“Christmas Carol” Still Resonates 180 Years Later

The Grinch couldn’t have stolen Christmas if Ebenezer Scrooge hadn’t done it first, according to Charles Dickens researchers at Kansas State University.

Naomi Wood, professor of English, says that we would not have Christmas classics like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Polar Express” and “A Visit from St. Nicholas” if Dickens had not created the concept first. She said that since the first publication of “A Christmas Carol” in 1843, the story has been adapted nearly 12 billion times. The story’s adaptations cross a variety of mediums, including music, theatrical productions, movies and more, for all ages.

“A Christmas Carol” includes many strong factors, including fear and redemption, that have allowed it to live on, Wood said. The venerable story also touches on current issues such as systems that fail to provide for needy children, with the case of Tiny Tim; income gaps, and the positive and negative ways to handle them; and the concept that even older adults can change their ways.

“‘A Christmas Carol’ is enduring because it’s a story of transformation,” Wood said. “Scrooge’s story offers the possibility that one can change for the better — become a better person and grow a bigger heart.”

Mark Crosby, assistant professor of English, said the ongoing reproduction of the story is because of its ability to synthesize scary vignettes with the notion of redemption.

“Dickens presents both the best and worst sides of humanity via a narrative of individual transformation,” Crosby said. “In Scrooge’s personal shift, isolation and selfishness are made subordinate to community, kindness and generosity.”

Crosby said the novella encapsulates the Western cultural notion of “the spirit of Christmas,” which transcends sacred and secular boundaries. Dickens’ message is one that many agree with, especially around the holidays: to set aside selfish behavior and think about others, particularly those less fortunate than ourselves.

“The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come are wonderful devices for thinking about our lives and what we want our legacy to be,” Wood said. “The double ending helps emphasize that we have a choice in how we affect the lives of others, for better or worse.”