The Man Who Invented Christmas

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in late December. We’ve just finished watching what has come to be my favorite Christmas movie ever—The Man Who Invented Christmas. It’s the story of Charles Dickens who, between the middle of October and the nineteenth of December, wrote and published his masterwork—A Christmas Carol.

Every year, Bill and I carve out enough time to listen to Jim Dale’s audio version of A Christmas Carol. I love sitting quietly, listening to the words Dickens plucked out of his brain to tell the story. Old Marley was dead as a doornail. If Marley isn’t dead, then the story doesn’t start, and if Tiny Tim dies, the story has no point.

The movie tells the story of a writer with writer’s block who is fighting an impossible deadline, with family issues and financial concerns all hovering in the background. It’s the story of a non-outliner embarking on telling a story without having a firm idea of where it’s going. It’s the story of a writer creating incredible fiction on the foundation of a difficult, poverty-stricken childhood that saw hm shipped off to a workhouse at age twelve. Charles Dickens knew the reality of what happened to the poor in London in the 1800s. When he created the perilous existence of the Cratchit family, he understood all too well whereof he spoke and wrote. And in showing how the Cratchits found hope and grace in their modest celebration of Christmas, he managed to give hope and grace to everyone who has read, seen, or heard the story ever since.

This movie speaks to me on more than one level. There’s the uplifting tale itself, but there’s also the story of the writer’s life and how how that tale came into existence. In the movie, Charles Dickens turns the people he meets in day-to-day life into seemingly living, breathing characters. Unfortunate encounters with a doddering waiter and another with a greedy barrister turn into Marley. An impromptu celebration in the street morphs into Mr. and Mrs. Fuzzywig, while a physically ill relative, a young nephew, provides the inspiration for Tiny Tim.

In the movie, as Dickens collects his cast of characters, they become a sort of Greek chorus, hanging about outside his window, peopling his dreams, and clustering around his desk in his writing room. They boss him about, telling him what they will and won’t do. That has happened to me, by the way. It was in book number nine, Payment in Kind, when I ran into a character who was supposed to be my killer who JUST WOULDN’T DO IT!

I’ve had my share of sleepless nights when a book simply wouldn’t come to order. At one point in the movie, Dickens tells his agent that he may not be able to finish the story, and if that happens, he may never write again. I’ve felt that way on occasion, too. What a loss that would have been for both of us and for our readers, too.

Earlier today, we tried to watch a “new” version of A Christmas Carol, one that started with someone who was supposedly a poor English boy from the 1800s urinating on a headstone purported to be Marley’s. We didn’t watch more than a minute or two beyond that. We wanted to hear Dickens’s marvelous use of the English language; we wanted to see his vision of hope and eventual joy. Maybe that “new” version delivered hope and joy in the long run, but we didn’t have the patience to wait around to see. For us it was a one and done. Whoever was in charge of the remake didn’t want to be bothered with the original words. They thought Charles Dickens told a “story.” What he did, instead, was give us an enduring piece of inspiration and hope. His story allows us to see that people really can remake themselves into someone entirely new.

When I moved to Seattle from Phoenix in 1981, I had spent too many years in a marriage ultimately destined to fail. I came to Seattle with all my hopes shattered and my dreams in ruins. I had written some poetry prior to that, but I had done nothing about my lifetime dream of becoming a writer of novels. Once in Seattle, however, I gave myself permission to crack open the door and start down that path. In the process of publishing my first mystery, I met and married a wonderful man. In 1986, the year after we married, Bill and I traveled to Arizona to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. While in Phoenix I took him by the insurance agency where I had worked for five years. None of the people in the office recognized me because, during the tough years I worked there, they had never seen me smile and they had never heard me laugh. Seattle gave me back both.

So when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning and discovers he has a chance for a do-over, his joy and wonder are palpable. And completely believable, at least for me. There are some people who say, quite seriously, “Don’t mess with Texas.” For me? It’s this: Don’t mess with Dickens.

So yes, next year, right after It’s A Wonderful Life, we’ll be watching The Man who Invented Christmas. And it won’t matter one whit that I’ve seen the story before. It’s a life I live every day—going about my life, gathering up stories and characters as I go.

And smiling every step of the way.

13 thoughts on “The Man Who Invented Christmas

  1. I’ve read that Dickens lead a tough life. He wrote to support his family which was never easy. I’ve always loved the names he thought up for his people. No one does it better.

    I hope you had lefste (sp?) as usual this year. Once a year is enough for that and lutefisk, too.

  2. Beautiful story. Scrooge movies are my favorite Christmas movies. I’m not sure how many versions I have watched with my husband. His favorite was not Scrooge. He enjoyed White Christmas every year. We watched both and just enjoyed that time of year together. Thanks for sharing your memories with us again.

  3. Dickens is one of my favorite authors, and your words this morning are just what I needed. Thank you for the film suggestion, and thank you more for the wonderful exposition of how Dickens’ non-outlining mind struggled at times with the cast of characters that inhabited his imagination. Like nectar to a bee, this small Friday read has been. Happy New Year and thank you J.A. Jance.

  4. Ms. Jance you are so right! I just finished playing a small role in a local production of A Christmas Carol. It is just a great story, and the language is critical. Vivid characters and of course a terrific lesson to us all.

  5. Thank you for the Dickens reminder. I try to get the descendants to watch older versions of the story. Perhaps as adults, they will come to appreciate them.

    May 2020 be a great year for you and your family, and on a second note, for your loyal readers as well!

  6. I absolutely agree. Thank goodness for new chances and opportunities. I love that movie as well and it has become one of our favorites. Happy New Year to you and yours. As always, I am anxiously awaiting your next book.

  7. Saw The Christmas Carol as a stage musical this December. A dinner theater. Fine food and play with a large group of friends ,front and center.
    How lucky was that?

  8. I love A Christmas Carol—both the book and the movies. One year, in order to earn a set of encyclopedias for my daughter, I signed A Christmas Carol many times in shopping malls for Britannica. I wrote my own script and made my own tape to play while I signed. To this day, I can recite many of the lines!

  9. Wow, I did not know there was a movie about Dickens and his writing. Will look that up and watch. I have collected the Dickens Christmas village for years and set it up every Christmas with the 4 ghosts of Scrooge. Thanks for sharing. Happy New Year to you and yours and may you all stay healthy.

  10. Have you noticed most remakes are awful, everything is vulgar or changed and not recognizable as the same story. I refuse to support Hollywood with my dollars. If I actually find something I want to see, I wait for the library to get it and order it there. I have started to do that in a lot of things, my own quiet rebellion. What happened to common sense?

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