Friday, November 6, 2009

My Favorite Ghost Story

I'm excited to see the latest take on A Christmas Carol this weekend by Disney. Although I'm a fan of more traditional animation, and don't think Jim Carrey is the greatest, Charles Dickens's story is, in my opinion, one of the best ever written. I love the Muppet version and the old-school Mickey Mouse cartoon version. And each year my family sees the South Coast Repertory's production in Costa Mesa as well.

So...what's the appeal? Why is A Christmas Carol reinterpreted and adapted over and over again? Why is Scrooge, a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" from 19th-Century London, as ubiquitous during the holidays as Rudolph and Frosty? And why do even the bad TV-movie versions of the story tug at our heartstrings? It's because we all love a good redemption story, and that's what this is.

There really is no compelling reason for us to sympathize with Scrooge, the protagonist. He has chosen a life isolated from humanity, exhausted of morals, and bankrupt of decency, gratefulness, and kindness. While we are being introduced to this despicable character, his behavior shocks us! He yells at a young caroler in the street, harasses charity collectors, mocks his own nephew, and refuses to give his bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit, more than a day off for Christmas. Cratchit's son, Tiny Tim, acts as Scrooge's foil. He is the paragon of childlike faith and joy. A crippled babe living on the threshold of poverty, he's described in the book as having a childish essence from God.

Yet...we do sympathize with Scrooge as we find out more about his life and how his "nobler aspirations fell off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrossed him." We start to see him thinking about how his words and actions have hurt others. We see penitence, grief, and pity, the very marrow in his bones disturbed by his own regrettable life.

And then it happens. We see hope, change, and joy. "He became a good friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world." We've had faith in Scrooge since the beginning. We've hung on for that miracle in his heart to ignite. And when it finally ignites in ours as well.

In the SCR's production, Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Past why he's being haunted by all of these specters. "To restore your humanity," the spirit tells him. That gets me every time. I always feel, as I walk out of the theater, that my humanity is restored a little bit each year too. During the holidays, it's easy to be stressed and busy, but seeing Scrooge's transformation reminds me of the transforming power of Christ, and how he can rescue us, no matter how old we are or what we've done, to live lives with purpose, gratefulness, and love.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

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