How many versions of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol have you seen? It seems like every cultural figure has done a version of it, Klingons, and Dr. Who, along with at least two Broadway musical productions and uncounted movies. Whatever your favorite movie version, if a viewing of A Christmas Carol is on your family schedule this year, you may enjoy this Watch-Along (or Read-Along) Guide by Dr. John Kwasny and our friends at ReelThinking. This post was originally published at RedeemedReader on December 12, 2011.
Before we jump right in, though, I want to make you aware of a few more child-friendly resources for A Christmas Carol. First, for ages 7-12 (though older kids may still enjoy it, and my younger ones appreciated it with skimming in parts), my favorite picture book version is by this one by Stephen Krensy and Dean Morrissey. Unfortunately, it’s out of print at Amazon and other booksellers, but I was able to find a copy in my library. AND I was thrilled to find it has been brought back at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Store, where you can purchase a CD of the book coupled with a unit study for $9.95 or an ebook version alone for $6.95. And there are a number of used copies of the book out there as well.
A few other resources worth considering: 1) The Art of a Christmas Carol would be great for older kids interested in movie making. It details the convergence of artists and ideas that produced the 2009 Jim Carrey movie version. 2) A Christmas Carol: A Young Reader’s Edition is an abridged version for ages 9 and up. While it may be a good resource for some families, I haven’t read the adaptation so I can’t comment on its readability. 3) A Christmas Carol Coloring Book. 4) A Christmas Carol and Other Stories is an inexpensive paperback version of the story.
And now, happy caroling!
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
A Watch-Along (or Read-Along) Guide by JOHN C. KWASNY, Ph.D.
For nearly twenty years, our family has faithfully watched a number of movies exactly ONCE a year, during the Christmas season. This short list includes It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation (much to my wife’s chagrin), A Christmas Story, and A Christmas Carol. Now, of all the renditions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the 1951 version starring the late Alastair Sim is clearly superior, in overall dramatic acting and moviemaking. So, as it is my favorite, I questioned the need for yet another movie on the subject when Disney released its retelling of the Dickens classic in 2009. Stuck in my tradition, I didn’t even watch the newest version until last week—and I have to say, I was quite taken with it! Maybe I was just ready for a change of tradition (say it ain’t so, Tiny Tim!) or maybe it was Jim Carrey’s excellent performance of Scrooge as well as the ghosts. Or, maybe it was the creepy, semi-realistic, and extremely flexible “performance capture” style of filmmaking used by Robert Zemeckis. Whatever the reason, I recommend your family watch the 2009 verson and use this “watch along” guide for some amazing discussion! (But if you are a traditionalist, it is perfectly fine to use this guide with the 1951 version…)
Question 1: Who was really dead at the beginning of the movie, Marley or Scrooge? While Marley was physically dead, Scrooge was spiritually, emotionally, and relationally dead. From the very beginning of the story, Scrooge’s bony fingers extracting coins from Marley’s eyes, as well is his other deathly features, display his own soulish-death.
Question 2: Why did Dickens name his main character “Scrooge?” If you call a person “Scrooge” today, you are purposefully calling him a greedy miser or maybe a person who hates Christmas. That’s just what Dickens would want you to think! Scrooge is actually a derivation of the old English word “scrouge” which means “to squeeze.” What did Scrooge “squeeze”? His money, of course. But, in the end, he was the one who was “squeezed” by the spirits! Bonus question: What is the meaning of his first name, “Ebenezer?”
Question 3: Compare and contrast poverty of body versus poverty of soul. Dickens was a famous advocate for social justice in Victorian England. His characters dramatically depicted the evils of poverty and social inequity. In A Christmas Carol, we see not just the horrors of poverty, but the even more desperate poverty of the soul. While beggars and street urchins display great joy at Christmas, the richest man in town has not even a drop of soul-happiness. “Money doesn’t buy happiness” is clearly communicated here, as well as the other biblical principles of the consequences of greed!
Question 4: What is a “humbug”? When Scrooge mumbles, “Bah, humbug” to his nephew after being invited to his Christmas celebration, what was he really saying? A “humbug” is something intended to deceive; a hoax; or a fraud. Scrooge was claiming that his nephew and all others who celebrate Christmas are just fakes, deceiving themselves and others. All the joy at Christmas made no sense to Scrooge, since the poor had no real reason to be happy. So Christmas for Scrooge was true “humbuggery”—a time for fake joy and temporary frivolity with no real substance.
