Few works of literature have been as immediately popular as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and fewer still have been translated into so many other media. Within six weeks of its original publication in 1843, Dickens’ novella had been adapted into three different theatrical productions (one sanctioned by Dickens himself), and half a dozen more opened within weeks. Dickens himself took to the stage for periodic readings of the story, and touring productions of A Christmas Carol dotted the British landscape through the 19th century. Adaptations of the story have now become a staple in dozens of regional theaters across the country, beginning with the Guthrie Theater’s 1974 production. Dickens’ story has been musicalized, turned into chamber opera piece and translated into the worlds of steampunk and Star Trek; the inimitable Scrooge has been brought to life by actors as varied as Patrick Stewart, Roger Daltrey, Tony Randall and F. Murray Abraham.
Adaptations of the tale into other media have been even more creative. To date there have been nearly 30 film versions of the story, beginning with the British short Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost in 1901. The first full length film version of the story came in 1916 with an adaptation entitled The Right to Be Happy; a version with sound, 1929’s Scrooge, starred noted British character actor Bransby Williams. Through the next decades, new film versions of Dickens’ classic popped up every few years: a 1938 version starred Reginald Owens as Scrooge, a 1947 Spanish adaptation, Leyenda de Navidad, featured then-popular character actor Jesús Tordesillas, and a 1953 Italian version, It’s Never Too Late, starred a young Marcello Mastroianni. Arguably the most iconic film Carol is the 1951 British version which starred Alastair Sim; ensuing decades would see big screen versions of the story starring Albert Finney (Scrooge, 1970), George C. Scott (A Christmas Carol, 1984), Bill Murray (Scrooged, 1988), Michael Caine (The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992) and Jim Carrey (A Christmas Carol, 2009). Television versions of the story even began when the medium was still in its infancy, with an adaptation broadcast on December 20, 1944 on the Dumont network. Women have played the miserly Scrooge, too, including soap opera queen Susan Lucci (Ebbie, 1995), Cicely Tyson (Ms. Scrooge, 1997), Vanessa Williams (A Diva’s Christmas Carol, 2000) and Tori Spelling (A Carol Christmas, 2003).
Animated adaptations have featured characters such as Scrooge McDuck and Bugs Bunny, as well as the Smurfs, the Flintstones, the Jetsons and Beavis and Butthead. An episode of the popular YouTube series Epic Rap Battles of History featured Scrooge in “rap battle” with none other than current headline maker Donald Trump. Even Barbie starred in her own 2008 version. But for Baby Boomers, the ultimate cartoon version of the story may likely be Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962), with songs by Broadway’s Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.
And, perhaps inevitably, there’s now a zombie version of the tale: I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas, a 2009 novel by Adam Roberts. In the book, Tiny Tim’s ill health is the harbinger of a zombie apocalypse, which must be battled by Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Still to come: Humbug in 2017, starring rap star Ice Cube as a very 21st century embodiment of Dickens’ most famous character. Whatever unlikely incarnations this tale takes, Dickens’ story continues to touch audiences across the world.