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A few years ago, I decided our daughter was ready for a version of “A Christmas Carol” not dumbed down by Disney.
She lasted five minutes.
I got the point: The text was too…texty. I wasn’t the first to think that. Watch….
Books change over time, and over 170 years, “A Christmas Carol” has changed more than most. The evocation of Scrooge’s place of business is a slow starter. By our standards, the language is clotted and the piece is seriously overwritten. And it’s not like we haven’t seen Victorian London a zillion times in the movies or on TV.
After the non-start with our daughter, I began to work on the text. My goal wasn’t to rewrite Dickens, just to update the archaic language, trim the dialogue, cut the extraneous characters — to reduce the book to its essence, which is the story. (I think Dickens would approve. When he performed ‘A Christmas Carol’ — and he performed it 127 times — he used a trimmed-down version.) In the end, I did have to write a bit, but not, I hope, so you’ll notice; I think of my words as minor tailoring, like sewing on a missing button or patching a rip at the knee.
The original “Christmas Carol” is 28,000 words. This edition is 13,000. Like the Paige Peterson illustrations that accompany it, it conveys the feeling of London in 1843 without the formal diction and Victorian heaviness — it’s a story that adults can read to their captivated kids right to the end, and that kids can read by themselves with pleasure.
When Paige Peterson and I decided to update “A Christmas Carol,” we couldn’t picture an adult sitting by the fire, surrounded by children, reading from a tablet. If ever a story deserved a physical book, this is it. So in addition to the Kindle version of our shorter and much satisfying version of “A Christmas Carol,” we created a lovely paperback, printed on quality paper, with an attention-getting cover image of Ebenezer Scrooge. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
What does my revision read like?
Here are 395 words from the Dickens text:
Meanwhile, the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slyly down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street at the corner of the court, some laborers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowing sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers’ and grocers’ trades became a splendid joke; a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do. The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and bloodthirsty in the streets, stirred up tomorrow’s pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef.
Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose. The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of “God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!”Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.
Here’s my revision of that passage — in 107 words:
Meanwhile, the fog and darkness thickened. The ancient tower of a church became invisible; it struck the hours and quarters in the clouds. The cold became intense. In the main street, the brightness of the shops made pale faces glow as they passed. Butcher shops became a splendid joke: a glorious pageant of pheasant and duck and goose, so it was next to impossible to believe that anyone anywhere had to think about such dull realities as bargains and sales. And then it turned foggier yet, and colder.
It was brutally cold when Scrooge rose from his desk to close the office for the day.
Which version would you rather read? Which would you rather hear?
To read more about our edition of “A Christmas Carol,” click here.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
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