Rewriting “A Christmas Carol” for children: “A Christmas Dream and How It Came True”

I came across an article on about why we so often associate Charles Dickens with Christmas  (see The father of Christmas: What the festive season owes to Charles Dickens) and it really opened my eyes.

The influence of Charles Dickens

Despite that fact that I have read so little of Dickens, I could still feel his influence on Louisa’s Christmas stories (although hers are shorter and sweeter than his – I understand he got paid by the word :-)). Among other things, it made me realize that I must expand my reading horizons so as to understand where Louisa’s influences came from.

Learning to appreciate Dickens

I actually read (or heard through an audio book) A Christmas Carol for the first time yesterday. At first I was put off by the endless description as it seemed I could have said in five words what he said in fifty (and I am certainly not pithy!). I felt myself getting impatient, wanting him to stop beating around the bush and get to the point!

But by the time the third ghost appeared, I was among the initiated. I began to love the way everyone except Scrooge knew the obvious fact that he was the dead man. The suspense kept building along with Scrooge’s horror so that when he repented of his sins, it was heartfelt and authentic.

I’ve started listening to The Chimes and will also take on The Cricket in the Hearth. I love Google Books!

Rewriting Dickens for children

The article I eluded to at the beginning of this post mentioned that Louisa’s “A Christmas Dream and How It  Came True” was A Christmas Carol rewritten for children.

But rather than a misery and miserable old man, we have a very spoiled and miserable little girl, Effie. She had everything and was bored with it all.

She announced to her mother that she was “tired of Christmas”:

” . . . it [Christmas] is always the same, and there isn’t any more surprise about it. I always find heaps of goodies in my stocking. Don’t like some of them, and soon get tired of those I do like. We always have a great dinner, and I eat too much, and feel ill next day. Then there is a Christmas tree somewhere, with a doll on top, or a stupid old Santa Claus, and children dancing and screaming over bonbons and toys that break, and shiny things that are of no use. Really, mamma, I’ve had so many Christmases all alike that I don’t think I can bear another one.”

Effie wished she could be instead a beggar-girl. It made me cringe.

Scrooge’s story spawns a dream

At her mother’s suggestion, Effie found a copy of A Christmas Carol and read it before bedtime. In a way she couldn’t articulate, it made her feel better. And it fueled a long dream that “she never quite forgot.”

She realized a wish in her dream, that of becoming a beggar-girl: cold, hungry, wet, and feeling quite desperate.

A Christmas Spirit

While Scrooge had a vision of the 3 Spirits of Christmas; Effie was visited by one of many:

“A child’s voice sang, a child’s hand carried the little candle; and in the circle of soft light it shed, Effie saw a pretty child coming to her through the night and snow. A rosy, smiling creature, wrapped in white fur, with a wreath of green and scarlet holly on its shining hair, the magic candle in one hand, and the other outstretched as if to shower gifts and warmly press all other hands.”

The world of Christmas

The Spirit gave comfort to Effie and showed her the world of Christmas – many Spirits, old and young, working hard to create Christmas magic for the poor in the world. Louisa’s ever-fruitful imagination spun a world of wonder – she never lost sight of the child within herself despite all the hardship she lived through.

Effie even saw 4 Santa Clauses! (Were these the “Santa’s helpers” that I was always told about when I was a child? After all, how could Santa be at the North Pole and in my favorite department store at the same time? :-))

But that was only part of the story – the best was yet to come.

The Spirit then showed Effie how the all the wondrous things made in the world of Christmas was distributed throughout the world to deserving children everywhere. She saw how the poor children especially responded to such kindness and longed to give as the Christmas Spirits gave.

Becoming the Spirit of Christmas

Upon awakening, she told her mother all about her dream, and her mother made it come true. Effie became that Spirit of Christmas, dressed just like the Spirit in her dream, distributing Christmas magic to poor girls in a nearby orphanage.

Never again would Effie declare that she was “tired of Christmas!”

I loved the sweet and imaginative way that Louisa borrowed from the Dickens classic to create a story that would charm children into taking care of those less fortunate than themselves.

And I love the way that each story I read wraps me in the comfort of Christmases past while gently pricking my conscience here in the present to care more for those around me who are less fortunate.

I’ve never spent a Christmas before with Louisa May Alcott; it’s a Christmas I won’t soon forget.

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12 Replies to “Rewriting “A Christmas Carol” for children: “A Christmas Dream and How It Came True””

  1. Last winter my husband went on a Dickens’s kick, reading just about everything. He’s a much faster reader than I am! But I joined him, with knitting on hand, watching through I think 5 versions of the Christmas Carol, which remains his favorite Dickens — and is short. It was interesting to see how the adaptions, including Mr. Magoo, quoted verbatim, often the same lines: I think that shows some good writing going on. And if I’m not as enchanted as Louisa was, I can understand her devotion.

    Merry Christmas week!

    1. We just saw the Magoo version the other night! I like the one with Patrick Stewart best because it goes deeper into Scrooge’s past, like the book does.

      God bless audio books because I am such a slow reader (and it puts me to sleep, even if I love the book) – and God bless my long commute! 🙂

  2. Aw, this sounds like such a great story!! I can’t wait to read it!! Also, I’m glad you’re enjoying Dickens. I’ve started “The Battle of Life.” I’m starting to notice how Alcott may have been inspired by him (in the way they each set up scenes.) She’s got her own voice, of course, but I can see the influence a bit now.

    1. Dickens (from the little I’ve read so far, all of A Christmas Carol and half of The Chimes) appears to be pointed and edgy whereas Alcott is more directly preachy and sometimes a bit too sugary. However, she is also frequently very poignant. And her imagination just soars!

  3. Interesting post! Didn’t know about Louisa’s story and its tie to Dickens. One must be a fast and robust reader to get through his novels, and in the right “mood.” Visiting his home in London and Gads Hill Place in Kent definitely enhanced my appreciation of his work and life.

  4. Dickens is great! Which audio book did you listen to? My dad and I love the Patrick Stewart version. The full cast from librivox is good too. Jim Dale’s version uses the same voices as Harry Potter so it’s a little weird hearing Hagrid as the Ghost of Christmas Present, etc.

  5. Thanks for posting. But I needed to clear up one point: Dickens did NOT get paid by the word…Great website!

  6. It’s a testament to the enduring nature of “A Christmas Carol” that there have been so many retellings of the story in both books and movies. The most recent Dickens rewrite of “A Christmas Carol” is “The Legend of Decimus Croome: A Halloween Carol.”

    So far it is available in paperback & e-book only on, but hopefully it will soon be available in other outlets. I think it will make a great classic Halloween movie someday.

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