SHAREN FORD ON: A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Whenever I’m asked about my favorite writer, I instantly and instinctively say Charles Dickens. I say “instinctively” for a reason: my earliest comprehension of what it means to be a writer came from reading Dickens. Whenever I reluctantly closed the cover of one of his books, I was once again in awe of the power of words to transport me away from my everyday life. This was never more in evidence than during my family’s annual December reading of A CHRISTMAS CAROL which, for us, took place in the searing heat of the South Australian summer.
In those days, long before I understood what it takes to create a great story, I cared nothing for the craft behind it, or even realized that such a thing existed. All that mattered to me was that, within the pages of their books, Dickens and his fellow authors offered a magic carpet ride out of my stifling and boring hometown to other, vastly more appealing places and times.
Now, as I struggle to weave my own story ideas into a transcendental tapestry, I have come to appreciate Dickens’ talent and craft in equal measure. As it happens, there could be no better example of his mastery of the latter than A CHRISTMAS CAROL in which four Ghosts conveniently and cleverly supply the inciting incidents that move the story forward, as well as all of its other equally essential structural components.
With its dire warnings, Marley’s Ghost foreshadows Scrooge’s likely fate. The Ghost of Christmas Past provides us with his back story. Christmas Present reveals both Scrooge’s defining conflict – his meanness and consequent alienation from humankind – and the current woes of the world around him, in particular the exploitation of impoverished children. And, finally and satisfyingly, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come instigates old Ebeneezer’s ultimate transformation and redemption.
This year, I will read A CHRISTMAS CAROL yet again. The snowy vista that now lies outside my window is far more in harmony with Dickens’ vision of the season than the dusty, red landscape of my childhood. Yet, when his magical ability to carry me away with his words joins force with all their visceral associations in my heart and memory, I will be spending time not only in Victorian London, but also in a little suburban house in South Australia where, despite the heat, Christmas was everything Dickens thought it should be.