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Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups Featuring Charles Dickens


Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups is a short story read-aloud program that meets every two weeks on Wednesday at lunch time (1:00 p.m). Mixed Bag PM meets at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday every two weeks. In December we are reading Holiday Classics, including an excerpt from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and "The Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore.

This year is Dickens' 200th birthday, and in his honor NYPL has created an exhibit at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building called Charles Dickens: The Key to Character. It runs through January 27, 2013, and it features artwork by 30 illustrators of well-known Dickens characters as well as other documents used by Dickens, plus audio-visual recordings from the NYPL collections. A free lecture series is also available in the South Court Auditorium.

Also honoring the bicentennial of the author's birth, the Friends of Dickens New York have been presenting dramatic readings from the works of Charles Dickens at various NYPL branches this past year. They've done some lovely readings from Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Bleak House, The Pickwick Papers, A Tale of Two Cities and other works at Mid-Manhattan this year, and we're really looking forward to their presentation of A Christmas Carol on Tuesday, December 18th at 7 p.m.

Readers world-wide are familiar with the character of stingy Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, whose cranky response to "Merry Christmas!" was "Bah, humbug!" The selection we are reading in Mixed Bag on December 12 and December 19 is the first part of the popular novella by Charles Dickens where Scrooge is visited by Jacob Marley's ghost on Christmas Eve.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was an English novelist, arguably considered the greatest of the Victorian period. If you want to read further about Dickens' life, here's a list of biographies available at NYPL. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin is a recent much-acclaimed biography, but the list also includes Robert Gottlieb's most recent book about Dickens' somewhat unconventional family life, Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens.

Dickens is best known for creating memorable characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge, Mr. Micawber, and Uriah Heep. Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in October 1843 and finished it in six weeks. It was first published on Dec. 17, 1843, was sold out by Christmas Eve 1843, and has never been out of print since.

The story is organized into five chapters, called staves (another word for song stanza) to reflect the verses of the carol in the title. It is set in London on Christmas Eve 1843; all the action takes place on that night. Consequently, to its first readers it was a contemporary story. Dickens subsequently published a Christmas novel every year for the next four years, much like contemporary American author Richard Paul Evans (The Christmas Box, Finding Noel, and The Christmas List).

In this story, Dickens gave voice to two outlooks that have affected the popular attitude towards Christmas over the years. First of all, he emphasized the secular, family-centered values of the holiday rather than its religious aspects. Secondly, he sounded a warning about the greediness and selfishness of the new breed of businessmen spawned in the Industrial Revolution. The second attitude is probably related to Dickens' personal childhood experiences when his father was in debtors' prison.

A Christmas Carol has been adapted to stage, film, opera, musical-comedy, radio, television, recordings, cartoons and graphic novels. Its basic plot has been used and/or parodied by various artists from Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and Jim Henson's Muppets to Doctor Who, George Burns, Jim Carrey, and Mister Magoo, not forgetting I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas, a novel by Adam Roberts, and the play A Klingon Christmas Carol, performed in the Klingon language. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of all the adaptations. Here are some of the most popular film versions available at NYPL:

A Christmas Carol. This 1951 film with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is not the earliest movie version, but it is the classic one most baby boomers remember.

Scrooge. The first film adaptation with sound was released in 1935 and starred British actor Seymour Hicks as Scrooge.

Scrooge. The 1970 musical film starring Albert Finney as Scrooge with musical score by Leslie Bricusse features a younger and livelier Scrooge than is usually cast. One of the most popular songs from the film is "Thank You Very Much," sung by the townspeople when they hear of Scrooge's death during the Christmas Yet to Come segment.

A Christmas Carol. George C. Scott played Scrooge as an irascible old man psychologically wounded by his loveless childhood in this 1984 non-musical film.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. This animated musical adaptation with Mr. Magoo as Scrooge was aired in 1962, the first animated holiday program produced specifically for TV.

The Muppet Christmas Carol. Jim Henson's Muppets are the cast in this 1992 musical comedy film version. Kermit the Frog plays Bob Cratchit with Michael Caine as a human Scrooge.

Scrooged. Bill Murray plays Scrooge as a cynical TV executive in this film released in 1988 and set in New York City.

Disney's A Christmas Carol. Jim Carrey plays Scrooge in this 3D computer animated film adaptation released in 2009.

Here's a comprehensive list of other films based on books by Dickens; all are available at NYPL.

There are many print editions of A Christmas Carol available at NYPL as well as ebooks and audio books. This unabridged audio book is read by British actor Jim Dale.

It wouldn't be Christmas without the familiar poem "The Night Before Christmas." It was first published anonymously on December 23, 1823 in a local newspaper in Troy, New York, and is largely responsible for the popular concept of today's Santa Claus in America and around the world. There have been more parodies of this poem than any other in the English language. Consider, for example, "A Dieter's Night Before Christmas," Ernest Hemingway's "Night Before Christmas," "The Night Before Chanukkah," and "A Star Trek's Night Before Christmas." NYPL has a printed copy of The Annotated Night Before Christmas: A Collection of Sequels, Parodies, and Imitations of Clement Moore's Immortal Ballad about Santa Claus. Here's another link to some popular parodies. The full text of the poem is available online. Another site has illustrated editions from 1840 to 1917.

I hope you can join us in the holiday spirit at one of the Dickens events this December. I'd love to know which actor is your favorite Scrooge, the guy we love to hate. You already know Alastair Sim has my vote! May your holidays be merry and bright.


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