Wednesday, December 24, 2008

ACROSS FIVE CAROLS: Five Staves On Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL By Bethany Ruthven

Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. It is Christmas Eve, and as I write this I am in my chambers at Castle Ruthven with a splendid and delicious bottle of Lithuanian Greengrocer 1865, type AB-negative. (A lovely year, too.) Christmas Eve, for me, is the best time of Christmas, full of anticipation. The bunting is down, most of the various fetes and parties are done, and we are only twenty-four hours away from beginning the walk to the New Year. On Christmas Eve my thoughts often turn to what is perhaps my favorite Christmas story, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Dickens first published his "Ghost Story For Christmas" on December 19, 1843. The 'little Christmas book' was instantly successful, selling over 6000 copies in just one week. This wonderful tale of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his redemption has endured through the ages to become a true classic of Christmas, and in its time was judged by his contemporaries as crucial to redefining the role of the Christmas season and its traditions. A Christmas Carol has been adapted countless times for nearly every performing medium imaginable, and tonight, as we pass the hours to Christmas Day, I shall share with you our five favorite adaptations.

Stave 1: Patrick Stewart's Christmas Carol
Stewart, known by all Star Trek fans everywhere as the unflappable Captain
Jean-Luc Picard, has performed a one-man stage production of A Christmas Carol since 1991. In this 1994 Hallmark Entertainment production, which neither skimps on nor romanticizes the squalor of the Victorian period, Stewart turns in a delightful performance as Ebenezer Scrooge, with Richard E. Grant appearing as a particularly beleaguered Bob Cratchit and Joel Grey as a kindly but firm-handed Ghost of Christmas Past. The ghost-story aspects of Dickens' tale are played to maximum effect, and the film's production values are unusually high for a television adaptation, similar to Masterpiece Theatre. This film has become a holiday perennial in the Monster Shop; we must see this every Christmas. Watch for appearances by Trevor Peacock and Liz Smith, both alumni of Dawn French's acclaimed Vicar Of Dibley series.

Stave 2: A Christmas Carol: The Musical
We were a bit skeptical of a musical version of A Christmas Carol at first, and equally skeptical of the rather warm and genial Kelsey Grammer as Scrooge, but this version surprised us. Hallmark Entertainment produced this television film in 2004, based on a 1994 Madison Square Garden stage musical. Grammer's performance as Scrooge does come across as more grumpy than bitter and anguished, but again, the production values are very high, and we find the music pleasant. There seems to be little downtime between the songs. This musical also features a scene in which Scrooge's father is sent away to debtors' prison, a scene inspired by the life of Dickens himself.

Stave 3: Scrooged
This 1988 comedy film featuring Bill Murray is noted for its many star roles and cameos, its satire of the media and its Carol-within-a-Carol storyline of a heartless and cruel TV executive who is assigned the task of producing a live TV all-star version of the Dickens tale, and finds his life inexplicably mirroring the story. Produced by Richard Donner and adapted from Dickens by Mitch Glazer and black-comedy master Michael O'Donoghue, this film is unusually faithful to the Dickens tale, modernized though it may be. Many dark moments and images abound in this film, and according to those in the know, O'Donoghue had a much darker vision in mind than what ultimately went to theatres.

Stave 4: Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

Quincy Magoo, the popular UPA cartoon character voiced by Jim Backus, appears as Ebenezer Scrooge in this much-lauded animated musical from 1962. Despite being aimed at children and rather shortened to fit an hour-long time slot, much of the dialogue is directly quoted from Dickens with little to no simplification. It also contains a rich and excellent musical score and songs by Walter Scharf, Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.

Stave 5: The Stingiest Man In Town
Rankin-Bass Studios makes up for its poor rendering of Dickens' The Cricket On The Hearth with this fine 1978 adaptation of the Carol, featuring Walter Matthau and Broadway legend Robert Morse in vocal talents for old and young Scrooge, and Tom Bosley as ubitiquous narrator B.A.H. Humbug. The animation style is somewhat similar to the style that would appear in their productions of Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Return Of The King, and the story is relatively faithful to Dickens' original work. This special is now available on the Classic Christmas Favorites DVD set, which is available at (as are the other films shown here).

So in these last hours of the Eve, I take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a most pleasant and wonderful Merry Christmas from myself, the other MonsterGrrls (Frankie, Punkin and Harriet) and our Mad Doctor. I have delighted in being a part of this holiday soiree, and hope your New Year is prosperous and peaceful. Do keep Christmas in your heart, as Scrooge came to do, and God bless us every one.

Our final post for The MonsterGrrls' 25 Days Of Christmas is up tomorrow. I shall see you then, and once more, Merry Christmas to all.

Warmest regards for the season,
Bethany Ruthven