Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol – Stave Four, The Last of the Spirits
Of all the staves, this is probably the easiest one to get right on film. The spirit is nothing more than a black, hooded robe with a “spectral” hand outstretched. There are a few conversations about the death (Scrooge doesn’t realize it is his own death, but it’s obvious to the audience). Then a scene where the dead man’s belongings are being sold. Then a scene where a married couple is brought joy by the death because they will get more time to pay their loan. Then there is a scene with the Cratchits mourning the loss of Tiny Tim. Finally, the iconic graveyard scene where Scrooge realizes that it is his own death that inspired insensitive jokes, business opportunities and joy.
The mood of the last spirit is closer to stave one than anything else. It feels like a legitimate ghost story. The spirit is a clear symbol of death. He does not speak. Everything is dark and creepy. The fact that Scrooge recognizes it as such shows that the visitations have been a success. But we won’t get any light until the end.
The hardest part of this stave, for me, is the Cratchits. Bob and his family just occupy a world that is completely alien to me. Tiny Tim has just died. Not only does Bob say that he is happy, the narrator confirms Bob’s happiness. I know that almost 200 years ago, death in childhood was common and people dealt with it differently. And I know that their religious beliefs are different than mine. But, I can’t imagine anything close to happiness if I were in Bob’s shoes. I could imagine him being brave for his other children, but not happy. I read this book every year, and every year it’s the same sense of bafflement. It’s not that I fail to believe the characterization. It’s that I just cannot understand it.
This stave ends, like the second, with Scrooge struggling with the spirit. It’s a nice parallel. Both the first and third spirits cause Scrooge great distress. It’s the second spirit that is different. Both the first and the third focus mostly on Scrooge. The second focuses on others. Both the first and third return Scrooge to his bed chamber. The second does not. And I can’t help but think that it is the first and the third spirits that really cause the change that we will see in the final stave.