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Lev Raphael

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Does A Christmas Carol Really Need to be Rescued?

Posted: 12/16/11 09:55 AM ET

I bet you never realized A Christmas Carol was in danger, did you? And it's not from people supposedly trying to take "Christ" out of Christmas.

No, the real danger is poor, dead Dickens himself. Journalist Jesse Kornbluth has published a version of Dickens' novella that's been cut by half. Why? He claims Dickens' writing is dated, clotted, overwrought. That last label is the funniest of the three because a story about a notorious miser visited by four ghosts who scare the hell out of him to make him change his life is by definition overwrought.

Kornbluth thinks classics like this Dickens tale won't survive in our short attention span age, and that his version is an improvement. Well, the proof is in the Christmas pudding, right? Let's compare part of the bravura description of Scrooge's cheapness and lack of humanity from the opening pages to what Kornbluth has boiled it down to.

Here's the original:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.


External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.

And now the rewrite:

For Scrooge was the cheapest of the cheap, so tight-fisted that if the coins in his hand could talk, they would scream. His cheapness was cold and hard and it froze him from the inside out; it shriveled his cheek, made his eyes red and his thin lips blue. He seemed to carry winter around with him.

The updated version reduces forceful description to basic information without any of Dickens' pizazz. The colorful details have been stripped away, and the wonderful rhythms of Dickens' prose have become something leaden and dull. The new version does nothing to make it clear that Scrooge was an epic miser, a historic miser, the Mother of all Misers.

So what led Kornbluth to "rescue" A Christmas Carol? His 8-year-old daughter found the book boring when he read it to her. As a parent myself, I would have waited till my kid was ready, and tried another book. It's not that I think Dickens' story is sacrosanct, it's that it's so wonderfully entertaining as it is. Why chop up a glorious greatcoat to turn it into a scarf?

Kornbluth says that after his edit, "[n]othing important is gone." Really? His version cuts the Dickens out of Dickens.

 
 
 

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