Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dickens


Everything You Need to Know to Survive English Class Lecture 10: Charles Dickens & A Christmas Carol

With the holidays upon us, Professor Petit turns his attention to one of the most cherished, beloved tales of the season. That’s right. It’s the 1,932nd version of “A Christmas Carol” you’ve seen so far this year.

And don’t forget, the book is available from!


What I’m Watching: Christmas and A Christmas Carol

Being, as you may have heard, a fan of Christmas, I’m always interested in any project that digs into the history behind my favorite holiday. When I heard about this documentary, Christmas and A Christmas Carol, it sounded right up my alley. The DVD was billed as telling “the story of Christmas and of the story that recreated Christmas.”

Well, I love Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as much as I love the holiday itself, so that’s a two-fer. I had to pick this up, watch it, see what it had to say.

As it turns out, not much.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by seeing some wonderfully entertaining and well-made documentaries lately. But movies like Still Screaming (a documentary about the Scream films) and Never Sleep Again (an exhaustively detailed movie about the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise), not to mention most of the films made by the History Channel, have proven to me that something can be full of information and fun to watch. Strictly speaking, Christmas and A Christmas Carol lives up to its billing — it gives you history of both the holiday and the book itself. The trouble is that it’s presented in the least imaginative way possible: a narrator tells you the history over still images and old film clips. No interviews, no debates, not even a talking head. This is basically a slideshow presentation with voiceover narration.

Even this may be easier to take, except I didn’t feel like the movie gives us any new insight. Everything in here is information I’ve already seen in dozens of other sources — which I suppose is fair enough, you can’t expect the filmmakers to create something from whole cloth in a film like this. At the same time, though, if you don’t have a new angle, a new take, a new statement to make on information that’s a couple of hundred years old, then why bother to say it at all?

And the narrator, frankly, is dull. He’s got a nice enough voice, but he frequently dips in tone making you reach for the remote to turn up the volume, and he doesn’t really bring any energy to the film, making the 78-minute running time feel more like 178 minutes. He even occasionally finds a way to sound condescending towards American Christmas customs (the film appears to be of British origin).

The only thing of real note to this disc actually comes in the extras — the disc includes the Orson Welles radio production of A Christmas Carol starring Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge. This is a cool little bonus if you love the different productions of the story, as I do. But the documentary itself doesn’t get my recommendation.


Halloween Party: Drood

DroodWhen you’re looking for something creepy, chilling, and genuinely messed up, I know just what name comes to mind: Charles Dickens. What, is it only me? Well, whether you ever made that connection or not, you won’t be able to avoid it anymore if you pick up Dan SimmonsDrood.

I’ve heard of Simmons before, but this is the first time I’ve read any of his work. I must say, I was highly impressed. Set during the last five years of the life of Charles Dickens, the book is told from the viewpoint of Dickens’ friend and often collaborator, Wilkie Collins. Following a train wreck that Dickens narrowly escapes alive, he begins to become obsessed with a mysterious man called Drood that he encountered at the scene of the crash. Although Collins initially keeps the Drood obsession at arm’s length, he eventually finds himself wrapped up in the search for the man as well. Drood is a murderer, a monster, and a threat to both Dickens and Collins’ life and sanity… but the true nature of his existence is slowly peeled away to reveal something pretty chilling.

I understand that Simmons is known for doing drastically different kinds of books from one project to the next, but regardless, this book has inspired me to seek out more of his work. He does a marvelous job of developing Collins and Dickens alike, making them seem like true, real people, along with petty jealousies, genuine friendships, and severe scarring in the wake of what they’ve experienced. The plot moves along swiftly, making the book feel much shorter than its rather prodigious length. What’s even more amazing is that Simmons, in a way, telegraphs the ending of the book rather early, makes you realize it is a possibility, but still tells his story so deftly that you are surprised at the final reveal.

After finishing the book, having enjoyed it thoroughly, I did a little research on Dickens and Collins real lives, only to get another nice surprise. Simmons was meticulous in his own research, pulling pretty much all of the major events these two men dealt with in their real lives during the five year period this novel covers: from personal relationships, accidents and near-tragedies, publishing and professional milestones and just about everything else. Simmons worked all of those events into the narrative and tied them into the story of the mysterious Drood.

The only real issue I have with the book is with Collins’ frequent habit of addressig the reader directly. The conceit of the book is that Collins has written a memoir of these events with the intention of putting it aside, never to be read until long after his death. As such, he often refers to the readers from a “distant future” or some such phrase. Fair enough. But often he starts speculating about things that clearly are true in 2009, or clearly are far off the mark. Either way, it feels a little too on the nose, a little too metafictional, and a little too distracting. Even that, though, has a nice payoff near the end, as Collins goes on a rant that somehow even turns on the reader and — believe it or not — makes you feel guilty as you read the book!

This was a wonderfully strong novel, a dark tale that — although not Halloween-specific — is sure to set the mood if you’re trying to creep yourself out in October. Give it a read.

May 2023

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