Novella review: A Christmas Carol [En julsaga] by Charles Dickens, Swedish translation by Nils Holmberg (Peter Pauper Press, Inc / Monica Lindhs Presentböcker AB, 1993 )
In this classic Christmas tale, Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge is a stern and stingy man whose attitude to Christmas is “Bah! Humbug!” He hates everything that goes with the holidays – the cheerfulness of people, the charity collectors, the carol singing, you name it. He especially hates being in a good mood and spending money on frivolous things, like coal to warm up the office.
On the night to Christmas Day, he’s visited by the ghost of his former business associate, who is bound to walk the earth because of the heavy chain he forged for himself in life by being a miserable, tightfisted, joyless git. He wants to save his friend from the same fate, and tells Scrooge three ghosts will visit him, and to take heed.
“Bah! Humbug!” says Scrooge, and is then visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, who show him that he didn’t always hate Christmas, what those around him are currently doing for their holidays, and what’s going to happen if he continues being the way he is.
A Christmas Carol is a morality tale, of sorts. It tells us that even if we’re poor, there’s no need to not be in a festive and kind spirit regardless. It’s full of Christmas cheer and everything the holiday is meant to be, if you shave off the whole commercialist present-guzzling thing. Be nice to people and be generous, because even if you’re well off money-wise, you can still be generous in other ways.
Dickens also manages to give us a wonderful sense of the season by the scenes he’s describing. Sure, it’s set in a smoky London (the air is actually described as “brown”), but the stories of Christmas pudding, roasting chestnuts and turkey feels festive even to me, who come from a country where neither that yucky pudding or turkeys form part of the celebrations, and chestnuts … well, we tend to only go as far as cracking walnuts and hazelnuts.
The biggest gripe I have with this particular book is not the content in itself – it reads very well, even though Scrooge seems to transform pretty much at the drop of a hat (seriously, he gets all doe-eyed at the very first Christmas Past!) – but the Swedish translation. Not blaming Nils Holmberg for this at all, mind; he did a fine job. It’s just that I find the very fact that it’s been translated at all to be distracting. On the other hand, this gift book edition was given to me by my oldest sister, as a Christmas present in 1995 (I’ve written so on the inside cover), so that makes it special to me. Then again, I suppose the translation isn’t nearly as frightening as that of Jane Eyre, which just sounds incredibly wrong in Swedish. Charlotte Brontë doesn’t translate very well – at least Dickens doesn’t fare quite as badly.
If you’re after a good story to sit in front of a roaring fire, reading aloud to your loved ones, look no further. This is the Christmas story, and there’s a reason it’s still in print and still so popular. Scrooge might be an unpleasant fellow to deal with, but what does it matter? It’s Christmas, after all …
4.7 out of 5 crutches, but it might well be a 5 out of 5 if I re-read it in its original English.