A Christmas Carol

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Novels

Title A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol frontpiece, first edition 1843.
Frontpiece, first edition 1843
Author Charles Dickens
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Chapman and Hall
Released 19 December 1843
Media type Print ( Hardback, Paperback)

A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (commonly known as A Christmas Carol ) is what Charles Dickens described as his "little Christmas Book" and was first published on December 19, 1843 with illustrations by John Leech. The story was instantly successful, selling over six thousand copies in one week and, although originally written as a potboiler to enable Dickens to pay off a debt, the tale has become one of the most popular and enduring Christmas stories of all time.

Contemporaries noted that the story's popularity played a critical role in redefining the importance of Christmas and the major sentiments associated with the holiday. A Christmas Carol was written during a time of decline in the old Christmas traditions. "If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease," said English poet Thomas Hood.

Plot summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

A Christmas Carol is a Victorian morality tale of an old and bitter miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who undergoes a profound experience of redemption over the course of one evening. Mr Scrooge is a financier/money-changer who has devoted his life to the accumulation of wealth. He holds anything other than money in contempt, including friendship, love and the Christmas season.

Ebenezer Scrooge encounters "Ignorance" and "Want" in A Christmas Carol
Ebenezer Scrooge encounters "Ignorance" and "Want" in A Christmas Carol

In keeping with the musical analogy of the title, "A Christmas Carol", Dickens divides his literary work into five "staves" instead of chapters. The story begins by establishing that Jacob Marley, Scrooge's business partner in the firm of Scrooge & Marley, was dead—the narrative begins seven years after his death to the very day, Christmas Eve. Scrooge and his clerk, Bob Cratchit, are at work in the counting-house, with Cratchit stationed in the poorly heated "tank", a victim of his employer's stinginess. Scrooge's nephew, Fred, enters to wish his uncle a "Merry Christmas" and invite him to Christmas dinner the next day. He is dismissed by his relative with "Bah! Humbug!" among other unpleasantries. Two "portly gentlemen", collecting charitable donations for the poor, come in afterwards, but they too are rebuffed by Scrooge, who points out that the Poor Laws and workhouses are sufficient to care for the poor. When Scrooge is told that many would rather die than go there, he mercilessly responds, "If they would rather die ... they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." At the end of the workday, Scrooge grudgingly allows Cratchit to take Christmas Day off, but to arrive to work all the earlier on the day after.

Scrooge leaves the counting-house and eventually returns to his home, an isolated townhouse formerly owned by his late business partner, Jacob Marley. In keeping with his miserly character, Scrooge lives in a small suite of largely unfurnished rooms within the house which he keeps dark and cold (the rest of the rooms in the building having been let as offices). While he unlocks his door Scrooge is startled to see the ghostly face of Marley instead of the familiar appearance of his door knocker. This is just the beginning of Scrooge's harrowing night. A spectral hearse charging up the broad staircase in the dark, the sliding of bolts and slamming of doors elsewhere in the house, and the inexplicable ringing of the ancient and neglected bell pull system precedes a visit from Marley as Scrooge eats his gruel by the fireplace. Marley has come to warn Scrooge that his miserliness and contempt for others will subject him to the same fate Marley himself suffers in death: condemned to walk the earth in penitence since he had not done it in life in concern for mankind. A prominent symbol of Marley's torture is a heavy chain wound around his form that has attached to it symbolic objects from Marley's life fashioned out of heavy metal: ledgers, money boxes, keys, and the like. Marley explains that Scrooge's fate might be worse than his because Scrooge's chain was as long and as heavy as Marley's seven Christmases ago when Marley died, and Scrooge has been adding to his with his selfish life. Marley tells Scrooge that he has a chance to escape this fate through the visitation of three more spirits that will appear one by one. Scrooge is shaken but not entirely convinced that the foregoing was no hallucination, and goes to bed thinking that a good night's sleep will make him feel better.

