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Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Review

Mr. Dickens and His Carol

The most astonishing and impressive fact about screenwriter Samantha Silva’s debut is that it is entirely a work of fiction. MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL goes very much in depth into the creation of Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL. It also coincides nicely with the recently released film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens as a young Charles Dickens and Oscar winner Christopher Plummer as his most famous character, Ebenezer Scrooge.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL has a special place in my heart and is one of my all-time favorite novels. My grandparents gifted me with a hardbound, illustrated edition when I was eight years old. Since then, it may be the book I have read more times than any other. I created a tradition of reading it just before I go to bed on Christmas Eve and continue doing so to this very day. As an actor, I was fortunate to have played Scrooge in a holiday staging of A CHRISTMAS CAROL 10 times, which was always an emotionally wrenching and uplifting experience.

With the release of MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL, Silva takes readers on a personal journey inside the heart and mind of Dickens during the entire creation process for the novel. This story remains so valid and important today because, at its heart, it’s a tale of redemption of the spirit and the prospect of second chances --- something most of wish we had the opportunity to have.

"MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL will enlighten and entertain all --- but for fans of Dickens and A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the end result is a treat for the mind and senses that compares with opening up a special present on Christmas morning."

Directly on the heels of his first commercial and critical flop, MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT, Dickens was urged by his publisher to bounce right back with another work. He had a very short deadline as the expectation was for a completed novel during the holiday season. Throughout this book, we are treated to references to the finished novel we all know so well. What Silva does is take it a step further, putting people and places directly in Dickens’ path for inspiration and the expected insertion into A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Since Dickens was under such a substantial time commitment, he had no choice but to incorporate things from his own life into the tale. Early on, an eager young fan awaits a personal autograph made out to Jacob Marley. When the fan turns out to have mistaken Dickens for William Makepeace Thackeray, in a most rude manner, Dickens vows to use his name for a doomed character in his book, one who will be “dead as a doornail.”

Dickens is dealing with pressure on the home front as well. His wife, Catherine, is quite demanding, while at the same time her presence can be distracting to the creative process. She takes the children and heads for the solace of her own family, leaving him to fend for himself and concentrate exclusively on his latest project. Financially, Dickens knows they are done if he does not produce a Christmas novel that will sell in droves.

We meet Dickens' brother, Fred, a kindly man who immediately becomes the muse for Scrooge's exceedingly enthusiastic and determined young nephew. It's also nice to see Dickens spend time with his literary circle of friends. The reference to one of his best friends, Wilkie Collins, immediately called to mind Dan Simmons' DROOD, which featured both Dickens and Collins. Dickens tortures himself to come up with the right name for his lead character. After several failed attempts at the perfect name, he eventually settles on Ebenezer Scrooge. The rest, you can say, is history.

The tone of the book is equally as important as the character names. Dickens and Fred actually have an ironic disagreement when Fred refers to Christmas as beginning with the heart while Dickens claims it begins with the purse. Things are moving quite slowly for Dickens until he meets an extraordinary woman named Eleanor, who regales him with stories that inspire his own creativity. She also introduces him to her young son, Timothy. While the reference to Timothy is more than self-evident, the role Eleanor will play is decidedly different. Her relationship with Dickens will be instrumental in his development of Jacob Marley and the part he will play in Scrooge's life.

Perhaps the most important piece in the novel's creation is the right title. After several attempts, Dickens settles on “A Christmas Carol.” This inspiration comes to him when watching Eleanor sing a carol to her son.

Samantha Silva is obviously a huge Charles Dickens fan, and her command of the source material she utilizes for creating her own novel is impressive. MR. DICKENS AND HIS CAROL will enlighten and entertain all --- but for fans of Dickens and A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the end result is a treat for the mind and senses that compares with opening up a special present on Christmas morning.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 1, 2017

Mr. Dickens and His Carol
by Samantha Silva

  • Publication Date: October 31, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250154049
  • ISBN-13: 9781250154040