Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Year I Finally Understood Scrooge

(Guest post by David)

Perhaps like many of you, growing up I was introduced to different media interpretations of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol. It started with Disney’s animated adaptation, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, where Mickey Mouse played Bob Cratchit and Scrooge McDuck starred as the money obsessed Ebenezer Scrooge. Later, I watched the 1970’s Scrooge, a live-action musical film with actor Albert Finney (pre-Annie Daddy Warbucks) as the titular character and Jacob Marley brought to undead life by Sir Alec Guinness before he taught the world about “the Force.” In between these, I saw Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo the Great, and other Muppets tell their own version, with Scrooge performed by British actor, Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol

From each of these retellings, I always came away with a firm dislike of Ebenezer Scrooge. To me, he was a mean, selfish, frightening man. I was glad at the end of each film when he finally reformed. These negative feelings toward Scrooge were entrenched for decades until the year I unexpectedly saw Mr. “Bah, Humbug” in a new light. 

The year was 2005 (or 2004, this detail has grown vague over the years), and I was celebrating the holidays with my family in Michigan. One evening before Christmas, I was decorating the tree alone, and had the television on in the background. It was tuned into the Disney Channel which so happened to be airing The Muppet Christmas Carol. I decided to listen to it while I trimmed the evergreen. As I was stringing lights and hanging ornaments on the branches, I noticed that I was paying closer attention to the story even though I’d seen this movie countless times before. I particularly paid attention to the events and choices that molded Scrooge’s life. 

I finally realized that Scrooge spent a lonely and (what appears to be) a largely friendless childhood. To fill the void, he focused on his education, and as a young adult, pursued his career. At one point in his life, Scrooge found love with Belle, a young woman whom for a time he wanted to marry. Sadly however, Belle broke their engagement because Ebenezer prioritized success and riches over their relationship. These insights into Scrooge not only helped me understand why he became “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous, old sinner,” but also assisted me in surprisingly discovering that I related to him. 

I could empathize with Scrooge keeping his nephew, Fred at a distance, and not allowing others into his life. Growing up, I was very shy and struggled with social anxiety. As a result, I preferred activities that didn’t necessarily require others. With people outside my family, I avoided social interactions as much as I could. I rarely had friends, and when I did, some of them would join peers in teasing and bullying me, or simply disappeared. From this, I painfully learned that people in general couldn’t be trusted, and that I had to protect myself by keeping them at a distance or cutting them out of my life. 

I saw that Scrooge and I were similar in the way we dealt with our emptiness. Ebenezer threw himself into his studies at school. Afterward, he worked to become partners with Jacob Marley, and then concerned himself in acquiring money. I engaged in solitary hobbies and interests. My college life was focused on earning an education, and upon entering the workforce, I devoted myself to my employment.   

I did notice that one difference between me and Scrooge is how we interacted with people. He didn’t seem to care if he was nasty, angry, and miserly with everyone. I on the other hand felt it was required to be unfailingly polite, bubbly, and friendly with others, while inwardly feeling anxious, alone, and in emotional pain. But even in this aspect of our lives, Scrooge and I were essentially the same, we both were unhappy. 

It has been almost 20 years since that December night. Like Scrooge, I have experienced change and healing. I allow people into my life, include them in my interests and activities, and I even have close friends now. I also no longer view Scrooge as a heartless villain. Now I see him as a nuanced individual shaped by things both within and outside his control. I enjoy following Scrooge’s journey of redemption through the divine interactions with Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmases “Past,” “Present,” and “Yet to Come.” In addition, I appreciate different versions of Scrooge’s story, such as Jim Carrey voicing Ebenezer Scrooge in Disney’s computer animated film, Barbie in A Christmas Carol's Eden Starling (a female variation of Scrooge), or “A Hearth’s Warming Tale’s” Snowfall Frost in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Each remain true to the character’s ultimate healing and transformation into “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city ever had. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” 

“God Bless Us, Everyone,” and Merry Christmas (in July)! 

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