Scrooge wakes in the night and the bells of the neighboring church strike twelve. The first spirit appears and introduces himself as the Ghost of Christmas Past. This spirit leads Scrooge on a journey into some of the happiest and saddest moments of Scrooge's past, events that would largely shape the current Scrooge. These include the mistreatment of Scrooge by his uncaring father (who did not allow his son to return home from boarding school, not even at Christmas), the loss of a great love sacrificed for his devotion to business, and the death of his sister, the only other person who ever showed love and compassion for him. Unable to stand these painful memories and his growing regret of them, Scrooge covers the spirit with the large candle snuffer it carries and he is returned to his room, where he falls asleep.

Scrooge wakes at the stroke of one. After more than fifteen minutes, he rises and finds the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, in an adjoining room. The spirit shows him the meagre Christmas celebrations of the Cratchit family, the sweet nature of their crippled son, Tiny Tim, and a possible early death for the child; this prospect is the immediate catalyst for his change of heart. They also show the faith of Scrooge's nephew in his uncle's potential for change, a concept that slowly warms Scrooge to the idea that he can reinvent himself. To further drive the point, the Ghost reveals two pitiful children who huddle under his robes which personify the major causes of suffering in the world, "Ignorance" and "Want", with a grim warning that the former is especially harmful. At the end of the visitation, the bell strikes twelve. The Ghost of Christmas Present vanishes and the third spirit appears to Scrooge.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come takes the form of a grim spectre, completely robed in black, who does not speak and whose body is entirely hidden except for one pointing hand. This spirit frightens Scrooge more than the others, and harrows him with visions of the Cratchit family bereft of Tiny Tim, of Scrooge's own lonely death and final torment, and the cold, avaricious reactions of the people around him after his passing. Without explicitly being said, Scrooge learns that he can avoid the future he has been shown, and alter the fate of Tiny Tim—but only if he changes.

In the end, Scrooge changes his life and reverts to the generous, kind-hearted soul he was in his youth before the death of his sister.

The story deals extensively with two of Dickens' recurrent themes, social injustice and poverty, the relationship between the two, and their causes and effects. It was written to be abrupt and forceful with its message, with a working title of "The Sledgehammer". The first edition of A Christmas Carol was illustrated by John Leech, a politically radical artist who in the cartoon "Substance and Shadow" printed earlier in 1843 had explicitly criticised artists who failed to address social issues.



  • Ebenezer Scrooge
  • Jacob Marley (who appears in the story only as a ghost)
  • Bob Cratchit
  • Tiny Tim
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present
  • The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
  • Fred (Scrooge's nephew)


  • Fezziwig (to whom Scrooge had been apprenticed as a youth)
  • Fan (Scrooge's late sister)
  • Belle (a young woman to whom Scrooge was once engaged)
  • Mrs. Cratchit (Bob Cratchit's wife)
  • Peter Cratchit (Bob's eldest son)
  • Martha Cratchit (Bob's eldest daughter)
  • Mrs. Dilber (Scrooge's charwoman)
  • The Laundress
  • Old Joe (a receiver of stolen goods; in the "future" segment of the story, he is given the dead Scrooge's belongings, after his room and his body have been plundered by Mrs. Dilber and the Laundress)
  • The Two Portly Gentlemen

Dramatic adaptations

'A Christmas Carol' was the subject of Dickens' first public reading, given in Birmingham Town Hall to the Industrial and Literary Institute on 27 December 1852. This was repeated three days later to an audience of 'working people', and was a great success by his own account and that of newspapers of the time. Over the years Dickens edited the piece down and adapted it for a listening, rather than reading, audience. Excerpts from 'A Christmas Carol' remained part of Dickens' public readings until his death.

A Christmas Carol has been adapted to theatre, film, radio, and television countless times. According to the Internet Movie Database, various movie adaptations of the story were filmed as early as 1910.

Perhaps the most popular and critically acclaimed film adaptation of the story was made in Britain in 1951. Originally titled Scrooge (and renamed A Christmas Carol for its American release), it starred Alastair Sim as Scrooge, and was directed by Brian Desmond-Hurst with a screenplay by Noel Langley.

Most modern adaptations refer to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as the "Ghost of Christmas Future" instead.

