Oh you little Dickens

  • Monday, January 14, 2013

Another version of “A Christmas Carol” is on television. This one is a cartoon version and a badly animated Ebenezer Scrooge is living amidst a household of talking cats and dogs. A pluperfectly awful Tiny Tim is singing in an insipid falsetto to all three.
Charles Dickens must be rolling in his grave, crying “Lord, what have I wrought.”
It is not what you wrought, Squire Dickens, but what you wrote.
Were you alive today your lawyers would be, like Scrooge himself, counting the money as it rolled in with each copyright infringement lawsuit. Your magnificent Christmas story has been plagiarized so often and in so many incarnations it’s enough to scare the dickens out of Marley’s ghost.
My favorite Christmas Carol is the one with Mickey Mouse and Scrooge McDuck who, characteristically, plays the title role.
Goofy plays Marley’s ghost with charming canine believability, stumbling over his chains and uttering his trademark “uh-yuk-yuk-yuk” guffaws with just the right comedic timing. Like most of Disney’s best adaptations, the dialogue is brilliantly tongue-in-cheek yet it doesn’t stray too much from the main theme.
And the main theme? Repentance, redemption, giving instead of hoarding? Doing unto others and finding grace in every human being?
These qualities have as much (and maybe more) importance in today’s era of unexplainable rage as they did in Dickensian England. Consequently, even bad adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” find a willing (and needy) audience.
It’s a bit like the hugely popular icicle lights which now bedeck the exterior halls of almost every other house on our subdivision streets. If you can’t get the real thing (it doesn’t snow much here in semitropical Charleston) then recreate it – plagiarize it like “A Christmas Carol” has been copied – with plastic and electricity.
Since our Christmas present isn’t enough to satisfy our commercialized ideals, we duplicate someplace else’s Christmas past. Minnesota’s, perhaps, or some place in upstate New York where icicles really do drip from eaves and there’s no need to purchase an inflatable Frosty the Snowman since the real thing is out on the front lawn with Jack Frost nipping at his nose.
So what are we left with? Christmas with a Kitsch nostalgia, compliments of the closest WalMart. It ain’t real. In fact, it’s not even close. It is fake snow amidst a clump of palmettos.
Yet the attempt, no matter how tacky, is designed to cheer. And that, in itself, is worthy of note.
For Christians, Christmas has a depth of meaning that transcends the simple Rudolph and Frosty mentality. This is the celebration of the birth of Christ, after all. As a child told me once, “it’s God’s birthday.” Yet even this sacred side of Christmas can be commercialized. Moreover, the fables get all mixed up.
I once saw a manger scene in a front yard that not only included Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, the shepherds, the sheep – and, of course, baby Jesus – also in attendance were Frosty, Santa’s reindeer and the jolly old fat man, himself.
This particular Santa was not only mechanized (he could move his arms and head) he bellowed a recorded “HO-HO-HO” every three minutes or so – with each “HO” synchronized to the on-and-off glowing of Rudolph’s red nose as he looked down upon the baby Jesus in the manger.
This wasn’t simply Kitsch, this was superb. The only thing missing was a herd of pink flamingos wearing halos. I imagine it drove the neighbors crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, I basically like all the glitz and fake glitter of Christmas Kitsch. I like listening to “White Christmas” sung by the Chipmunks.
To “Jingle Bells” barked by dogs. I think the Grinch and all the Whos in Whosville are superb. I can even stomach Burl Ives singing “Frosty the Snowman.”
As for Tiny Tim? That little dickens (which, by the way, is an archaic term for “devil”) has never been a personal favorite of mine. I think he’s sappy and contrived, created by the author Dickens purely to pull at the heartstrings. He’s in the story for much the same reason people today go out and purchase fake snow.
Yet Tiny Tim is the dramatic vehicle that ultimately gets the point across, who delivers the definitive theme of the season. Without him, the story would fall flat on its frost-nipped nose.
So, if you haven’t already heard it enough, delivered across the airways by a veritable host of emoting Tiny Tims, from ones depicted in badly animated cartoons to angel-faced young scene-stealers who can wave their crutches with the best, I’ll say it again.
“God Bless us, every one!”
Merry Christmas, everyone.

(Suzannah Smith Miles is a writer and Lowcountry and Civil War historian.)

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