S C R O O G E: A N I N T R O D U C T I O N Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, when he was thirty-one. He was already very famous, having made his name with Pickwick Papers and then enhanced it with Oliver Twist , Nicholas Nickleby , The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge -- and all this before he was thirty. This pace was prodigious. No writer alive had written at such a pace and produced such high-quality work at such a young age. Dickens is said to have written A Christmas Carol in six weeks, to pay off a debt--perhaps that was why grasping moneylenders were much on his mind--and he presented this novella as a light-hearted jeu d'esprit--a Christmas fairy tale or ghost story, intended to entertain, and to put his readers in good humour. The story has the traditional three-part structure of a fairy tale--three Spirits of Christmas, three ages of Scrooge--past, present, future--and it has also a fairy-tale ending, in which light triumphs over darkness, goodness and harmony reign, and an innocent life in peril--Tiny Tim's--is saved, not to mention the gnarly old soul of Scrooge. Dickens's more covert intention--signalled by the work's one-time working title, 'The Sledgehammer'--was to strike a few more blows for the social justice he was so keen on by contrasting avarice and poverty, then proposing his usual antidote: an outflowing of private benevolence. For, as George Orwell has commented, though Dickens burned with anger at social injustices, he never went so far as to urge a wholesale political revolution. But none of this would account for the overwhelming longevity and popularity of the Carol 's protagonist--Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is one of those characters--like Hamlet--who has become detached from the story in which he had his birth, and has become instantly recognizable, even by those who may never have read the book. Why should that be? Let me consult my own model of that favourite Dickensian respository of infallible knowledge, 'The Human Heart'. When did I first meet the immortal Scrooge, and why did I become so fond of him? I seem always to have been aware of him. Did I hear A Christmas Carol read on the radio during my 1940s childhood? It's likely--those were radio days. Or did I encounter him the way I encountered so much else--peering out with sly and narrow but nonetheless twinkling eyes from the colourful ads in magazines? In this respect, Scrooge was a sort of anti-Santa Claus--Santa Claus's dark twin. The one, fat and jolly and round and red, dispensing largesse; the other, skinny and pinched and dour, withholding it. Yet at the end of the Carol, the new, redeemed, turkeypurchasing, Bob Cratchit-salary-raising Scrooge has become a sort of Santa; which raises the chilling possibility that Santa might one day shrivel and wizen, and morph into Scrooge at his worst--that crabby geezer who opens the book. Consider those punitive Santean lumps of coal--not much mentioned these days, but kept, you can bet, in Santa's worst-case reserve arsenal of dirty tricks. Coal in your stocking would be just what the mean version of Scrooge would have liked. Whatever the case, by the time my seven-year-old self discovered Scrooge's descendant living in comic books in the form of Walt Disney's Scrooge McDuck--Donald Duck's crusty, miserly, rich old uncle-- knew quite well what the name'Scrooge' was supposed to signify. It included the fact that within McDuck's ancient, scheming husk there flickered a kindly and generous impulse. It was a good sign that the Duck triplets adored their Uncle Scrooge, and not only because he let them roll around in his money-bin full of gold coins: no, he was a lot of fun, because in Excerpted from A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Books by Charles Dickens All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.