Adaptations of the story include:

  • Scrooge (1935), an English movie starring Sir Seymour Hicks as Scrooge.
  • A Christmas Carol (1938) starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge and Gene Lockhart and Kathleen Lockhart as the Cratchits.
  • A Christmas Carol (1938), a radio dramatization featured on The Campbell Playhouse and starring Orson Welles as Scrooge; the following year the story was adapted again on the same program, this time with Lionel Barrymore starring.
  • Scrooge (1951) starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge and Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as the Cratchits, this adaptation is recognized as one of the most popular Christmas adaptations in film history.
  • A Christmas Carol (1954), a musical television adaptation starring Fredric March as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone as Marley. A filmed episode of the series Shower of Stars, and the first version in colour.
  • The Stingiest Man in Town (1956), the second musical adaptation, starring Basil Rathbone and Vic Damone as the old and young Scrooge. A live episode of the television series The Alcoa Hour.
  • Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962), an animated musical television special featuring the UPA character voiced by Jim Backus, with songs by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill.
  • Scrooge (1970), a musical film adaptation starring Albert Finney as Scrooge and Alec Guinness as Marley's Ghost.
  • A Christmas Carol (1970 original stage adaptation written by Ira David Wood III), performed for the last 31 years on stage at Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium. Theatre In The Park, in Raleigh NC, has produced the show since its premiere. Wood's "A Christmas Carol" is the longest running indoor show in NC theatre history.
  • A Christmas Carol (1971), an Oscar-winning animated short film by Richard Williams, with Alastair Sim reprising the role of Scrooge.
  • Rich Little's Christmas Carol (1978), a television special in which impressionist Rich Little plays several celebrities and characters in the main roles.
  • The Stingiest Man in Town (1979), an animated made-for-TV musical produced by Rankin-Bass. Stars Walter Matthau as the voice of Scrooge and Tom Bosley as the narrator. This had originally been done as a live-action musical on television in 1956.
  • An American Christmas Carol (1979), an adaptation starring Henry Winkler at the height of his fame from the television series Happy Days, where the story is set in Depression era New England, and the Scrooge character is named Benedict Slade.
  • Bugs Bunny's Christmas Carol (1979), an animated television special featuring the various Looney Tunes characters.
  • Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), an animated short film featuring the various Walt Disney characters, with Scrooge McDuck fittingly playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. This version was based on a 1972 audio musical entitled Disney's 'A Christmas Carol'. Most of the cast remained unchanged, however, in the audio version, the Blue Fairy (from Pinocchio) and the Queen (from Snow White, in her hag guise) portrayed the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future, respectively (the Present Ghost, like in the film version, was portrayed by Willie the Giant).
  • A Christmas Carol (1984), a television movie version starring George C. Scott.
  • The Gospel According to Scrooge (1986), a stage musical that emphasizes the religious elements of the story, often performed by American Christian churches.
  • X-mas Marks The Spot (1987) was an episode of the animated series, " The Real Ghostbusters" that spoofed the Dickens classic, depicting the heroes accidentally capturing the three spirits and ruining Christmas for the future.
  • Scrooged (1988): a remake in a contemporary setting with Bill Murray being a misanthropic TV producer who is haunted by the ghosts of Christmas. Directed by Richard Donner.
  • Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988): a parody where philanthropist Ebenezer Blackadder becomes a bad guy after a visit by the Spirit of Christmas.
  • In 1991, the Focus On The Family children's radio program Adventures In Odyssey produced an episode entitled "A Thanksgiving Carol", in which the gang at Whit's End produces the show for Kid's Radio. Bernard Walton ( Dave Madden) becomes Ebenezer Stooge, Eugene Meltsner ( Will Ryan) becomes Bob Wretched, Connie Kendall (Katie Leigh Pavalovich) takes on the roles of Cheerful Lady (the portly gentlemen rolled into one), Mrs. Wretched, and Teeny Tom. Officer David Harley (also voiced by Will Ryan) becomes Jacob Arley, and Whit (the late Hal Smith) becomes Terence Clodbody, all three Spirits of Christmas rolled into one.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks adapted the basic storyline in a 1992 TV Special, Alvin's Christmas Carol. Alvin becomes a Scrooge-like chipmunk who only views Christmas as a time of getting. But Dave, Theodore and Simon show him that Christmas is a time of giving. Incidentally, Alvin's elderly neighbour on his paper route has a cat named Ebenezer.
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) featuring the various Muppet characters, with Michael Caine as Scrooge.
  • Scrooge: The Musical (1992), a British stage musical adapted from the 1970 film and starring Anthony Newley.
