Last week I discussed why we should all write like Scrooge, and as I was writing that post I realized how far society has taken A Christmas Carol from its roots. I first read the story this year when I purchased a collection of Dickens’ ghost stories. A ghost story, as you all know, is a sub-genre of supernatural fiction, often horror stories. Of course, not everything with a ghost is horror (another common genre is comedy, or in the case of Ghost, mystery and romance). Since then, it’s been adapted and performed on stages worldwide, turned into animations for children, and comedies for adults, like Scrooged. While these adaptations offer new lenses on the classic tale, what about the original? Is it horror?
To be reclaimed, I must prove that it meets Stephen King’s 3 criteria: the gross-out, the horror, and the terror. The gross-out occurs through Dickens’ realism. People around Scrooge are struggling for their very lives, and he ignores it. There’s an overwhelming sense of disgust at him as a person. Dickens is a master at softening this blow with bitter humor, but the bleakness of the situation remains. The horror is the ghosts who come in the night, who get scarier and scarier in appearance and action. By the third one, Scrooge dreads what news will be brought. The terror is the greater implications of the book: Whose lives do we unwittingly terrorize? How well can we examine our pasts, come to terms with our scars, and be better than they would have us be? The terror is ourselves.
So the next time you share A Christmas Carol with your children, don’t forget to scare the wits out of them with those ghosts!
Have you seen or read anything that sneaked past the horror label? With claws outstretched, we’ll pull them back into the darkness with us, where they belong.