The Life-Affirming Lifeless:
The Ghosts of Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”
“There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of the Christmases long, long ago.”
– Lyrics from “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
A Christmas Carol.
When stepping back a bit from its universally loved, seasonal popularity, Charles Dickens’ holiday classic is, in actuality, a good old fashioned ghost story. A haunting tale comprised of flashbacks to the distant past and foreboding signs of the fearful Future, brought to you by those gravity defying, transparent members of the non-living population, better known as ghosts.
Despite having the “G” word within each of their character names, not only are the Spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Future members of the ghostly realm, the three transcend beyond being mere apparitions by each representing higher levels of archetypal meaning and symbolism that are meant to be universally embraced by humanity at large.
The author of this grandest of ghost stories does this in ways most obvious, subtle, and bizarre.
The Ghost of Christmas Future – Silence at its Scariest
By far, the most frightening of the ghostly gang achieves its superlative status of spookiness through its visual association with the force that removes Life, by virtue of the Ghost of Christmas Future bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Grim Reaper, or Death, itself- sans scythe.
Of all the supernatural visitors, the Ghost of Christmas Future is the only phantom who doesn’t say a single word. Why?
He doesn’t need to.
This particular being’s truly terrifying presence is more than enough to understand its purpose for descending upon Ebenezer Scrooge. By escorting the old man to his future grave, this scariest of specters reminds the reader that as mortals, each of us must someday return to dust.
The Ghost of Christmas Present – Even Santa has a Dark Side
Whereas the Spirit of Christmas Future soberly warns us to “Momento Mori”, a fancy way of saying we’re all going to die, the Ghost of Christmas Present joyfully imparts a lifestyle lesson everyone should mark and remember all the year round but most especially during the Holiday Season.
By looking and behaving like jolly Old Saint Nick whose presence occurs during Christmas of any given Present time, this Santa-like Spirit urges the reader to actually partake and enjoy the Holidays and not get too caught up in the stressful details which can easily overwhelm a person during the last month of the calendar year.
But this particular phantasm isn’t limited to simply being a constant source of mirthful merriment and cavernous belly laughs. The haunted embodiment of Holiday Good Cheer also emphasizes that even Christmas has a dark side which cannot be so easily overlooked. A seedy, more sinister dimension exists behind the Ghost of Christmas Present’s ho-hoing persona – and it has a name: Goodwill towards Men.
Charles Dickens was born an Air sign, the element that is stimulated most by the concept of duality, or the joining of polar opposites. Having the Ghost of Christmas Present constantly be hyper happy and uber-cheerful would make this character static and one dimensional at best so Dickens subtly wove within the Kris Kringle-esque Spirit a grim reminder for each of us to be charitable at Christmastime by considering those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Towards the end of his visit with Scrooge, the old miser notices rustling beneath the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robes. The specter pulls back the folds of his fur lined, billowing green clothes revealing two children, a boy and a girl.
Scrooge attempts being polite by inquiring about the children but can only mutter in shock if they are the Ghost’s offspring, due to being appalled by their “ragged, scowling, and wolfish” appearance.
To quote Dickens, “They are Man’s.” replies the Ghost of Christmas Present. “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”
Despite being the most upbeat of the lifeless bunch, the Ghost of Christmas Present takes his leave of Scrooge in a most terse and uncomfortable manner. Upon the skinflint asking if anything can be done for the wretched little ones, the agitated apparition gives Scrooge a dose of his own medicine by answering with the very words said by the stingy businessman when earlier asked to give a charitable donation to the poor, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”.
Dickens created the feral specters of Want and Ignorance not only to juxtapose the Spirit of Christmas Present’s festively generous nature but also because he felt great empathy for London’s impoverished children due to experiencing first-hand such destitution during his own childhood. Admittedly difficult to digest, these two brutally disturbing waifs embody a crucial aspect to Christmas which all of us must keep in mind whenever employing the concept of “Goodwill towards Men”.
The Ghost of Christmas Past – A Phantasmagorical Freak Show of Futurism
As mentioned earlier, Charles Dickens was born beneath the element of Air under the sign of Aquarius to be exact. Those born under the last of the Air signs tend to be Futuristic in nature and possess personalities which are inherently individualistic and fiercely non-conformist. The Spirit that is by far the least understood among Scrooge’s roster of supernatural guests is a direct reflection of its creator’s Aquarian sensibilities – The Ghost of Christmas Past.