  • The Flintstones Christmas Carol (1994), animated adaptation featuring Fred Flintstone as 'Ebonyzer Scrooge', Barney as 'Bob Cragit' and Mr. Slate as 'Jacob Marbley'
  • Ebbie (1995), a television movie in which the role of Scrooge is played by a female with Susan Lucci as Elizabeth "Ebbie" Scrooge, the cold-hearted owner of a department store.
  • A Solstice Carol (1996), a holiday episode of Xena: Warrior Princess that replaced Scrooge with a miserly king and replaced the three spirits with the three fates of Greek Mythology.
  • Beavis and Butt-head has a parody adaptation of the story where Beavis played as a cruel manager at Burger World, and went through the revelations of the three ghosts, that came out of the TV while he was trying to watch a porno. Although the story ended up being a dream and Beavis is still the same as ever.
  • Focus On The Family Radio Theatre adapted the story in a 1996 production hosted by David Suchet, narrated by Timothy Bateson, and with Tenniel Evans as Scrooge. This production expands on the events of Scrooge's past and takes a few other liberties with the storyline, especially after Scrooge's awakening from his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. It emphasizes the underlying Christian themes of the story.
  • Ebenezer (1997), a Canadian TV production Western-themed version starring Jack Palance and Rick Schroder.
  • A Christmas Carol (1997), an animated production featuring the voice of Tim Curry as Scrooge as well as the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Michael York and Ed Asner.
  • Ms. Scrooge (1997), a televison movie starring Cicely Tyson that aired on USA Network.
  • A Christmas Carol (1999), a television movie starring Patrick Stewart, inspired by his one-man show, but featuring a full supporting cast. This was the first version of the story to make use of digital special effects.
  • The Family Man (2000) Though not a direct adaptation, this film's story, involving a wealthy, but cold-hearted businessman ( Nicolas Cage) who learns the true meaning of Christmas through a supernatural misadventure, recalls Dickens' novel.
  • A Christmas Carol (2000) A modern-day version starring Ross Kemp as Eddie Scrooge, an unscrupulous loan shark.
  • A Diva's Christmas Carol (2000), a humorous adaptation starring Vanessa Williams as bitchy diva Ebony Scrooge who is transformed into a kind-hearted soul.
  • A Carol Christmas (2003) Made-for-TV adaption on the Halmark Channel. Stars Tori Spelling as "Scroogette." William Shatner makes a special appearance as the ghost of Christmas Present.
  • Christmas Carol: The Movie (2003) an animated version produced by Illuminated Films (Christmas Carol), Ltd/The Film Consortium/MBP; screenplay by Robert Llewellyn & Piet Kroon; with the voices of Simon Callow, Kate Winslet, Nicolas Cage, Jane Horrocks, Rhys Ifans, Michael Gambon, and Juliet Stevenson.
  • Steve Nallon's Christmas Carol (2003) theatrical adaptation starring the noted impressionist, as a number of famous people.
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't A Christmas Carol (2003) a BBC Radio 4 parody in which the curmugeonly Ebeneezer Scrumph (played by the curmugeonly chairman of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, Humphrey Lyttelton) is visited by three ghosts played by the regular panelists.
  • A Christmas Carol (2003 film), an Animé animated version of the Dickens's classic, distributed in the United States by Goodtimes Entertainment, written by Jack Olesker, directed by Toshiyuki Hiruma Takashi, animation by Amisong Productions among others, with the voices of Tony Ail, Nathan As well, and Cheralynn Bailey
  • VeggieTales released a parody entitled " An Easter Carol" in 2004, with the zucchini Nebby K. Nezzar in the Scrooge role.
  • A Christmas Carol: The Musical (2004), starring Kelsey Grammer.
  • Caroll's Christmas (2004), in which modern versions of the three spirits visit the wrong man's house on Christmas Eve.
  • An IESE Christmas Carol (2005) at Google Video, a short business school version by the IESE theatre club in which Scrooge is played by women.
  • A Learning Carol (2004), a three episode podcast by The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd (ep. 205-207)
  • A Sesame Street Christmas Carol (2006), a direct to DVD special featuring Oscar the Grouch in the Scrooge role.
  • Bah Humduck! (2006), a Looney Tunes spoof of the classic with Daffy as Scrooge.
  • A Camden Christmas Carol (2006), a multimedia stage adaptation by Rutgers-Camden Centre for the Arts in Camden, NJ supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation.
  • A Christmas Carol (2006)
  • A Christmas Mikey (2006 television episode) Final episode of Season 1 of Kappa Mikey, pitting Ozu in the role of Scrooge, and three Ghosts who resemble Japanese samurai.
  • Weebl and Bob (2006) A Bob cartoon parodies A Christmas Carol.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends - In part of the epsode "A Lost Claus", Bloo parodies this in order to squeeze more presents out of Mr. Herriman. Bloo, essentially, gets the ghosts wrong: Bob Marley instead of Jacob Marley; the Ghost of a Christmas present instead of the Ghost of Christmas Present; and as the Ghost of Christmas Future, he dresses up as a deadly robot. Bloo completely skips over the Ghost of Christmas Past.
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Christmas Carol - An edition of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, where the usual games are woven into the story of A Christmas Carol.

