I have a list of movies that I have to watch every Christmas to get in the mood. There is no such thing as Christmas in this house until I watch It’s A Wonderful Life at least once, sometimes twice. However, two years ago, I came across another more modern movie that is now high on my list of holiday favorites. It’s called The Man Who Invented Christmas, the story of how Charles Dickens managed to write his masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, in just six weeks in order to be able to get it into bookstores before Christmas.

            Dickens is wonderfully played by Dan Stevens, whom I have adored since his time at Downton Abby and then as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. This movie tells of a stressed and desperate Mr. Dickens who is in dire financial straits having just bombed with his last three published works. Due to earlier successes, the Dickens’ family has adapted a rather opulent lifestyle so he must come up with a story that will pay the bills. He has to publish it himself because his usual publisher isn’t interested and Dickens can’t pay his agent to look for another one elsewhere. 

            Dickens carries a small notebook where he records interesting names and words. He meets a man—at a funeral, actually—who uses the word, “humbug”, apparently the first time Dickens has ever heard it. That one word catapults the author into the writing of his novella.

            The thing that fascinated me about this movie is how Scrooge, Fezziwig, the Cratchits, and others came alive and haunt him day and night as he struggles to write their story. They talk to him—even yell and fight with him sometimes. Chrsitopher Plummer is wonderful as Scrooge who torments him and tries to steer the story. They argue because Dickens believes no one as cruel as Scrooge can never change. Eventually, he realizes that this is a story of redemption. Tiny Tim does not die and they all live happily ever after. Because of the success of the book, it is said that Christmas became a more charitable and happier time and was changed for evermore.

            Dickens is portrayed as a bit of an eccentric workaholic whose mood swings and chaotic lifestyle make him hard to tolerate when he is emerged in his storytelling. He is depressed at times and silly or manic at others. He becomes obsessed with his characters, hears their voices as though they are telling their own stories. As an author, I found that intriguing. I, too, have—er, relationships? with them. It’s almost like they speak to me. I, of course, am no Charles Dickens, but I think most writers have such intimate interactions with their characters. I love the way I can start with a basic premise for a story and it’s almost like the story writes itself. Although I have been known to write the end of a novel first, it’s so much fun to see how my characters eventually get there. And when I’ve finished a novel, I miss them.

Many times, a voice inside my head yells, “Humbug! That’s not right.”

“Are you sure?” I ask. “I rather liked that part.”

“No, I’d never do that!” the voice replies.

So I erase it and try again.

                                                            Until next time,


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