought he had seen a locomotive hearse pass him in the dim light. … “
A bar of shards? Well, that was a whiffletree, the coach’s crossbar. Not for the poorly literate.
“A Christmas Carol”: Stave Three
“The fireplace was an ancient one, built by a Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all around with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the scriptures. There were Cains and Abels; the daughters of Pharaoh, the queens of Sheba, the angelic messengers descending in the air on clouds like feather beds, the Abrahams, the Belschatsars, the apostles taking the sea in butter boats, hundreds of characters for attract his thoughts; and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the rod of the old prophet, and swallowed it all up. If each smooth tile had been a blank in the beginning, with the power to shape an image on its surface from the disjointed fragments of its thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley’s head on each.
“’Humbug’ said Scrooge and walked across the room. “
And it all lights up, so to speak, Scrooge’s dark abode, a reflection of his dark heart, paving the way for his harsh redemption. But in this song, it’s not Christmas yet.
These details, and the demons they contain, arise before Marley’s Ghost slips “through the heavy door … into the room before her eyes”, before “the curtains of her bed are drawn back” and Scrooge be face to face with Ghost of Christmas Past.
Don’t look at him anymore. Read it with me, late every night, lights dimmed, until Christmas Eve. May Christmas take its time.
Dickens’ sacred and frightening terror, perhaps, will do us good. I will be as close as the supernatural visitor who rips Scrooge’s curtains inches from his face, “as close to him as I am now to you, and I stand in spirit at your elbow.”
Senior Business Writer Richard Mize has covered housing, construction, commercial real estate, and related topics for the newspaper and Oklahoman.com since 1999. Contact him at [email protected]