The paranormal has long played a crucial role in storytelling, even Christmas tales. For proof of this, you only need to turn to one of the most beloved holiday stories of all time: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
For those not privy to cornerstones of Western lit (or suffering from severe amnesia), the book tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge — a curmudgeon of a human who mocks the Christmas spirit, and is subsequently visited by four ghosts. The first, his long-time business partner and heartless mentor Jacob Marley, returns from the grave and tells Scrooge to change his ways — displaying his own earthly errors in the form of ghostly chains hanging from his arms and legs. Marley informs Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts: the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come, in an attempt to persuade the man to mend his manners. Each of these three spirits whisks Scrooge through time to witness his life from several perspectives and see the things to which he had been blind. In the end, Scrooge is reborn again as a lovable man, full of holiday spirit, and thanks the ghosts for showing him his folly.
It is a tale of Christian redemption (a recurring theme in Dickens’ works) — where a man can transcend his uncharitable and self-serving attitudes to become a more sympathetic member of society, harnessing his own largess to a greater purpose. But yet there is more to this tale. Each ghost represents a specific rhetorical persuasion device — Ethos, Pathos, Logos, and Fear — twisting and pulling Scrooge’s increasingly fragile psyche, driving him to a climax of redemption. And Scrooge’s journey depicts a higher level of truth-seeking that can only be attained through loosing one’s grip on the “rational” world.
Dickens uses the supernatural to bring his protagonist out of darkness and into light; his rite of passage is dependent on the concept that there are things in this world that are beyond his control — beyond his understandings. Scrooge initially passes off his encounter with his old partner as nothing more than undigested plum pudding, but in the end he begs the spirit to leave him be and alter the final reality presented to him: his own gravestone.
A Christmas Carol is an ode to the Romanticist movement of the 19th Century — a reaction against the Age of Reason, when scientific discovery was ascendant. To be expected, artists and writers fought back with stories of the strange, macabre, unknown and the supernatural. Such creators believed that the Enlightenment use of logic remained integral to human advancement, but logic and reason was limited — it was only through imagination, spontaneity and the acceptance of the unexplainable that certain “hidden truths” could be ascertained.
Scrooge’s story is immortal; it transcends the Romantic period and has become a part of the Christmas tradition. This story of yuletide redemption has been told and retold through multiple devices, but in each the Romantic truths remain strong: it is the world of the supernatural that seeds our love of the Christmas season, and allows us to suspend our beliefs for a brief moment. Scrooge finds his place in the natural world by listening to the supernatural one.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you. Be merry and joyful. See you in 2010.