Why We Should Ban Any New “Christmas Carol” and Re-Tune Victorian Hymns

Not gluten-free.

Not gluten-free.

The BBC’s classical music site published this article about the Victorians and Christmas stories.  The Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol is among them, but so too some more obscure (at least, obscure to me) work by George Eliot and others.

Cool night-cap.

Cool night-cap.

As novelist John Irving  noted in an introduction to A Christmas Carol, the work is essentially a Christian ghost story about human transformation:

Scrooge is such a pillar of skepticism, he at first resists believing in Marley’s Ghost. “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” Yet Scrooge is converted; beyond the seasonal lessons of Christian charity, A Christmas Carol teaches us that a man—even a man as hard as Ebenezer Scrooge—can change. What is heartening about the change in Scrooge is that he learns to love his fellowman; in the politically correct language of our insipid times, Scrooge learns to be more caring. But, typical of Dickens, Scrooge has undergone a deeper transformation; that he is persuaded to believe in ghosts, for example, means that Scrooge has been miraculously returned to his childhood—and to a child’s powers of imagination and make-believe.

Most of us have seen so many renditions of A Christmas Carol that we imagine we know the story, but how long has it been since we’ve actually read it? Each Christmas, we are assaulted with a new Carol; indeed, we’re fortunate if all we see is the delightful Alastair Sim. One year, we suffer through some treacle6 in a western setting; Scrooge is a grizzled cattle baron, tediously unkind to his cows. Another year, poor Tiny Tim hobbles about in the Bronx or in Brooklyn; old Ebenezer is an unrepentant slum landlord. . . . We should spare ourselves these sentimentalized enactments and reread the original—or read it for the first time, as the case may be.

The Alistair Sim version is a classic, but my favorite is the 1984 version with George C. Scott as Scrooge:


As noted in this Economist book review, the Victorians were also great — perhaps the greatest — hymn-writers, unafflicted by the grinning, emoji-level landscape of most “Contemporary Christian Music”:

[H]ymn-books were the bestsellers of the age. Hymns were a vital part of popular culture: their texts appeared on posters, tombstones and in school reading-books and they were the primary means of teaching the principles of Christianity to adults and children alike. “Let me write the hymns of the church,” one preacher maintained, “and I care not who writes the theology.”

A marvelous contemporary antidote to the milktoast of much CCM  is found in the work of Indelible Grace, a movement that “re-tunes” old hymns — many of them Victorian.  Here is a look:

 The tunes, although all within the same rootsy bandwith, are lovely, and the theology solid.