In addition, others have noted that the classic film It's a Wonderful Life is essentially A Christmas Carol in reverse. That is, instead of a miserly and selfish man changing his ways with a supernatural experience on Christmas Eve, the film depicts the story of a compassionate businessman who sacrificed his dreams to help his community and feels he is a failure. In the depths of despair, there is a supernatural occurrence to show him that his choices were more than worthwhile.


Dickens wraps up the story with two short paragraphs telling us that sickly Tiny Tim survives and stingy Ebenezer Scrooge becomes renowned for his newfound goodness—basically a "happily ever after" ending—but he provides no detail on what happens to any of the characters. Following the every-good-story-deserves-a-sequel idea, a number of authors have crafted their own versions of what befell Scrooge and company. Ranging from Internet stories to best-selling novels (and even a television screenplay), several different works have picked up the characters and events of Dickens' classic to spin new tales for the story's aftermath.

Here are but a few:

  • A Christmas Carol II, (1985), an episode of the TV series George Burns Comedy Week in which it's revealed that Scrooge is good-natured to a fault, and all of Camden Town takes advantage of his generosity, prompting the spirits to return and make sure Scrooge reaches a median between his past and current behaviour.
  • Marley's Ghost, (2000), by Mark Hazard Osmun: The prequel to A Christmas Carol. A novel imagining the life and afterlife of Scrooge's partner, Jacob Marley and how Marley came to arrange Scrooge's chance at redemption.
  • Timothy Cratchit's Christmas Carol, 1917: A Sequel to the Charles Dickens Classic (Dickens World, 1998) by Dale Powell. In this version, an elderly Tiny Tim is a wealthy immigrant living in America who experiences his own spiritual visitations on Christmas Eve.
  • The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge (Ohio State University Press, 2001) by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita. A uniquely philosophical take on the Scrooge mythology set in the afterlife with Scrooge on trial to determine if he merits entry into Paradise.
  • "Scrooge & Cratchit" (scrooge-and-cratchit.com, 2002) by Matt McHugh. Beginning seven years after the events of the original, Bob Cratchit is now Scrooge's partner in business as they both face the wrath of bankers every bit as ruthless as Scrooge in his prime.
  • The Last Christmas of Ebenezer Scrooge: The Sequel to A Christmas Carol (Wildside Press, 2003) by Marvin Kaye. This sequel picks up right where the original left off, with Scrooge trying to right an unresolved wrong. This version was also adapted for the stage.
  • Mr. Timothy (HarperCollins, 2003) by Louis Bayard. Here again is an adult Tiny Tim, only this time as a 23-year-old resident of a London brothel who becomes embroiled in a murder mystery. Mr. Timothy was included in the New York Times's list of Notable Fiction for 2003.
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