Many years I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens during the run up to Christmas. Search for it here on my blog and you’ll find references to my write ups on the story. In the past I’ve seen it as a wonderful story of redemption – which it is – letting us know it is never to late to change. But earlier this week as I was falling asleep thinking about the story it dawned on me that it is a Hero Journey story. Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces in which he described the “monomyth” of a hero’s journey that shows up in virtually all cultures and traditions.
A hero journey story is one in which
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press 1949 p 29].
I read the book before there were such things as blogs so I can’t point you to a blog post; but this Wikipedia page provides an excellent overview. The journey can be summed up in an image (which I took from the Wikipedia page).
Reading the definition and examining the diagram it is obvious that Ebenezer Scrooge’s night with Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future is a hero’s journey.
The Call to Adventure
We first see the parsimonious Scrooge rebuking his nephew, the men who ask him for a donation, the boy who calls “Merry Christmas”, and of course in his treatment of his clerk Bob Cratchit. Then, once he returns home, Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost who warns Scrooge of his coming trials. The hero often refuses the call as does Scrooge who protests that a good night’s sleep would be better. Scrooge has a sleepless start to the night before he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. This ghost acts as the supernatural aid who, bearing but a touch of Scrooge’s hand upon the ghost’s breast, leads Scrooge across the threshold into the world of adventure.
The Road of Trials
Hero’s challenges often come in sets of threes – as does Scrooge’s with the three ghosts. Once he meets the Ghost of Christmas Future he comes to the Abyss where he faces death. He knows that the dead man in the apartment – who died alone – is him; finally he comes to his grave and has the realization that if he changes his ways he can reach a different end. It is in this revelation that he conquers death and is transformed to the new Scrooge.
Scrooge wakes up in his own bed and is overjoyed for his second chance at life. He immediately starts to bestow boons on his fellow man. He give a generous tip to the boy who fetches the poultry man; delivers a huge turkey to the Cratchit family and finds the men seeking donations and gives a generous amount and ask them to come visit him. Finally, to the astonishment of Bob Cratchit, he gives the clerk a raise and invites him to build up the fire.
It is clear then that Ebenezer Scrooge has traveled to a supernatural world and was transformed, returning to bestow treasure upon his fellow man.
Even though I’m often on the lookout for the hero stories, this realization blew my mind. It is so clear and yet I’ve missed it for years.
Whatever the reason – the story of redemption, Dickens’ marvelous prose, or the hero journey – I urge you to pick up a copy of this tiny book and read it this last week before Christmas. I think the Kindle version is free on Amazon . When the kids were young we read this out loud over the five nights leading to Christmas ending on Christmas Eve.
A strong second option is to watch the 1984 version with George C. Scott playing Scrooge. I think it is closest film version to the book, taking much of the language directly from the page.