Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Favorite Story

I'm often asked to name my favorite author. The first name out of my mouth is always Agatha Christie, not only because my writing's better for having studied her work. I can, and have, read her novels and shorts over and over, and still enjoy them.

But the second name I mention is Charles Dickens. I do, after all, write ghost stories, and he was a master of them. He wrote several, though most readers are only familiar with his most famous one. He was also a master of mood-setting description and, believe it or not, humor.

People ask me to name my favorite book, too, and I have more trouble. How can I name just one? But I had an epiphany a few nights ago. My absolute favorite story of all time is Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Not simply the book either, though I love it and read it every December. No, I love the story itself.

I first encountered Scrooge when I was 6 years old. My parents tuned the TV to Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. I didn't know then that the ghosts were out of order. I had no clue the cartoon was based on a literary classic published in 1843. I only knew that Marley and the Ghost of Christmas "Future" scared the bejeebers out of me to the point that I had nightmares, and that I loved Tiny Tim and his rassleberry dressing.

The next year (because of the nightmares) my parents weren't going to let me watch the show, but I insisted (closing my eyes during the scary parts). I watched it every year thereafter, then began adding other versions: Mickey's Christmas Carol with Scrooge McDuck, the old Alastair Sim film, Scrooge the Musical, the George C. Scott version, The Muppet Christmas Carol, An American Christmas Carol with Henry Winkler, Scrooged with Bull Murray, etc.

I was in high school when I read the original for the first time. It was an abridged version, but I loved hearing the story in Dickens's own voice. I later read the unabridged and found out my earlier version had cut out all the funny lines. I'm still wondering why.

As I said, I read it every December, but I still watch the movie and TV versions, and I'm delighted to find a new (to me) retelling. As long as the strong bones of the story are intact and the nasty main character satisfyingly undergoes a transformation into a good guy, I'm a happy camper. I've had this story told to me for nearly 50 years and haven't tired of it yet.

Which is a lesson itself in what makes a story great.

What's your favorite TV, movie, or even radio version of A Christmas Carol?

Merry Christmas,
and God Bless Us, Every One!

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