by Edwin L. Carpenter – Editor, The Dove Foundation
As sugar plumbs dance in some people’s heads and white snow begins to drift earthward, author Stephen Skelton has released a new book in time for the holidays. It is titled “A Christmas Carol: Special Church Edition.” Skelton has focused his attention on the author, Charles Dickens, and his Christian intent in writing what became a holiday favorite and literary standard. The new book, priced affordably at $1.99 per copy, includes the entire novel along with copious study notes on the margins of each page.
Skelton, author of “The Gospel According to the World’s Greatest Superhero”, a book about the connections between Christ and the creation of the Superman character, recently spoke with The Dove Foundation about his new book.
Our first question aimed at Stephen was: Why “A Christmas Carol”?
“When I was doing the ‘Christmas Carol’ video-based Bible study last year, and doing the research for that, I learned that Charles Dickens was a Christian—that he wove this gospel parallel into ‘A Christmas Carol’ on purpose, and as evident as that is in the movie version, it’s even more so in the novel itself.”
“We created this little church hand-out book that features the complete text of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’—and the neat thing is that we featured running notes in the margins of each page, tracking passage for passage through ‘A Christmas Carol’ and telling you where Dickens is revealing his Christian faith.”
Skelton said Dickens would subtly reference scriptures, and character’s names reflected Biblical meanings. “In fact, certain passages don’t make any sense if you don’t know your Bible,” he said. “From a Christian perspective, it makes the reading of that novel a much more fulfilling and rewarding and surprising experience.”
“One example is the title of the book. Today we may think of a carol as a secular seasonal song such as ‘Jingle Bells’. But Dickens didn’t know that meaning. Dickens is using the original meaning of ‘a Christmas carol,’ which is a song celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Then, to reinforce that his novel was a song celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Dickens did not call the sections of his book chapters, he called them staves, which means the stanzas of a song.”
Skelton continued, “Another example, when the ghost of Jacob Marley shows up, he’s transparent. And Dickens writes, ‘Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.’ Which makes no sense unless you understand that Dickens is actually referring to the book of l John where John mentions our “bowels of compassion.” And so if you don’t understand it’s compassion that Dickens is actually talking about, you miss his meaning—and the reason for Marley’s eternal damnation.”
Pressed for another example, Skelton revealed the hidden meaning behind a very well-known name. “One of the main characters is Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim’s dad and Scrooge’s clerk. In using the name ‘Cratchit,’ Dickens has used the root word ‘cratch.’ That is the old English word for crèche, or the manger of baby Jesus.”
“We took that version of the ‘Christmas Carol’ with Seymour Hicks, portraying Ebenezer Scrooge, and we divided it up into four clips as we cover the four main principles on which Dickens built his Christian redemption tale.”
“Dickens established the first part of the story to deal with the principle of selfishness. This would take us from the introduction of the story all the way up till the ghost of Jacob Marley appears. Next he moves into the principle of regret, which Scrooge experiences with the Spirit of Christmas Past. Then, Scrooge experiences repentance with the Spirit of Christmas Present. And finally, Scrooge experiences salvation when he prays for forgiveness as the Spirit of Christmas Future leaves him. So the Bible study takes you from selfishness to regret to repentance to salvation—which is not only Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey, but it’s our journey as well.”
Skelton added that when Dickens wrote this story that people rather easily identified with it, but our culture has changed “and the Bible, regrettably, is no longer the common ground, the common language of people, yet the stories that celebrate that common language such as ‘A Christmas Carol’ continue to be celebrated and embraced—which allows an excellent opportunity for Christians to reveal what biblical meaning actually calls people to that story.”
Skelton shared an anecdote about some of the misunderstandings people have concerning Dickens. “I had a friend who told his father—a well educated man around 65—about the “Christmas Carol: Special Church Edition.” And when he told his father that ‘A Christmas Carol’ is infused with Christian meaning, his father sat straight up in his chair and said, ‘But Charles Dickens was an atheist!’ ”
“My friend had to correct him and say, ‘No, Charles Dickens wasn’t an atheist,’ but what he was combating there was the perception that all of our great literary giants must have been atheist, must not have been Christians, or the Christians would have done a better job in proclaiming that. So that, in the public perception, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” would find its rightful place alongside the likes of C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ or J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’—alongside other acknowledged works of celebrated Christian fiction.”
We asked Skelton if he was surprised by anything he learned regarding Dickens. “In fact it was the revelation that he was such a dedicated Christian, and so concerned that his children would know Christ, that he wrote a book called ‘The Life of our Lord’ that was his retelling of the gospel and was intended only for his children.”
The first chapter of “A Christmas Carol: Special Church Edition” has been posted on-line at the ministry website, which can be found at www.EntMin.com The book can also be ordered at this site or by calling the toll-free number 1-800-999-0101.
Chuckling, Skelton added that, although the book was originally meant as a hand-out to church members and visitors, due to the low price of $1.99, the books cost less than some Christmas cards, and so people are also using them in place of cards, small gifts and stocking stuffers. A “To” and “From” blank at the front of the book makes it even more appropriate for gift-giving.
In closing Skelton finished the interview with a nice statement. “It has brought me great joy to discover that the greatest Christmas classic was based on the Greatest Story Ever Told.”
Read Dove’s Previous Interview with Author Steven Skelton