A Dickens of a Story, if You Read It

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone. 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, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke 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.

- From ``A Christmas Carol'' by Charles Dickens

HERE is a holiday suggestion. The next time you see ``A Christmas Carol'' advertised in the upcoming television programming or for sale in a video store, make a point to pass it up. Make a point to make sure your children miss it.

Make a further point to read it.

``A Christmas Carol,'' by Charles Dickens, is among the English language's best-known and least-read works. And this is a shame. The made-for-Hollywood and made-for-TV versions (and this season, a Broadway music and dance spectacular) dissuade people from reading something intended by its creator to be read.

Recently I saw a Flintstones version that was unequaled for moronic banality. The animation was awful, and the additions to the story line were worse than juvenile. No one should lose any sleep over this except that children, and probably their parents, may come away from it thinking that they have experienced the story itself.

You might question why you should read anything that is available in four or five filmic versions. Why not let children see the film (even the Muppet version) and read something else? Or just leave it up to them? You could take the chance that they will read it later when they're older.

Well, you should read it with them because it's better read than viewed. Far better. Consider the quote from ``A Christmas Carol'' that accompanies this article. It is a description of Scrooge himself. No actor who has assayed the role - not the legendary Alastair Sim, not the redoubtable George C. Scott; no animator, neither Disney nor Hanna-Barbera - has ever fully succeeded in translating the power of this description to film. But if you read it right, and if your children have even the slightest power of imagination, they will see the same thing Dickens saw.

``A Christmas Carol'' is a short novel; none of its five staves takes more time to read than the attention span of an intelligent child. I always thought that Dickens kept it short so it could be read out loud. It's scary and gloomy and suspenseful and funny and moralistic and a tear-jerker. It has a happy ending. It has everything a good movie should have.

But read aloud it's far better, because, instead of happening on a screen, it happens inside the mind's eye. That is where - even in this time of technological wizardry - the best videos are still shown. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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