Scrooge finds happiness
This week A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Some would say Charles Dickens is England's greatest novelist.
He lived in Victorian times, and his books capture the range of that society - from its poorest to its richest people. During his time, the extremes of wealth and poverty were much greater than today.
Poor people could not hope to be looked after by the state, so charity and benevolence were even more important to cushion the suffering. Dickens shows the importance of these human qualities.
He also had a sharp eye for comedy with regard to people's behaviour and he used this to great effect in his novels.
A Christmas Carol is one of his best-loved stories and is a good introduction to his writing.
Scrooge: a mean person
One of the best tributes to any writer is when he invents a character whose name becomes part of the language.
To be a scrooge now means to be mean and miserly - to keep all your money rather than use it to spread happiness.
Say the word 'scrooge' aloud and feel your face screw up. It is a name that even sounds like what it describes.
Christmas - humbug!
The story is set at Christmas because this is the traditional time of generosity and goodwill, love and happiness. Scrooge will have nothing to do with all that. He uses the word 'humbug' to describe it, meaning that it is a lot of nonsense. He will not light up more candles than is necessary, nor use more coal for the fire to keep himself warm. He will certainly not waste money on entertainment or charity. He treats his clerk, Bob Cratchit, cruelly.
The three spirits
As Scrooge sleeps, the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, appears. Marley brings along three spirits - the spirits of the past, the present and the future.
These are frightening experiences for Scrooge. They provide him with startling pictures of what life is like when people are cruel and mean. They frighten him into realising that there is a better way to live.
Most powerfully, he sees himself dead in the future. He sees that people will not grieve for him, and they will not say kind words about him.
Dickens was a Christian, and he asks questions about the purpose of our lives.
If we don't help others, what is the purpose of our lives? What have we done with the great gift of life itself?
A triumph of joy
The end of the story is a triumph of joy and of the generosity of the human spirit.
Scrooge rushes out to buy a huge turkey which he sends to the house of his long-suffering clerk, Bob.
He goes for Christmas dinner with his nephew Fred, and even gives Bob a pay rise.
All the time Scrooge is laughing and smiling - the first time he has experienced such emotions in many years. Dickens' message is simple, but powerful.
He shows us that if you are generous and kind-hearted, there are two benefits. Other people obviously benefit from your goodwill and charity. In addition, you will also feel a lot better and gain happiness from giving.
Some key themes
There is a lot to talk about this story. You can start with the characters and how Dickens makes them come alive for us. You can examine the kind of society he is portraying, and its similarities and differences from our own.
You can discuss the values that he is promoting, and whether they are still valid today.
I hope you go on and read other stories that he has written - they've brought pleasure to millions of readers!