In summarizing this Spirit’s essence, the first of the visiting phantoms represents the strength (quite literally) of influence human memory can play in our lives and the power the Past can hold over each of us.
Dickens not only goes as far out on a literary limb as he can in writing about this particular Ghost, the bizarre imagery the Aquarian author uses to describe the Spirit of Christmas Past as a psychological force of influence is revolutionary by virtue of his words being eons ahead of their time.
Going by Dickens’ description of the Spirit of Christmas Past, this phantasmagorical being truly does come from another plane of existence, with even the Ghost of Christmas Future retaining more of a human-like essence.
True to his Airy element, Dickens employs the most juxtaposition in describing the first of Scrooge’s nightly visitors. The Ghost bears the long white hair of a person very advanced in years, yet its skin is smooth and free of wrinkles. The Apparition holds a sprig of Winter’s holly in its hand, yet around its belt are Summer’s wildflowers in full bloom.
How this phantom is even presented on stage and in film is dualistically opposed to its initial inception, given the Spirit of Christmas Past is nearly always portrayed as a woman in the modern era, despite it being described as a man in the story’s original text.
Reflecting the quality of many of our long held memories, a mystically moving beam of light emanates from the Ghost’s forehead, moving to and fro in such a Bingo board- like manner, the specter is perceived to have a lingering aura of haziness which fluctuates between a blur of triple vision at one moment, to a being of crystal clear clarity, the next.
A 1971 animated version of “A Christmas Carol” stayed true to Dickens’ text by presenting the Ghost of Christmas Past in its unfocused, “seeing triple” form.
But that’s not even the strangest part, folks…
The spirit’s actual being vacillates just as much as the haze which surrounds it. In Dickens’ words:
“The figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body.”
Hallucinogenic drugs or Aquarian creativity that’s far too ahead of its time? You each can decide in your own right, my good readers.
What’s noteworthy about this Spirit’s influence is how overtly emotional Scrooge becomes almost immediately after being summoned to rise and walk with the Ghost of Christmases long passed. This is highly unusual, when considering in the story’s opening Scrooge’s nephew can’t even get his Uncle to wish him Season’s Greetings after the obstinate old man expresses to his only living relative his sincerest wish that “every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips” leave this world “buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”
“A Christmas Carol” was written in 1843, more than half a century before Sigmund Freud would publish his methodologies of psychoanalysis in 1896 which included the concepts of the conscious and subconscious mind.
Not only was Dickens ahead of his time by virtue of his avante garde whimsy in describing the Ghost of Christmas Past, it would appear as if the futuristic Aquarian seemed to be aware of the psychological revolution that was to take place in the world 50 years ahead of schedule.
He does this through his final “fleshing out” in describing the personage of the Spirit of Christmas Past:
“[Its] arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength.”
Dickens seemed to inherently understand how powerful a person’s past can be, where one’s memories can literally “strong-arm” us into submission.
Despite its character being rooted in what has already been, the Ghost of Christmas Past embodies Aquarian futurism and ahead of its time genius at its bizarre best.
Marley’s Ghost – Tortured Soul & Truest of Friends
There are numerous beings of a lifeless nature in Dickens’ holiday ghost story besides Scrooge’s three visitors. But even with one particular evening scene described as being “filled with phantoms”, only one apparition of significance remains that has yet to be discussed.
And this particular spirit is more important than any of the other lifeless ones combined – Marley’s Ghost.
As we all should be well aware by now, the creator of “A Christmas Carol” was born beneath the sign of Aquarius. Along with their ability to come up with thoughts ahead of their time and an inherent tendency to be futuristic in nature, another trait exists that’s central to the life of the typical Aquarian. In fact, this trait more than any other is held with the highest regard by those born beneath the last of the Air signs – Friendship.
And within the plot of the world’s most famous ghost story, we find Jacob Marley being a true friend to Ebenezer Scrooge.
Charles Dickens was born with the planet of old age and toil, Saturn, positioned in the sign it naturally rules over – the last of the Earth signs that focuses most on hard work and the gaining of material status through such aforementioned hard work, Capricorn. Given the fact our story’s creator also had Mercury, the planet which rules over the process of Writing placed in the Earthy sign of Capricorn, your Author has taken the liberty of describing stingy old Ebenezer Scrooge as an “Earthy” personality of the most unevolved kind.
