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A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings (A Penguin Classics Hardcover) Hardcover – September 28, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
read by Jim Dale
I once heard it said that to appreciate Dickens best, one should read his stories aloud. I have never had the time to try to do this, but having just listened to a new unabridged reading of A Christmas Carol from Random House, I can see the validity of the statement. Playing the CD's I felt as if the narrator was, in the words of Dickens himself, "standing in the spirit at your elbow."
And what a narrator! The multi-talented Jim Dale reads the story...no, that is not correct...Jim Dale PERFORMS the story. I counted 42 voices in the three-hour recording. Jim Dale is well known for his over 200 voices (and counting) bringing to life all of the characters in the Harry Potter books, which he also records for Random House's Listening Library.
I first saw Jim Dale in the 1977 Disney movie Pete's Dragon where he played the bumbling villain. The next year he played three hilarious characters in another Disney film, Hot Lead and Cold Feet. I was lucky to see him in two musicals on Broadway, in Barnum, and Me and My Girl. Both very memorable performances. I plan to see him next month as he sings and dances Scrooge in Madison Square Garden's Christmas Carol - The Musical. I figure if he is great in the audiobook, he will be even better on stage. An actor has only two tools...his voice and his body. In the audiobooks, of course, only the voice can be used.
And Dale's voice talents are well showcased here. I often found myself laughing out loud, thanks to the combined genius of Dickens and Dale. In a couple of cases, the genius is pure Dale. At one point he adds a bit of a dog's panting that really cracked me up.
I have seen and/or heard other wonderful actors do one-man renditions of A Christmas Carol. A number of years ago a friend played a tape for me of John Gielgud doing an abridged version. I saw Patrick Stewart do his acclaimed one man show on Broadway; from the first row! And I have seen the author's great-great grandson, Gerald Dickens do his skilled and energetic version several times. They are all memorable and it would be impossible to say which was the best. But I can heartily recommend that Jim Dale's version be added to the family library. It is complete, it is accurate and it is a virtuoso performance.
Although I certainly know the story well, I found by listening to the audiobook I was paying closer attention to the lesser known parts...the parts that, to be honest, I usually would skim over when rereading the book. In fact, there were several sections where I felt as if I were hearing them for the first time. Marvelous sections. I couldn't believe I had missed them in the past. Maybe Jim Dale's voice just made them more vibrant than my own inner voice.
I suppose that asking me to review Jim Dale reading A Christmas Carol really isn't fair. One of my favorite performers reading my favorite story by my favorite author! But surely I am not alone. Dickens is universally known as England's greatest novelist. I wouldn't be surprised if Jim Dale was gaining a reputation as one of the world's greatest readers of audiobooks. They are both master storytellers. And to quote the Dickens himself, "If that's not high praise, tell me higher, and I'll use it."
As to the story itself: I doubt there's an english-speaking child who doesn't have at least some familiarity with some version of it; I think every saturday morning cartoon series ever did some version, and every other sitcom. This is the original novella that inspired all those adaptations.
That's the biggest hurdle when reading this: it may be hard for some readers to get past having heard some version or other of Tiny Tim shouting out "God Bless Us, Every One" in five hundred different ways every year of their lives, and some readers might find parts of the story hackneyed in the same way that other Christmas classics have become overplayed (anyone who's worked in a mall during the Christmas seasons will know what I'm talking about).
Despite that, though, this is still a classic story, and readers who can get themselves past that hurdle will be richly rewarded. There's a powerfully archetypal story here, and one that still managed to tug at even my cynical heartstrings, even as overexposed as I've been to endless re-adaptations; I suspect it will do the same for most other readers as well, as long as they're willing to let it.
Even if you don't feel like getting into the Christmas Spirit, though, it's a great introduction to reading Dickens -- probably his shortest major work, and illustrates several of his major themes (urban poverty, workhouses, the Poor Laws, the inadequacy of contemporary aid to the poor, and, generally speaking, man's inhumanity to man). The language is fairly accessible even to a modern reader (Dickens frequently gave public readings of it).
Perhaps most interesting is how much influence this single story has had on our entire modern conception of the Christmas holiday -- it's this one tale that in many ways created, idealized, and shaped the modern notion of Christmas, almost singlehandedly transforming Christmas from the celebration of a sacred holiday to the celebration of a family feast. In the century or two prior to this, the holiday had primarily been seen as a twelve-day rural celebration by a whole village or manorial community -- a celebration that had largely fallen on hard times, due both to Cromwell's Puritan abolishment of Christmas celebrations during the 1640's and 50's and (more crushingly) the increasing urbanization and industrialization of British life, which made such celebrations impractical or impossible. This single story took what had been a dying tradition and revitalized it for the industrial era, refocusing it on the (relatively) secular themes of charity, love, friendship, and the nuclear family -- the same ideas, essentially, that are commonly held at the heart of our Christmas holidays today -- and showing urban families a way to celebrate the holiday and make it meaningful. In a very real way, this story saved Christmas.
So, if you haven't already read it, do so. It's the original -- often imitated, never duplicated. It might tug your heartstrings, and there's something to learn, too, both about the history of the Christmas holiday and its modern meaning.
If you decide after this that you want to read more Dickens, he wrote a number of other "Christmas Tales" -- "The Cricket on the Hearth" and a few others. For the most part they're skippable, not up to the archetypal heights Dickens struck with _Carol_. Instead, I'd recommend David Copperfield; it was Dickens' favorite of his own books, probably the best of his longer works, and it both compares well with "Carol" and strikes on many of the same themes (charity, social injustice, cruelty).