Question 5: Is charity a virtue or a vice? The charitable focus of Christmas drove Scrooge absolutely insane! His worldview was antithetical to any idea of Christian charity. He believed people should work hard for their money and only be concerned with profit. The poor should not be given anything, not even a “whole day off” for Christmas! Scrooge is the dictionary definition of an extreme, hard-hearted capitalist. Charity, in his mind, was more of a vice than a virtue. A day for giving to others less fortunate is a waste of a day. So how does that match with a biblical view of giving?
Question 6: What are we to believe about ghost stories? At its core, A Christmas Carol is a classic ghost story. Ghost stories are great literary devices, but they also tempt us to believe false views of the afterlife. After death, do people wander aimlessly through the earth as ghosts? Do they haunt us? Do they try to communicate messages to us? Do they warn us of our future? While Scrooge was greatly served by these visions, were they real? Or do we believe what Jesus said when he told the parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus”? Dead spirits cannot be sent back to the living to warn them of anything!
Question 7: Does past abuse or neglect cause present sin? When Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, we gain a window into his upbringing. We see him being neglected by his peers. We hear of his abusive father. We learn of the death of his loving sister during the birth of his nephew. Suffice it to say, Scrooge did not have a pleasant childhood! He was most likely severely abused and regularly unloved. So does this give you compassion for Scrooge, and explain his character development? A biblical worldview acknowledges that past suffering does greatly impact our present mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Yet, the Bible also teaches us that we are always held responsible for our own present sins, even when sinned against by others in the past.
Question 8: How is greed a form of idolatry? Contributing to his heartache, Scrooge’s fiancé gave back his ring because she was no longer the love of his life. Somewhere along the line, Scrooge’s heart was stolen by money! Possibly fueled by his longstanding fear and deep emptiness, Scrooge filled his life with the gold and silver that never satisfies. This heart idolatry literally consumed Scrooge, stealing his engagement, his friendships, and his own soul. Idolatry always costs us everything in the end, as it demands our total heart worship!
Question 9: Who is responsible for man’s condition? During the visit from the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge views scenes of normal, everyday life—children playing, people going to church, and the daily contrast between abundance for some and poverty for many. And the spirit shows him the condition of the Cratchits, especially the crippled Tiny Tim. Scrooge blames God (or the gods) for man’s seemingly worthless condition, questioning why people should worship a god at all. The Ghost of Christmas Present verbalizes Dickens’ unitarian theology—don’t blame God, blame man. “Ignorance” and “want” are man’s children, not God’s. God is good; it’s man that brings suffering to other men. Much like the theology of Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, we are to believe that God is impotent to stop man from hurting man. This conception of God is a deity that only hurts in our suffering; we humans need to just stop mistreating each other on our own.
Question 10: So the solution Dickens offers is liberal social justice, where Christians view their primary responsibility as alleviating human suffering at the expense of the gospel! How does this match up with a biblical view of man’s condition, and the solution to mankind’s ills? At the end of the visit by the mute Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge asks the spirit if the vision of his future death was what “may be” or what “will be.” This changing-of-destiny question is the theme of numerous films over the years, and it is often answered with the assertion that human beings are the masters of their own destinies. Ebenezer Scrooge certainly longed to believe that a new future could be written! Most modern filmmakers resist any belief in a predestined future since one of the core tenets of secular humanism in that humans are masters of their own fate! Of course, the myth in these stories, including in A Christmas Carol, is that a divine being of some sort can accurately tell a human being his/her future, in detail. Yet the Bible teaches that our destinies are ordained by the LORD and that no one knows his or her future. The hope we have is in the One who holds our future!
Question 11: What is the nature of man’s salvation? The end of the movie always brings tears of joy to my eyes. Scrooge grabs hold of his second chance at life. He buys the largest turkey in town for the Cratchits. He donates money to the poor. He attends his nephew’s Christmas party. He vastly improves Bob Cratchit’s working condition. He becomes Tiny Tim’s benefactor. Scrooge becomes one of the most joyful humanitarians of his time. The changes in his life are swift, dramatic, and truly remarkable. We all applaud and say with Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one!” But is this change equivalent with salvation? Unfortunately, no. Scrooge was “saved” by looking to himself. We are saved only by looking to Christ. Dickens, a professed Unitarian, proclaims the doctrine of the goodness of man who only needs to be emotinally inspired in order to change his own life. Scrooge was definitely a better man after the appearances of the spirits, but he wasn’t a saved man. He was now a “good” man, still lost on the path to hell! True change only comes with true repentance—turning FROM self, TO Christ!
Merry Christmas, and to God be the glory!
John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. is the father of seven voracious readers (and one who loves to be read to), Director of One Story Ministries, and a regular contributor at Reel Thinking: Illuminating film through the lens of Scripture.