Marley was dead, to begin with.
The above is still my favourite opening to a novel!
We all know the story by now. Ebeneezer Scrooge is a mean old man who has come to despise Christmas and everything that it stands for. He is incredibly rich, has more money than he will ever know what to do with yet lives in a big, cold draughty house, pays his employees an absolute pittance and is cruel to he Clerk, Bob Cratchett. He is so tight-fisted that he will only permit the smallest amount of coal to go onto the fire in their office.
Much of the early part of the novel really points out what a mean old so-and-so Scrooge is. He sends the charity men away with a flea in their ear that he has done a great deal for the poor as his taxes fund the workhouses. When the men point out that the workhouses are hell and many would rather die, he replies curtly “they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.”
Yet one Christmas Eve night, this mean old man is visited by the spirit of his former partner Jacob Marley who warns him of a terrible fate if he does not change his ways. Marley describes the suffering he endures yet points out that there is yet still hope for Scrooge. Three spirits will visit him this Christmas Eve night when the clock strikes 12. They are the Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
What can be said about this book that has not already been said a hundred times over? Well nothing really, but that doesn’t mean that the message should not be repeated as often as is necessary. Scrooge doesn’t just see how being a miserable old codger will bring so much unhappiness to so many but also how his inaction and cruelty is causing suffering. A decent payrise for Cratchett, a generous and charitable nature toward others and actively making up for those he has wronged will make life that much more tolerable for those he is able to help.
The cleverness is this is that the Ghost of Christmas Past brings out his inner child, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the low opinion that others have of him and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come demonstrates how much misery he bestows upon others and how little his death will be mourned if he does not change. It makes him vulnerable, tugs at the heartstrings and confronts him with brutal truths that he must face up to. Only then can he redeem himself… and redeem himself he does.
What better tale for the season of goodwill than trying to be the best person that you can possibly be? A Christmas Carol is for life, not just for Christmas.