Merry Christmas everyone!
I absolutely love, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. This little book is written by a true word smith a master of story and it’s short.
I love the story, a classic tale of the changing of a human heart, but the absolutely best, most entertaining part is the first page and a half. I loved it so much that I memorized it. Dickens has this lovely moment where he wonders about the actual dead-ness of door-nails. To the point that he proposes that Coffin-nails might actually be deader. To this day my family can not let the phrase Dead as a Door-nail slid without goading me into repeating it.
“Marley was dead, to begin with.” Isn’t that a great opening line? Within that first page and a half Dickens reminds the reader exactly five times that Marley is dead.
“(1)Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.. . . (2)Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know of my own knowledge what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. . . You will therefore allow me to repeat emphatically that (3)Marley was as dead as a door-nail. (4)Scrooge knew he was dead. Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? . . . (5)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.”
Marley was not a figment of Scrooge’s imagination, he did not fake his death, time travel, get caught in a extra dimensional limbo, or get stuck in the teleporter for fifty years. He was dead. He was a ghost. This story is about life and death and afterlife.
How many other stories could benefit from persistent reminders?
Dickens own example is Hamlet. “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, . . . literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.”
I know right! The Shakespeare nerd in me smiles at this reference. How little would the play Hamlet have mattered if we hadn’t known for sure that his father the king was dead? You must admit Shakespeare really liked the whole missing person restored plot a lot. If the king had only been missing then how could Prince Hamlet have placed any stock in the words of a wandering spirit?
What about the story of the first Christmas?
Jesus was born, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
There is no doubt that Mary was a virgin. This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
The Shepherds knew he was God. Of course they. How could it be otherwise? ( What with the angels telling them and all.)
On his first page Dickens gives us a life lesson and a lesson in writing:
Make sure your reader, and everyone you meet, understands what they are in for.
Dickens wanted to make sure that everyone knew there would be no trick ending, fantastical revelations, and most of all, no doubt that Marley was dead.
If Dickens could state five times that Marley was dead, then Christian’s shouldn’t be afraid to state that Jesus was born, at least five times. Then five times state that he died. Then Five times state that he rose again.
Again I say Merry Christmas, and to quote Tiny Tim: “God bless us everyone.”