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Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Where Horror Meets Hope
by Dean Patrick
“Marley was dead, to begin with.”
No matter what horror story or book you read, few have such an opening line that is so unsettling. But that’s what makes Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol one of the greatest of all ghost stories. Sure. It’s about the power of Christmas. But my take on one of many Dickens’ masterful tales is one of horror and warning. There are plenty of film adaptations, but the only way to truly feel how overwhelming the battle is for the soul of a human being is to read the full text.
A Christmas Carol is one of the many reasons why I find horror so pure in its goal: to push us into our deepest and farthest corners of fear and apprehension so that we are forced to deal with it. When the demons come with rage and determination, gray area disappears. Our choice is twofold: succumb…or overcome.
From the first ghost appearance when Jacob Marley appears to Ebenezer Scrooge warning him about the afterlife, to the final ghost, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the dread presented to Scrooge over the course of a single terrifying night ultimately forces his hand. He can either remain in his ways of harsh ruling and perpetual bitterness (and suffer the consequences), or he can take heed from the horror that pummels him, and change his ways. Whatever the case, as inferred above, it is a story of relentless antagonizing over the worth of a man’s very soul.
By the time Scrooge finally meets The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, he’s been put through more than what most can handle. Still, his stubbornness remains. In Scooge’s mind he’s seen enough, and perhaps he’s made the decision to turn things around. But the spirit world has more to say. One last final assault. And Dickens delivers when describing the awful phantom. “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.”
Though Scrooge thought his night was over while facing the truth of his past and present, he’s hurled into the future to an awful and broken world where he sees the death of Tiny Tim, the cynical and jaded reflections of those who rejoice in his death, and of course the frightful vision of his destitute grave site. He awakens in utter shock and absolute rejoice when he realizes he’s not missed Christmas, but also that he’s still alive and able to change his heart. And his actions.
This is the story where Dickens warns us that “ghosts are everywhere, wailing in despair, at all times.” A story where “The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree.” It is a timeless tale of horror and where the best of horror will always leave us: Hope.