Wednesday 23 December 2009


My good friend, Boll Weavil - late of this blog and fellow Christmas Carol-fancier - excelled himself with his Christmas present this year. Not just a big box of...


...the perfect antidote to Quality Street Assortment and marzipan fruits, but also THREE new (and hitherto unseen) additions to my ever-growing A Christmas Carol collection! Brilliant work, Boll!

One of them is a book version of Disney's Mickey's Christmas Carol, the other two spin-offs from the current Disney-Zemeckis version. In one of these, Boll has augmented the title page's A Christmas Carol with the following addition: "Re-originated from the original" adding "A hundred and sixty years on, we're still doing it!"

Boll was referring to the fact that within a month of the publication of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Parley's Illuminated Library published a pirate edition entitled, A Christmas Ghost Story, Re-originated from the original by Charles Dickens, Esq., and analytically condensed expressly for this work.

Dickens was incandescent about the flouting of his copyright, and not without cause. Here's a reminder of how the original began:
Marley was dead, to begin with.

There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail...

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names: it was all the same to him.

And here's what happened to it when it got 're-originated':

Everybody, as the phrase goes, knew the firm of "Scrooge and Marley"; for although Marley had "long been dead" at the period we have chosen for the commencement of our story, the name of the deceased partner still maintained its place above the warehouse door; somewhat faded, to be sure, but there it was...
So, how did these two versions (the Mickey book makes no pretensions about adapting Dickens' text) cope with the opening sentences?

A Christmas Carol: The Book of the Film (no author credited and no reference to Mr Dickens) begins thus:
Jacob Marley was dead.

That much is certain. There will be points during this story when a reader might wonder if in fact he was still alive or perhaps if it was merely a rumour that he had died. But rest assured that Jacob Marley took his last living breath in London on Christmas Eve 1836.
True, the first line is almost right and the general gist is there and as for the date, that's a valid enough guess since the book was published in 1843 and, according, to Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley had died seven years previously...

Turning to Disney's A Christmas Carol Adapted by T T Sutherland, based on the classic story by Charles Dickens based on the screenplay by Robert Zemeckis (that's the wrong way round surely?) we find that it sets off in this way...
Marley was dead, to begin with.

He lay in his coffin with his pale hands folded. His business partner Ebenezer Scrooge glared coldly down at the body. It was a poor, wretched funeral. There were no mourners except Scrooge, and he did not look very sad. No pain or grief passed across his face... until it came time to pay the undertaker. Then Scrooge counted out three pounds as if each coin were being torn from his own flesh.
Full marks for getting the opening words right, at least. After that, I think we may all agree that Charles Dickens has nothing to fear Mr T T Sutherland!

It turns out that there are at least six other books based on this one film! But what all these versions - in books, on films, wherever and however they appear - prove is the compelling nature of the original and its ability to survive so many adaptations and embellishments.

It came home to me recently when watching the new film Sherlock Holmes that there are certain literary characters - Alice, Peter Pan, Long John Silver, Dracula, Frankenstein and Holmes - who have become so well known to us, that they are now part of popular culture and, as such, can be said to have escaped their creators and gone on to live a life of their own, unrestrained by any considerations of what-was-in-the-original.

Without question, Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most liberated of those characters but, whilst we might regret the cavalier treatment of Dickens prose, as long as Scrooge - together with Jacob Marley (dead as a doornail), the Three Spirits, the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim continue to haunt our annual Christmas festivities, in some shape or form, I say...



scb said...

Fascinating. I bought a book today that includes not only A Christmas Carol but also The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man. Un-re-originated. These are as originally originated.

(My Christmas reading will also include, as has become my tradition, The True Meaning of Crumbfest by David Weale, and A Northern Nativity by William Kurelek. Both of these are Canadian.)

Boll Weavil said...

I'm glad to have scored three direct hits with gaps in your collection Mr B! Those of us who have known Mr S over all these years will appreciate the continuing beautiful books he seems to do for us. He may not approve of you opening your presents early though even if you are off on holiday...
Stshro: A kitchen implement which loses its purpose for existence when wrapped in Christmas paper and given as a gift.