Bonus Episode: I Read a Story to You: Charles Dickens’s Timeless Masterpiece, “A Christmas Carol,” Pt. I.

Note: This story will be released in two episodes. Because this story is called a “Christmas carol,” Dickens styled his chapters as “staves” (another word for “staff,” those five horizontal lines on which we write music); Staves 1 and 2 are in today’s Bonus Episode of December 10, 2020, and Staves 3, 4, and 5 are in tomorrow’s Bonus Episode of December 12, 2020. Total listening time is about 2 hours, 50 minutes.

Presenting…A Christmas Carol!

As part of my work on my book on the five senses, I wanted to do a project that played with the sense of sound. I decided to create an audiobook—and I decided to do it as a holiday gift for listeners.

For me, nothing is cozier than hearing someone read aloud. I remember my father reading Little House in the Big Woods (Amazon, Bookshop) to me before bedtime, and I remember my daughter Eleanor reading Half Magic (Amazon, Bookshop) to me when she was young (once she was a good reader, I turned the tables, and had her read to me before bedtime.)

I found the perfect project for my audiobook: Charles Dickens’s timeless masterpiece, A Christmas Carol.

This novella, properly titled A Christmas Carol, in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (Amazon, Bookshop), has been immensely popular since the day it first appeared in 1843.  A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera, cartoons, and other media.

The general outline of the story is very familiar; as with Dracula, Superman, or Star Wars, you probably have a general sense of the plot and characters even if you’ve never actually read or watched the story. You’ve probably heard the expression “Bah! Humbug!” or heard someone called a “Scrooge.” But I doubt that most people these days have actually read the story.

This is the tale of the elderly miser Ebenezer Scrooge, and it takes place on an icy Christmas Eve in London.

Scrooge is a hateful, selfish person; he’s cruel to his overworked, underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit, he refuses to give money to men seeking a charitable contribution, and he refuses his nephew’s invitation to come for Christmas dinner.

But the night of Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley. Because of Marley’s intervention to try to save Scrooge’s soul, Scrooge is visited in turn by the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Spoiler alert: These spirits show him scenes from his life and others’ lives, and the experience utterly transforms Scrooge into a thoughtful, loving, generous man.

I love this story, which has the quality of myth. It reflects the Christian tradition from which Dickens writes, of course, and its nineteenth-century context, but I think the story resonates with people of all backgrounds and faiths. It tackles questions that we all ask ourselves: “When I come to the end of my life and look back, what will I see?” “How have I changed, for better or for worse?” “Have I made the lives of others happier—or not?” “What are the consequences of my actions?” “What will I regret?”

With a story that’s so familiar, it’s always interesting to return to the original. I’d read A Christmas Carol twice before, I’d seen the play, I’d watched a few of the 23 movie adaptations (including Muppet Christmas Carol), but even though I knew it so well, I experienced it in an entirely new way when I read it aloud. A Christmas Carol was funnier than I recalled, and also more frightening.

And hearing a story read aloud—instead of reading it, or seeing it on stage or in video—changes it, too. When one sensory input is removed, others must fill in what’s missing, and that changes our experience. Imagining a story in our heads is very different from watching it on a screen.

In recording this, I discovered that there are a few slightly different versions of the novella out there. So a few words may be different here or there from one source to the next.

I can’t think about A Christmas Carol and Charles Dickens without recommending one of my favorite essays, “Charles Dickens,” by George Orwell. You can find this extraordinary essay in collections of Orwell’s essays, and it’s also available online.

I love the story of A Christmas Carol. It always causes me to reflect on my own life, and whether I’m living up to my deepest values and reaching out with love and consideration to the people around me.

I hope that listening to this audiobook makes you happier.




Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.