The last reading assignment for my Readings in the Genre: the Haunted course for my Masters of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University was A Christmas Carol (Horror 78 pages) by Charles Dickens.
This story is a prime example of a ghost or haunted story where the haunting is more focused on a specific person and not a specific location. I believe that this is the only reading assignment for this class where the haunting is not a location, which is interesting to me for a variety of reasons. This is probably also the most famous and well-known of all of the homework assignments for this class.
It’s interesting to me that this book was not quite like the movies I’ve seen before and I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. Scrooge took a long time to accept that he truly was being haunted, even though the signs were there, beginning with the strange appearance of the knocker on his front door on page 15. “He did pause, with a moment’s irresolution, before he shut the door; and he did look cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Marley’s pigtail sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, except the screws and nuts that held the knocker on, so he said ‘Pooh, pooh!’ and closed it with a bang.” Scrooge has even more disbelief on page 17: “No, nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the folder kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before; he was still incredulous, and fought against his sense.”
In most of the ghost stories throughout this class, there’s been a distinct disregard for the situation of each haunting. Most of the characters stuck in haunted houses, including Grave’s End, Hell House, the Amityville Horror, and the Haunting of Hill House take some time before they accept that they truly are in a haunted house. Even if the characters involved in each story purposefully sought out those haunting, they still refused to believe in the circumstances of their situations. Of those, only Grave’s End was a true story. So in comparison to all those, Scrooge actually only requires the presence of his old partner, Jacob Marley, to start believing that he is haunted and, in his perception about how time moves, he only went through three days and nights of being haunted, whereas the rest of the characters in the previously mentioned novels went through months or even years of having their environment haunted. Most of that time, they spent denying their hauntings, hoping they would go away on their own, or actively seeking ways to prove their ideas about the cause of the hauntings.
There were a couple of passages that really stuck out with me during this book. One was the Ghost of Christmas Past who told Scrooge on page 19: “‘It is required of every man,’ the Ghost returned, ‘that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world – oh, woe is me! – and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!'” I think the reason this was an especially powerful passage to me was how much people learn from travelling the world and visiting other cultures. That’s what this Spirit is attempting to convey to Scrooge – the more you travel the world, the more humanity, sympathy, and empathy you will have for people who are different than you.
Another passage that really stuck out with me was on page 43 where Scrooge is discussing the world with the Ghost of Christmas Present: “‘There are some upon this earth of yours,’ returned the Spirit, ‘who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.'” To me, this is the perfect example of most major religions. A lot of people who are a bit more extreme with their religious beliefs will quote their specific religious texts, but only quote those parts which they can twist to their own meaning. Many of the more extreme religious personnel I have encountered in my life and in my travels are not even familiar with their own texts enough to understand the full meaning, but they will twist words so that those who are not as versed will believe their religion encourages violence or abuse, such as not providing care for the sick or those in poverty and actively attempting to kill those who are not like them.
I’m glad this course ends with this story, as it’s a positive haunting and comes with a clear message about making sure that you are living your life the way you should – that you are sharing with those who are not as fortunate as you; that you do not horde worldly possessions when those same possessions can’t be carried forward with you once you are gone and would be better served to share joy throughout your life. It’s a very positive message and a very positive haunting. I sometimes feel as though if we could convince more people who have extensive money and resources to help more people out, the world as a whole could be made into a better place.
Overall, I’d say this story was a three on my rating scale. It was a solid story and a very uplifting story to read as the holidays approach.