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From Classic to Contemporary: Christmas Edition

Classics — whether they are novels, plays, or epics — offer us great characters, interesting plots, and lots of things for discussion … but sometimes they can be a little tough to tackle. Sometimes we adore them, but sometimes we can’t get past page 3, let alone the requisite 50. That doesn’t mean that we should give up what they have to offer, though, does it? Many of today’s authors try to use these classic works as a starting-off point to write a more modern version. If done well, these contemporary versions can have a huge impact and impart the same wisdom that made the earlier story gain its classic status. Jessica Miller and I decided to find and examine some great pairs of classics and their contemporary rewrites to see if they are successful … or maybe not.

Image of Penguin Classic edition of A Christmas CarolThe Classic: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

We’ve all encountered this story some kind of way, even if we’ve never read the novel. Maybe you grew up watching one of the old films or discovered it through the new animated one with Jim Carrey as the voice of Scrooge. I grew up watching Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol at least once a year. And who doesn’t love the Doctor Who episode (sadly not a Christmas Special) featuring Charles Dickens?

I recently decided to bite the bullet and sit myself down to read the original source material. And I’m glad I did. Here’s what I can tell you.

Old Scrooge is a Miser of misers. He hoards his money, doesn’t spend it, doesn’t use it to make his home nice, doesn’t use it to pay his employee, Bob Cratchit, very well, and doesn’t give it to the poor. And he really hates Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his dead partner, who is burdened with chains forged of the tools of his own miserly life. Marley tells Scrooge that he must change, lest he suffer the same fate, and that will be visited through the night by three spirits. You know what happens after that.

A Christmas Carol is an enjoyable, quick read. It’s also a great starter if you’re interested in Dickens but afraid of tomes like David Copperfield. While following Scrooge around his regular life and his fantastic night travels, take in how Dickens uses prose — watch especially for the famed paragraph-long sentences. While he can ramble on, Dickens sure knows how to paint a picture … though you might spend half your reading time with images of Mister Magoo in your head.

The Contemporary: Batman: Noel

One might come to this comparison with familiar, recognizable titles like Marly’s Ghost, David Levithan’s contemporary Valentine’s Day Carol, which is a very literal translation to modern times; or Humbug High, an updated stage play with a modern day teenage miser visited by the ghost of Marge, the lunch lady. But I thought I’d take a different approach.

Cover of Batman: Noel by Lee BermejoFrank Miller and Christopher Nolan can be given credit for making Batman a much darker character than he once was. With regards to Charles Dickens, Lee Bermejo, illustrator of Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, brings us the tale of a very jaded Batman, who will do anything to catch his biggest foe, the Joker. This includes using a poor single father, Bob, a runner for the Joker, to catch his man — putting both Bob and young Tim at risk in the process. Good old Bruce, fighting off a cold that could be something worse, and not in the mood for any Christmas cheer, is in for a long night, with visits from Catwoman, Superman, and the Joker himself.

You don’t have to know the original story to follow this one. Bermejo’s fantastic artwork and the conversational narration push the story along accordingly. Like A Christmas Carol, it is a quick read. And while filled with a few horrors much worse than those shown to old Ebenezer, Batman: Noel will still leave you with the same kind of warm fuzzies.

Cuz for this story to make sense … for it to mean anything … you have to believe in something.

Something very important.

You have to believe people can change.

What’s your favorite holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Yule, Solstice, Non-Denominational Winter Holiday, take your pick) story?

— Jessica Pryde, currently reading Exile by Anne Osterlund

One Comment

  1. Michelle Michelle

    Scrooged starring Bill Murray would probably be my favorite movie adaptation.

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