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Redemption: The Greatest Story Ever Told Again and Again

Dickens' Story Part of Christmas Commercialism - Stephen McKay


One work of redemptive literature, ‘A Christmas Carol’, has inspired more interpretations and reinventions than almost any other in the English language.

In Christian belief, people can be saved by Christ the Redeemer. This concept of being saved, given freedom from something that binds, has inspired more literature and film than almost any other theme.

Redemption means, variously, freeing from bondage, atonement, reclamation, reparation, restitution, propitiation and salvation. It implies a freedom from some restriction; although physical, financial, mental and personality limitations are natural in life. From the ancient world, a redeemer paid a price or ransom for somebody.

That in Christianity is the redeeming work of God through Jesus Christ, to pay the blood price/atone for man’s sin and set him free from its bonds. This new situation was a restoration of what was regarded as man’s natural state, before Satan tempted man down the road to sin and, ultimately damnation.

Redemptive Literature

This is a powerful concept, and it’s not hard to see how it appeals to creatives in many variations. Tolstoy wrote a play called Redemption (1900), and there have been novels with the title from Tariq Ali (1990), Mel Odom (2000), Leon Uris (1996) and Howard Fast (1999), all from different genres.

British writer Ian McEwan wrote a novel called Atonement (2001), made into a movie in 2007, which was described by Internet Movie Database as: “fledgling writer Briony Tallis, as a 13 year old, irrevocably changes the course of several lives when she accuses her older sister’s lover of a crime he didn’t commit.” The atonement element, the redemption, came in her trying to put right the damage of her transgression.

Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol (1843) featured mean-spirited miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who dismissed all attempts around him to celebrate Christmas with what became a catchphrase, “Bah! Humbug!” In the chill night dark, alone, he was visited by the ghost of his former partner, Marley, condemned by his lifetime meanness to wander the earth in heavy chain.

Scrooge was shown the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come who showed him the effects of his greed, the opportunities for good he passed by and his fate, unloved, forgotten. He woke from the visions, overjoyed at the chance to redeem himself, which he did with enthusiasm.

Most Used Redemption Story

It has produced legion movies, with a short from 1901 the oldest surviving screen work; in 1908, 1923, 1938, 1951, 1970, 1984, 1999, 2009; Scrooge appeared in 1938 and Scrooged in 1988. It has been recorded by famous actors on cassettes, LPs and CDs. Mister Scrooge was a 1958/9 opera and A Christmas Carol another opera in 1978/9.

There have been radio, direct to DVD, TV-only and cartoon versions: An All Dogs Christmas Carol (1998), Christmas Carol, The Movie (2001), A Flintstones’ Christmas Carol (1994), The Jestons’ Christmas Carol (1985), Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and Sesame Street Christmas Carol (2006), to name but a few.

The story has been parodied: Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, (1988), An American Carol (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009). The plot has been adapted, revisioned and played with in films like The Six Shooter (1953), An American Christmas Carol (1979), Skinflint, A Country Christmas Carol (1979), Scrooged (1988), Dr Who (2010) and appeared in graphic novels in 2004 and The Graphic Novel (2008).

It’s toured in musicals and plays in hundreds of adaptations and versions; musical in 1970 as Scrooge; Michel Legrand’s music was in the 1981 version; many American churches use the 1982 version The Gospel According to Scrooge; Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow and Gerald Charles Dickens (his great-great-grandson) have done effective one-man readings/actings over years and Scrooge! A Dickens of a One-Man Show (1991) was a US hit.

Scrooge: The Musical (1992); A Christmas Carol: The Musical (1994, another in 2005); A Christmas Carol – As Told By Jacob Marley (deceased) (2009/10) and a 2006 computer animated version featuring anthropomorphic animals in lead roles, all confirm the fact that not only is Dickens’ story infinitely open to interpretation, but the theme of redemption is strongly evident in literature.

Redemption, the Word, the Idea

Movies using the title include a western (2009), Garofalo’s 2004 and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), which Internet Movie Database summed up as: “two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.” The desire to do right, even among prisoners, was portrayed as fundamental, but with a twist.

In music, there is a progressive-heavy band called it, albums by many artists and individual songs have been named Redemption, a notable one by Christian singer Johnny Cash. Bob Marley’s classic, Redemption Song, contained the lyrics: ‘But my hand was made strong/by the hand of the almighty/we forward in this generation triumphantly/won’t you help to sing/these songs of freedom?/‘cause all I ever have/Redemption songs’.

There is even a Microsoft Outlook tool, Redemption, to work round limitations imposed by Outlook Security Patch. So on every front, every genre, every aspect of life, the concept of redemption is integral to human need. It counter-balances human gravitating towards their darker sides. The variations on A Christmas Carol are just one (widespread) dimension of that.

It is even more copied/imitated/derived from than Romeo and Juliet; that’s because there is an uplifting higher-purpose redemption in A Christmas Carol.

First published on Suite 101, 9 March 2011.

Image: Dickens’ Story Part of Christmas Commercialism – Stephen McKay

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