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The Wise Nightmares of “A Christmas Carol”

Source: Kelly Bulkeley

A man is existentially transformed by a series of terrifying nightmares and supernatural visitations.

That is the basic plot of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol, first published on December 19, 1843. Today, Dickens’ classic work is more often parodied for its sentimentality than read carefully for its deep psychological insights. Yet at its core, A Christmas Carol is a metaphysical horror story, a vividly rendered account of a life-changing dream journey. It’s a seasonal parable of oneiric possibility and spiritual growth.

The folksy humor and scenes of tender domesticity, characteristic of Dickens’ many other great novels, are woven together here with horrific visions of suffering, death, and eternal doom. The arrogant miser Ebenezer Scrooge is thrust into a realm where time and space lose all logical coherence, where his most painful memories spring back to agonizing life, where he has no volition or control and finds himself at the mercy of mysterious, inhuman specters. It is a realm of pure nightmare. All of Scrooge’s strengths in the waking world—his greed, cunning, will-power—are useless here. If he is to have any hope of escaping an extremely grim fate, he must change himself at the most fundamental level. Given what we know of Scrooge’s hyper-capitalist, monstrously cruel behavior towards the poorest and most destitute members of society, it seems an impossible task.  Yet Dickens wants us to know that in dreams, especially dreams at this time of year, anything is possible….

As Christmas approaches, along with the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, you might consider taking a couple of quiet hours for yourself and reading this surprisingly dark and thought-provoking little tale.


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