At the end of one hell of a night back in 1843, Ebenezer Scrooge, that hateful old pain in the ass, tells the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, “I will “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Charles Dickens, the creator of that iconic and much-loved character, tells us at the beginning of the second-to-last paragraph of “A Christmas Carol” that “Scrooge was better than his word.”
In the new book, “The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge,” author Charlie Lovett picks up Scrooge’s story 20 years later. Though he still owns whatever business he opened with Jacob Marley (now with former clerk Bob Cratchit as partner), Scrooge is living hand-to-mouth because he gives away everything he has to help the less fortunate around him.
He’s still a pain in the ass, but he’s a happy one who keeps Christmas in his heart all year long.
In “Further Adventures,” set on the hottest night in a ridiculously hot summer in England in 1863, Scrooge seeks a way to help his old friend Marley, who drops by of an evening to chat with his old friend and share a glass of spirits—messily, him being a ghost and all.
Marley is a little down in the dumps. After 20 years of helping people be better, those chains he forged in life are nearly as long as they were when he first showed up in Scrooge’s door knocker. Scrooge thinks that’s a shame and sets out to right that wrong. If Marley can help one person who goes on then to help thousands, wouldn’t that work to Marley’s credit. (Isn’t that, however, what he’s already done with Scrooge? But what do I know, I’m just the reader.)
Anyhoo, he gets Marley to rustle up his three old friends, the same ones who worked together to make Scrooge change his curmudgeonly ways, and connects them with four characters from the first book that have become surprisingly Scrooge-like over the 20 years between books.
And therein lies the problem. It’s too familiar. The same ghosts take characters we already know and work the same magic on them that they did on Scrooge. And, people like me who read “A Christmas Carol” every couple of years will recognize whole passages lifted from it.
On the other hand readers will likely appreciate the ways Lovett plays with Dickens and the first novel. The first novel begins: “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Lovett starts his, “Scrooge was alive, to begin with.” Cute, and better punctuated. In the original, Scrooge tells his nephew Fred, “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas,’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” (Again, I shake my head at that punctuation.) Lovett’s version, said by Freddie(!) to Scrooge is this: “I’ve no objection if you keep Christmas in your way; but there are others who say that Bedlam is the place for a fool who walks about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips on the hottest days of summer. There are those who mutter behind your back that such an idiot as Scrooge should be stuffed like a goose, wrapped in mistletoe, and floated across the Thames.” Not quite as memorable, but not bad.
“Further Adventures” is much like that. He tries, bless his heart. But while Lovett clearly loves his subject, he’s not as charming or thought-provoking or moving as Dickens. That’s a fault but, come on, he’s taking on Dickens, so I’m willing to cut him some slack.
See, the Christmas spirit lives in me yet.