Saturday, December 08, 2007

Scrooge: the rich man and Lazarus re-written

In my Christmas Cartoon Canon, alongside Grinch, Charlie Brown and Rudolph (all three of which Richard Beck at Experimental Theology has posted on in a lovely series on Christmas cartoon theology), is Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. There are multiple classic versions of this Dickens story, of course, and the Muppet version is also part of the canon.

The Magoo version stands out for several reasons: there is a lot of dialogue verbatim from the original Dickens story, a possibly off-color pun on the name Dick at one point, occasional jokes worked in about Magoo's nearsightedness, and a quite extended scene with "the laundress, the charwoman and the undertaker" (see below)--an element quite often deleted from adaptations of the story as it is both narratively superfluous and kind of gruesome. (I inevitably wonder every time I see this part of the cartoon about the implications for estate sale practitioners...) And the whole third ghost sequence is undeniably kindof scary for a kid's cartoon. (Not a cartoon for Sophia, Joe!)

But mainly what I've been wondering lately is how deliberate Dickens might have been in crafting this story as a retelling of Jesus' story about the rich man and Lazarus the beggar. Remember that one? The rich guy ignores Lazarus, begging at his gate, and then they both die and in the afterlife are separated by an uncrossable chasm; the rich man, now in hell and who therefore understands that he should have been a lot better person, asks that someone go talk some sense into his five brothers so they don't end up in hell too. And the answer comes back: if they haven't listened to Moses and the prophets to begin with, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.

And of course, that's the exact plot of Dickens' Christmas Carol: Marley comes back from the dead with a message to Scrooge to repent, or else. And Scrooge listens. And so the Carol is a mirror image of Jesus' story, where the answer is essentially a denial of the possibility of a Scrooge repentance. If Scrooge hasn't listened to Moses and the prophets, why should he listen to Marley and the three ghosts?

It's a hard answer and one I don't really like. I prefer the Dickens story, with the optimism and hope that everyone, even the most hardened and greedy and awful of us, can change given the chance...and that that chance will always be there. I guess the question is, which one is more true to life?

1 comment:

scoots said...

Great post. I read Dickens’ book for the first time a couple of years ago, and I wish I had caught on to this connection.

The Rich Man and Lazarus is an odd parable for Luke’s Gospel, considering that after Jesus rises from the dead, a lot of people *do* repent, in Acts 2. On the other hand, Luke and Acts have a recurring theme of people who blind themselves to the truth, and those are the ones who still rejected Jesus after he rose.

I imagine there are some people who can still see, and who just need their eyes redirected, and other people who are so blind or hard-hearted that they won’t ever turn, at least not without some traumatic experience.

Some people just need a flaw to be pointed out in order for them to want to change it, but Scrooge needed the equivalent of a full-blown psychoanalysis to rework how he had experienced his whole life. Or a more theological example of the same kind of thing is Les Miserables, where Jean Valjean’s entire mindset is transformed by his experience of an act of grace.