28 December 2013

"Light the lamp, not the rat!"

Ebenezer Scrooge Gravesite — Shrewsbury, Shropshire England
I will sail a friendly course,
file a friendly chart,
on a sea of love and thankful heart.

It's that time of year, when I find myself getting out all the various interpretations of "A Christmas Carol" and basking in the time-worn but essential lesson of kindness over and over again.

Thanks to the generosity of friends and family I have no fewer than seven versions of the wonderful tale on videotape or DVD, and all are favorites for different reasons. 

Who can argue that Patrick Stewart isn't a remarkable Scrooge?  With his voice like a rich pudding, grumbling one minute and bellowing the next. And his beautifully expressive face, scowling disapproval. And his energetic body, erect and unyielding in his stinginess or leaping like a child and giggling in the final scenes of redemption.

George C. Scott, on the other hand, is the most forbidding of the brood, and his version appeals to me on a personal level.  I have walked the very "shuts" (lanes) where it was filmed in the city of Shrewsbury (Shropshire), including wandering through St. Chad's graveyard one evening and gazing down (in disbelief!) at the long tablet stone with it's ominous and chillingly carved name.

Alistair Sim isn't brooding at all, despite being a mean-hearted fellow. And yet there is no one who captures Scrooge's sheer zany giddiness and genuine warmth on Christmas morning when he realizes he is still very much alive and able to renounce his miserly ways.  His interaction with his maid on the stairwell always makes me laugh out loud.

Music is such an integral part of Christmas, and I do enjoy the musical version of the story, featuring Albert Finney. The soaring chorus that accompanies the beautiful watercolor drawings in the opening credits perfectly sets the tone for the Victorian spirit of an English Christmas.  And Finney is brilliant as Scrooge from his opening scowl to his final geriatric romp on Christmas morning -- opening all the curtains and letting light into his darkened home and heart.

And then there is the version set in New England during the Depression, starring Henry Winkler as a miserly man, who spends his time reposessing the worldly goods of the town's poorest residents. At first it's a bit jarring to have a different landscape, a more recent time period, and the flat American accents. But the story transcends these variations and Winkler's response to the final apparition is heart-rending.

But my favorite version, hands down, has Michael Caine as Scrooge, supported by a cast of Muppets decked out in full Victorian splendor. Their word for word version of the tale is so endearing, so heart-warming, so hilarious, it is the first one I watch every year.  Narrated by Charles Dickens (aka Gonzo) and his faithful side kick (Rizzo the Rat), it's heart-lightening to see the story unfold to the point where I actually forget I'm watching humans and puppets interact and can simply let myself get carried away on the tender tutorial of opening one's heart to the spirit of Christmas. (Although I don't actually remember the scene in Dickens's original story where a lamplighter lights a rat's tail by mistake...) 

It's in the giving of a gift to another,
a pair of mittens that were made by your mother,
it's all the ways that we show love
that feel like Christmas.
A part of Childhood we'll always remember.
It's the summer of the soul in December.
Yes, when you do your best for love
it feels like Christmas.

Yes, indeed it does.


  1. Another Christmas Carol fan here, though the only one I saw this year was a modern British TV adaptation in which Scrooge was a loan-shark who preyed on the poor inhabitants of a council estate. It worked really well. I haven't seen the Muppet version, so must look out for it.

    Wishing you all the best for 2014.

  2. Hi there! Happy New Year! Just popping by to thank you for your year-long support and kind words on my blog. They have always cheered my spirits. I love your post on the many renditions of the Scrooge. It is one my favorites too. I love the older version best.

    Wishing you a new year with lots of joy and happy memories,