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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

Novella review: A Christmas Carol [En julsaga] by Charles Dickens, Swedish translation by Nils Holmberg (Peter Pauper Press, Inc / Monica Lindhs Presentböcker AB, 1993 [1843])

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.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

2 thoughts on “A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)

  1. It would be interesting to have an example of a sentence or too and how the resulting translation might vary. Have you ever considered being a translator? If I’m not mistaken, I think that is what Dezmond from Hollywood Spy blog does for a living.
    I do love this story, and was lucky to see it performed on stage several years ago. My son particularly enjoyed it. It was amazing to see how a live production can manufacture the ghostly fantasy scenes so well.

  2. Live productions, films, Muppets, you name it. They’ve probably made more adaptations of this than they have of Jane Eyre and that’s quite an accomplishment! 😉

    Sometimes it’s not that the translation is bad, it’s just that … it sounds wrong in another language. Dickens and Brontë sounded wrong – the Swedish translation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy isn’t to my liking and never has been. The original Swedish translation of LotR was so NOT to Tolkien’s taste (he knew the language) that he supposedly forbade the translator from ever translating his works again. (I mean, why on earth did he choose to call a hobbit a “hob” (pronounced “hoob”) anyway? Sounds way too serious, whereas “hobbit” just works.)

    I’ve done some translating work when I worked in IT support – got to translate some documents and proofread and stuff like that. As I’m technically freelancing, I’m up for anything. 🙂 For most translating jobs, you’re generally required some sort of specific education … what’s wrong with just being bilingual and literate?!

    What I’d like to do is to translate Gaskell’s North & South, as there seems to be a shocking lack of a Swedish translation. Just a question of having the time. :/

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