Tuesday, December 18

The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Holly King

Title page of A Christmas Carol
I imagine almost everyone has, at one point or another, become familiar with a telling of A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens - 1843).  It is a ghost story told in novella form, but as it is just oozing with 19th century British Christmas traditions, it is much more common to see plays and films during the winter holiday season.

If you don't own a copy (although they are downright ubiquitous this time of year) there are free electronic versions of the book available at Project Gutenberg.  There you can find many e-versions including Kindle-friendly files, with or without the original illustrations from 1843.

I am ashamed to say that I am a snobbish reader.  I had it in my head ages ago that old books were dull, stuffy, wordy, and could never peak my interest.  That all changed when a school assignment forced me to read several works by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from the Sherlock series.  I was surprised at how entertaining they actually were.  Far from dull, they were witty and kept me on the edge of my seat.  I now find "old books" to be better reads than a lot of the fluff being published today.

That said, A Christmas Carol is a rather speedy read; illustrations included it is only around 160 pages.  It begins with the wonderfully eerie opening line of "Marley was dead: to begin with." and keeps you hooked until the last line of its happy ending.  An interesting thing you may find is that the book does not end in the same manner which most of the movies do.  Scrooge does not dine with the Cratchit family, instead spending time tending to his own.  It is a great story and Pagans and Christians alike can be warmed by the core morals of the story.  One day I hope to work the reading aloud of this book into our family traditions for Solstice.

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Portrayed in every play and movie as a jolly vibrant man bursting with life, images of Dickens' second spirit could be easily interchanged with just about any idea of the Holly King from Pagan mythos.  Not just in his appearance, but in the wave of life he brings with him.  When Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, the scene is described as such:

The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door. - Dickens, 1843 ~ A Christmas Carol, Stave 3

That sounds like a perfect Yuletide celebration to me.  The spirit is dressed in green robes lined with snowy-white fur.  He has an aged scabbard at his waist, although the sword is missing.  The missing sword could be taken as a tip of the hat to the duel he loses to his brother the Oak King in the spring.  He has long brown hair that runs free beneath a crown of holly.  The spirit is bare footed and his robe is open at his chest.  He has a twinkle in his eye and a laughter in his voice as he invites Scrooge to "Come in! and know me better man!"

"Scrooge's third visitor" and original illustration by John Leech in 1843.

My favorite representation is from The Muppet Christmas Carol.  Perhaps because I love his size and the way his hair bounces and the song he sings in the film, but he is the jolliest spirit that I have seen in movies yet. 

The Muppet of Christmas Present, with Michael Caine as Scrooge - 1992
Take a look at these other Ghosts of Christmas Present and see if they tickle your 'Holly King' bone.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge - 1999

The Ghost of Christmas Present, with Reginald Owen as Scrooge - 1938

The Ghost of Christmas Present - 1984

The Ghost of Christmas Present - 2009

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