by Jody Aberdeen
So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Odds are, you've watched yet another version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".
We're positively awash in so many versions of this story that we no longer question its canonical belonging to the holiday season, whether that version was made seventy years ago or ten years ago, is Muppet-driven, or Disneyfied.
Did you know that Dickens' original "A Christmas Carol" came about as part of Dickens' larger campaign to expose the conditions of working children in factories and mines during 1840s Britain? You may also have not heard - until now - that Dickens was an early victim of literary piracy: he actually lost money on "A Christmas Carol" in the long run thanks to the incident. Regardless, the cultural contribution of "Carol" is undeniable, and this is thanks in large part, in the 20th and 21st Centuries, to the repeated adaptation of his original tale in film.
What are some takeaways that today's writers and authors can get from Scrooge's story?
1. For starters, you can never predict which of your works will have the greatest impact. True, Dickens' intentions was to bring about change to the way the British government of the day treated the poor, and especially poor children, but the residual effects of his work throughout the years around the world, and how the world celebrates Christmas, was something he likely never anticipated. And all from a book that, financially, didn't make him a lot of money. The reach of your words may surprise you, even if it doesn't surprise you all at once.
2. Another takeaway: "A Christmas Carol" shows us the Power of Three. Anyone who's ever watched and analyzed a Steve Jobs presentation understands what I'm talking about. In its original version, "Carol" appears in five parts, but the transformative experience that Scrooge undergoes takes place with three spirits representing the three points in time (Past, Present, Future).
The Power of Three principle, as I understand it, states that the human mind more easily understands and internalizes information when it receives it in three sequential, orderly, and sensible parts. It's the visitations by the Spirits that stand out most in our minds, isn't it? That's the heart and power of the entire story. Of course, I doubt Dickens consciously knew about the Power of Three as "the Power of Three", but you get the point: the proof, as the Cratchit children would say, is in the pudding.
3. Finally (and keeping consistent with my own three point structure), "Carol" is one of the finest success stories of adaptation of a literary work. There are literally hundreds of different big and small stage productions, television specials, films, radio shows, and animated versions of this story. It's become an archetype in modern storytelling, and yet the vast majority of people have never read the original novel.
I make note of it because what happened over the course of nearly two centuries for Dickens can happen within three or four years for any writer living today. Thanks to e-publishing, self-publishing, YouTube, and the increasing frequency of Hollywood adaptations, authors have never had a more powerful "reach" for their stories than they do in 2012, even if that reach doesn't include their actual book. Something to ponder.
Anyway, that's it for my little micro-blog entry. Peevish Nation, I wish you all a safe and happy holidays, and as a parting gift, here's the closing scene from one of my favorite adaptations of "A Christmas Carol", Bill Murray in "Scrooged". (I'd offer a spoiler alert, but I'm pretty sure you already know how it ends).