f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Maybe It's Just the Eggnog Talking—In Support of Happy Endings

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, December 19, 2003

Maybe It's Just the Eggnog Talking—In Support of Happy Endings

It’s Friday. We had an office party that netted me $10 at B&N, a good book, and a bottle of Christmas cheer. Tonight I get to go help the Salvation Army ring for pennies and nickels, quarters and bills. The Christmas spirit is hale and hearty here in Minnesota and it is no time for talking of sad endings, tragedy, or the bleakness of modern life. Today is the day to celebrate the flip side.

And what better way than by speaking of that grand, public domain, holiday classic—A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I don’t need, I assume, to speak of the plot. If you’re not familiar with it at this point, I have no idea what you’re doing at this web journal.

Anyway, Dickens takes us on a trip of melancholy, nostalgia, loneliness, miserliness, anger, desolation, and all sorts of emptiness only to deliver us on the other side with the ringing of the bells on a cold frosty morning.

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious!

“What's to-day?" cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“Eh?" returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.

“To-day?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."

"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it. The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like. Of course they can. Of course they can.
The key line in that last paragraph is—“They can do anything they like.” This is an author with a.) tremendous confidence and b.) a canny sense of humor. He’s basically just trotted our three ghosts (four if you count Marley) whirled his character through a time warp of tableaus from his past only to return him to his room dazed and completely changed. The Spirits had nothing to do with it. They can’t do a single thing. It’s Dickens himself who can do anything he likes—include trotting out one of the best-loved and quite improbable happy endings EVER. Christ arisen is tops—Scrooge reborn is a close second and certainly up there with Paul on the Road to Damascus.

Why does this absurd ending work so well? Why do so many others fail?

It all comes down to Scrooge. Ebeneezer is the thing that makes the story work. Not Cratchitt or his tow-headed-little-glob-of-marzipan-for-a-son-Tim (who incidentally has grown up to be a detective in a new novel called Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard.) Not the Ghosts of Christmas’ Past, Present, and Future. It’s Scrooge.

Dickens treats Scrooge, his villain in many senses, with a compassion and sympathy we rarely offer. He takes the time to look past the outward sins to the wounded heart below. He shows a man in need of change—a hurting, prideful man who may not be able to change. He gives us all the elements of a tragedy before extending that final hand of hope and opportunity. And it’s all the more powerful for it being so desperately necessary.

So, even after three days of me saying we don’t need any more happy endings, please don’t take me to mean that they aren’t important. Well done, they point, just slightly, at the happy ending Jesus has extended to each of us. They make our souls shine and yearn for what still remains, promised but unfulfilled.

We just don’t want them to become passé. We don’t things to become so predictable or cliché that we snicker at them or forget the weight they truly can carry. Deal? Good. And, in the immortal words of Tiny Tim (read them slowly now, listen what the little crutch-laden boy is saying) God bless us, every one.