Saturday, 22 September 2012

Of Scrooge and Christmas Cheer

George C. Scott's awesome version of the
character.
It's still Autumn, and I'm yet to even raise my Halloween Banner, but since there's a decent chance I'll be performing as Scrooge this year, I've decided to look into the character. I've talked about episodes, series, films, and groups of characters, but I've never before focused in on only one across so many mediums. In fiction, there are a wide host of characters, and the main archetype of the rich curbudgen on a path to redemption is Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge, as portrayed by greats like George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart and Michael Caine. If you don't know the story by now, be ashamed of yourself, but I'll fill you in anyway; Scrooge is visited one Christmas by the damned soul of his late business partner Jacob Marley, who warns him of three spirits - Christmases Past, Present and Future, who warn him of the error of his ways and turn him into a good man once more.
     The stereotypical character of Scrooge, as so replicated by spoofs of the story, is unfortunate in its lack of subtlety. Scrooge is evil because Money is evil too, and he only likes Money. Bah, weak anti-captialist sentiment, Christmas is about family and not posessesions. But in the original version (and in versions close to it,) Scrooge is an amazingly modern protagonist. Christmas Past shows us the reasons why Scrooge is so money-grabbing , and the truth is revealing. As a child, Scrooge has trouble with his father, who bore a grudge against him for her death in childhood. He claims to make friends as a child only with books, and his academic and economic development leads him to neglect the few friends he does make, leading him into a life in which accumulation of wealth and knowledge are the only standards for happiness and success. In other words, and in a way which may be a tad avant-garde, Scrooge is one big Nerd.
     Scrooge isn't deliberately being such an ass because he just feels like being a tad evil today, but because his worldview is such that other people don't deserve anmy compassion because they never gave him any earlier in life. His father taught him no compassion, no tact, but rather the act of hatred and of guilt, and this impacted upon his social abilities as her grew up. While me and my parents get on quite well, usually, I certainly can see where Scrooge was coming from. I know a lot of cases where neglection by one's peers means that someone turns to academia as a means of escape. This is exactly what happened with Scrooge, and reflects upon both his stubbornness to accept that his way of life is damaging and his desperation to prove the spirits wrong in order to justify his own self-worth.
Caine caught a lot of the complexity. His co-stars were
also Muppets.
     It can be argued that the spirits teach him compassion, but it's clear from the story that he found it on his own; his failed relationship with fiancĂ©e Belle shows that. It's less a case that he doesn't love her enough to follow her, but perhaps that he sees this rejection as a confirmation of his experiences in life so far - first his mother dies giving birth to him, his father forces him to live in a permenant state of guilt, his peers neglect him and now, he sees, his lover can no longer stand the sight of him. This moment is the trigger, not for Scrooge loosing his compassion, but certainly for a long period of repression that sees him through until the beginning of the story. And that, really, is why the three ghosts come in chronological order. Frighten him with Future first and you only deepen Scrooge's neuroses; he needs to be reminded first that he has loved before and that there are good people who deserved to be loved now.
      Scrooge is, in a way, the first example of a Sheldon Cooper archetype in fiction, and it's that story that people really dig. It's not just evil into good with Scrooge, because he's a sympathisable protagonist in so many ways, and the story is arguing against obsession with profit at the expense of compassion for other human beings. He's one of my favourite protagonists, and that's because of his subtle complexity and his ultimately relatable nature.

Thanks.

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