Charles Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in October 1843; he completed it the following month, and it appeared in bookstores in December. Two months later, eight theater companies had mounted productions of the ghostly Christmas tale. Later in his life, Dickens himself performed the story, giving readings of his work throughout Britain and America. By all accounts, Dickens was a master storyteller who put on a lively voice for each character, and often edited or changed the text to appeal to a particular audience.
Such page-to-stage transformations were not uncommon in Dickens’ day—but unlike most mid-19th century literature, A Christmas Carol has unflaggingly sustained its popularity.
The first film version, Scrooge; or Marley’s Ghost, was seen in Britain in 1901, and an American film version debuted in Chicago in 1908. Dozens of films followed, starring distinguished actors Seymour Hicks, Alistair Sim and Albert Finney as Ebenezer Scrooge. Since the early 1960s, film and TV writers have placed their well-known characters in Dickens’ classic story including Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962), Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Even in its off-season, A Christmas Carol endures. “Scrooge” can refer to any penny-pinching curmudgeon and Scrooge’s catchphrase, “bah humbug!,” functions as a broad expression of disapproval. And though Tim was tiny, his influence isn’t: countless centers and funds for disabled children bear his name.
Just as 19th century audiences packed auditoriums for Dickens’ spirited readings, 21st century audiences come together to delight in adaptations. A Christmas Carol, 175 years after its first publication, maintains a prominent place on our bookshelves, screens and stages—and, most importantly, in our minds and hearts.
By Neena Arndt, Resident Dramaturg at Goodman Theatre.