Web exclusive: "A Christmas Carol" Through the Ages

Adaptations of A Christmas Carol have had a life nearly as long as the novella itself. Dickens first published the story in time for the winter holidays in December of 1843. It was immensely popular, and the initial printing of six thousand copies sold out almost immediately. By the next February, eight London theatres had already adapted Carol for the stage, putting on productions complete with added songs and new characters. Dickens himself wrote a stage adaptation and performed it for many years as a public reading, voicing all the characters himself.

Readers and viewers in each era have constructed new meaning for the story and for Scrooge as an archetypal character. In The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge, Paul Davis claims that the Victorians viewed Carol itself as a kind of adaptation, a secular parable like the Biblical Christmas story but containing elements of the supernatural rather than the divine. In the early 20th century, it was considered to be primarily a children’s story, but in the economic downturn of the 1920s and 30s, new versions shifted the focus to Carol’s indictment of greed and individualism. The Scrooge of the 1960s became Freudian, with a subconscious manifested in Marley and the Christmas ghosts. Scrooge today could perhaps be considered as a banker reacting to a harsh economic climate by clinging tightly to his material wealth and neglecting those who continue to sink lower in society.

Carol has continued to be adapted throughout these shifts in the story’s significance, but nearly every incarnation has retained the realistic setting and the focus on Scrooge as the main character. Here are a few of the memorable moments in the Carol’s life over the past century and a half: 

- 1901: Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost—a short British film and the earliest surviving screen adaptation.

- 1951: Scrooge, re-titled A Christmas Carol in the U.S.—a film starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge.  New York Times critic A.O. Scott named this film as the best one ever made of Dickens’s classic. 

- 1953: London’s Theatre Royal and the BBC produced a radio broadcast starring Laurence Olivier in his only recorded performance as Scrooge.

- 1956: The Stingiest Man In Town—a musical adaptation broadcast live on television and starred Basil Rathbone as Scrooge.

-1970: Scrooge—a film starring Albert Finney as Scrooge in a musical retelling of the classic tale. 

- 1988: Scrooged—a contemporary remake starring Bill Murray as a curmudgeonly TV producer inspired by Scrooge.

- 1988: Patrick Stewart performed a one-man version simply called A Christmas Carol initially at London’s Old Vic and later on Broadway.

- 1992: The Muppet Christmas Carol—a film featuring the various Muppet characters, with Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit.

- 1998: The Passion of Scrooge—a chamber opera by Jon Deak for one baritone and chamber orchestra.

- 2001: The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge—a novel by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita set in the afterlife with Scrooge on trial to determine if he will be admitted into Paradise.

- 2009: A Christmas Carol—a performance capture film directed by Robert Zemeckis, and starring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge and the three ghosts.

- 2011: 3 Ghosts—a steampunk inspired musical adaptation by PiPE DREAM Theatre, written by Collin Simon and Liz Muller.