It is very easy to miss that the single most culturally dominant work of fiction during the Advent season just happens to be Blue SF. It’s ghosts are simply horrific, its scenes cruel and unyielding, and its sense of time travel is only bound by relativity.
Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.
The best liberal argument in favor of A Christmas Carol is that the true criminal of the tale is capitalism. This fails immediately as it is abundantly evident that Scrooge and his company Scrooge & Marley, do not produce anything and do not invest in anything. Scrooge is an indiscriminate banker, his company a counting-house. Now, charging people to hold their money, or to borrow some, is not a crime in the West, but it is hardly the stereotype of capitalism, certainly as it is portrayed in the book. A Christmas Carol is very clear: Scrooge does not “invest” capital in risky endeavors: he loans money to “fools” and then extracts repayment on the harshest of schedules. It is also easy to miss that the curmudgeonly Scrooge appeals to his support of the liberal, centralized institution of the Union Workhouse as a relief to poverty. The workhouse was an early salvo in the War on Poverty, designed to eliminate the reliance of the poor upon charity.
Setting aside the popularized but non-existent politics of the story, what is at the forefront of the story are the ghosts. In fact Dickens himself prefaced the tale: “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”
This “pleasant” haunting starts with…
Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Scrooge as Marley used to look: with ghostly spectacles turned up on its ghostly forehead.
The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless.
Scrooge literally keeps the light in his house low enough to be able to ignore the Scriptures:
It was a very low fire indeed; nothing on such a bitter night. He was obliged to sit close to it, and brood over it, before he could extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel.
The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaohs’ daughters; Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts — and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up the whole.
So hidden from the light is Scrooge that it takes a horrorshow to awaken him, in the form of the rotting Marley:
His body was transparent, so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.
This joke makes little sense outside the context of the English bible of the day. It refers both to an admonishment in the book of 2nd Corinthians (“O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.”) and also, obliquely, to the spiritual descendants of Judas, whose “bowels spilled out” in death.
But how much greater was his horror, when the phantom taking off the bandage round its head, as if it were too warm to wear indoors, its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!
Only then does it dawn on Scrooge that Marley has been among a cloud of witnesses, praying for his blackened soul:
“How it is that I appear before you in a shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day.”
It was not an agreeable idea.
Not so much in obedience, as in surprise and fear: for on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. The spectre, after listening for a moment, joined in the mournful dirge; and floated out upon the bleak, dark night. Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
Later, warped and bizarre (“It was a strange figure — like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. “) Ghost of Christmas Past reveals that the seeds of the old man’s regret have begun to sprout:
“Your lip is trembling,” said the Ghost. “And what is that upon your cheek?”
Upon facing his past honestly (if nearly against his will), Scrooge finally sees the family life that he squandered for his bank, where his happily married former fiancée is gently lamenting with her husband the bad end that her “old friend” had come to, on the eve of Marley’s death.
“Spirit!” said Scrooge in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”
Upon the joy and glory of God being poured into his dingy and darkened home, Scrooge is struck into action by the third visitor.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”
“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.””No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit. Say he will be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
The Ghost of Christmas Present then takes him to dark and dismal places and across treacherous waters:
And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed — or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass. Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.
“What place is this?” asked Scrooge.
“A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth,” returned the Spirit. “But they know me. See.”
Not to sea? To sea. To Scrooge’s horror, looking back, he saw the last of the land, a frightful range of rocks, behind them; and his ears were deafened by the thundering of water, as it rolled and roared, and raged among the dreadful caverns it had worn, and fiercely tried to undermine the earth.Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds — born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the water — rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.
But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and one of them: the elder, too, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in itself.
Using shock and terror and darkness, the giant ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge that his view: that darkness is not only the only good thing, it is the only thing at all, is a horrible lie.
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
Of course, you know the story well enough. If not, go on and read the entire little novella. But this time read it as Dickens intended it, as a ghost story…a ghost story about the Risen Son of God:
“He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
God rest ye Merry, Gentlemen.