The haunted portion of our story’s program begins seven years following the death of one Jacob Marley, former business partner to the tale’s leading man. The scene opens with Scrooge about to enter his dank and exceptionally dark home following a 12 hour work day on Christmas Eve. As the old curmudgeon goes to slide his key into the front door latch, a ghostly cameo image of Scrooge’s deceased business partner hovers over the knocker of his outer door.
Being as tangibly based as any respectable Earth sign should be whenever confronted with anything not of this material plane, the miser convinces himself what he just witnessed was his digestive tract finding issue with its natural functions, thus resulting in a visual side effect from such a temporary physical malady.
Not too long there afterward, while sipping cold porridge in front of a solitary candle before retiring to bed, the ghost of Scrooge’s former business partner steps right through the skinflint’s bedroom wall and stands before him.
Despite a 6 foot tall phantasmagorical presence being directly put on display in front of his very person, the old man shoos Marley’s Ghost away, stating to no one in particular how the pork roast he had eaten earlier for lunch must have been seriously undercooked.
Scrooge must have forgotten that during their mutual working years on Earth his business partner was even more of an anally retentive stickler for punctuality than himself, and Jacob Marley’s behavior is no different in death, since the ghost proceeds to waste not a self-deluding second more.
Marley’s bloodless, deathly white face bears a cloth wrapped around it, as if the apparition were having the most severe of supernatural toothaches.
In the fastest of ghostly reflexes, Marley’s Ghost unties the cloth which has been holding together the jaw joints of his lifeless face. Immediately, his lower mandible drops down onto his upper chest, as he emits the most blood curdling of tormented shrieks worse than any Banshee could ever hope to wail.
The apparition now has Scrooge’s undivided attention.
Observing how preciously short his time is, the Ghost of Jacob Marley states the purpose for visiting his former business partner – to offer him the most life affirming of warnings to live his life while still alive.
The specter hints at the lengths he has gone in order to provide this warning through the use of one word, “procuring”. To quote Dickens:
“I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.”
The “fate” Marley refers to is an eternity of being relentlessly afflicted by the “incessant torture of remorse.” A fate where rest of any kind, peaceful or otherwise, is not an option.
“I cannot rest. I cannot stay. I cannot linger anywhere.” Marley’s Ghost bemoans to a horrified Scrooge.
Even after all that, Ebenezer proceeds to display that most irritating trait of the unevolved Earth sign whenever confronted with the non-tangible – of being hyper literal. Scrooge asks the apparition that while alive, did he not live his life by being proficient with making money and by being a good business man overall?
Marley in his undead state cuts off his former business partner’s game of self-delusion by screaming once more in a voice filled with both agitated agony and soulful regret:
“MANKIND WAS MY BUSINESS!”
The formerly “good” business man who now is doomed to an afterlife of restless suffering for the karmic crime of enslaving his soul to strictly the material then proceeds to inform Scrooge that he will be haunted by three spirits over the course of three evenings, The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
“You were always a good friend to me, Jacob.” says Scrooge to the spirit of his former business partner.
In more ways than Ebenezer Scrooge could ever hope to guess.
As everyone knows, the combined efforts of the four lifeless characters central to our tale result in our story’s protagonist becoming a changed man with a new lease on life, who thereafter “was always said of him, knew how to keep Christmas well”.
In truth, credit can only go to one source for the ghost story known the world over even needing to be told in the first place – Jacob Marley’s friendship.
In “procuring” the other spirits to hauntingly assist a mortal man undo a lifetime of cursed karma, Marley’s Ghost single-handedly saves Scrooge’s soul, by dearly paying the price of having even more torment and suffering inflicted upon his own.
In making such an immense personal sacrifice, Dickens intimates that Jacob Marley has given to Ebenezer Scrooge the greatest of gifts one mortal soul can offer another during Christmastime and all the year round
A gift which as an Aquarian, the creator of the greatest ghost story ever told held dearest to his own heart, believing no other attribute could rival – True Friendship*.
Charles Dickens – Creator of the greatest ghost story ever told.
*Dedicated to some true friends of mine: Eva and Hal Schwartz & Emma Score*
Backdrop and title picture – clichemag.com
Ghost of Christmas Future in cemetery – disney.wikia.com
Marley’s Ghost animated & Ghost of Christmas Past in triple vision – andrewkantor.com