A Christmas Carol Commonplace


A couple of nights ago everyone was home together with no agenda for the evening. We had to make up about five days we’d missed on our Advent banner (for a very good reason), and we sang some hymns. Then we just were. Together. Joy for this mama’s heart.

Sometime in the midst of that, I picked up A Christmas Carol (aka the gospel according to Dickens), and began to read parts of it aloud. Repeated readings through the years mean that sometimes we can nibble here and there and feel as satisfied as if we feasted on the whole. And does Dickens ever provide a veritable groaning board for us!

As an added bonus, our girl shared the “Seussified” version of each passage. (She helped direct a production for a local homeschool group the week before -so much fun!)

Here are a few of the favorites we shared, for your enjoyment.

Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail . . .

. . . There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot — say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance — literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

Dickens writes my favorite openings (okay, maybe middles and endings also). But how brilliantly witty is this whole discourse?

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch, um, Scrooge!

The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all round with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures. There were Cains and Abels, Pharaoh’s daughters, Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thoughts; and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up the whole. If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley’s head on every one.

See pictures of these delightful Delft tiles and read about them here.

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Parallelism, asyndeton, and wordplay, oh my!

. . . unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves as one, but every child was conducting itself like forty.

Hmmm. Why would this catch the attention of a mother who has a bunch of boys?

I don’t mind calling on you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.

Baby vs. Rhino is the name of my very favorite band. The delightful young men in this band claim to have named it after a video game, but I choose to believe it was really this literary allusion, buried in the recesses of their brains from our repeated readings of this treasure.

Here’s hoping this glimpse at our family “commonplace book” inspires you to read or re-read A Christmas Carol, in part or the whole!

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