Nesting Comments of the Day again, as Belle’s reflections on how the cultural celebrations of Christmas made her feel “othered” as a child was met with many excellent responses and a lively thread. Pennagain’s (that is to say, the Commenter Previously Known As Penn) comment, however, surpassed tough competition, and thus we have the Comment of the Day on the post, Comment of the Day: “On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide”:
First impressions aren’t that easy to shrug off. Belle’s comment that she “was always sure that Ebenezer Scrooge was a commentary on the Jews” reawakened a long dormant spectre of mine. So, Google to the rescue, I went searching for the 65-year-old source and damned if I didn’t find it: My oldest Scrooge image is not from Dickens; it’s from the Rackham illustration of Shylock from Charles and Mary Lamb’s incomparable childrens’ (anyone’s!) introduction to Tales from Shakespeare:
Fiction abounds with misers, a sub-category of villains (often semi-comical: to jeer at), a stock character from Medieval times, especially in children’s stories, who are often more memorable — and way more fun to act out — than are heroes. Miserly villains tend to have the same features and characteristics: mean, suspicious, hoarding good will as well as gold, stooped, narrow-shouldered, and “clay-faced” life-denying penny-pinchers … as is another “Ebenezer” in Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” whose miserliness is ethically and morally beyond villainhood (he changes sides in the middle of a battle), or a father-and-son pair of Chuzzlewits in another Dicken’s classic, or Shylock himself — who has by the end of Scene 1, before he lends the money and (jokingly) adds the “interest” that is the basis of the tragedy, chosen love of money over love of his daughter.
Silas Marner has a similar appearance to start with but, like Dickens’ Christmas-friendly Carol he has a better nature lurking not far beneath the surface – and villain becomes hero. Alastair Sim in the 1951 version makes an early change to a smiling, generous Christmas celebrator who straightened up and smiled right. But just as what the Beast (in Beauty and) may do and appear as after the transformation to Handsome Prince is not what is remembered, the pictures of Sim used to advertise the movie are to my memory those of Shylock…
and a ten year old could (and did) easily confound the two. I can’t help believing that Belle, and many Jews, did the same or similar.
Early on, I was told by a classmate that he was not allowed to come to my house because “the Jews killed Christ” and I learned that lesson well. It overrides any later comparative religion data. At the time, an older cousin told me that probably my (former) playmate was jealous because he was only getting one gift on one day. That was far more satisfying than yelling “Jesus WAS a Jew, you stupid-stupid” as he walked away.
In later years, I leaned the Yuletide pleasures of chording the piano accompaniment for living-room choirs, stringing popcorn, hurling tangles of tinsel, juggling the delicate ornaments, even hunting (one very cold December just below timberline) the elusive Tree. I bought and sent greeting cards that said Merry Christmas and Oy to the World to the recipients who would most appreciate them (one year the latter went to everyone, but I never found them again). I bought gifts (for children) and still contribute to the annual firehouse collections. But Scrooge still looks like Shylock in my mind (with a little Grinch thrown in), and the classmate probably couldn’t recall, if he tried, the origin of his bias against Jews.
After reading these posts and replies, however, I have to admit to myself that I have just been using the over-commercialization, the hideous public decor, the commitment to guesting at drunken parties or groaning boards that lead to a groaning stomach — not to mention having to fill in on the crisis lines on December 25th — as an excuse. The truth is the “holiday” season brings out the curmudgeonly in me; underneath the peaked red cap with the faux fur border and pompom on top I am bearish, cranky and cross. So I will admit that what I really really want to do is put up the heat, my feet, and a bottle to cool, grab a plateful of Mexican wedding cookies and pickled herring (maybe separate plates: kosher, you know) … and watch a good movie:
It’s meagain…with pennagain’s indulgence, let me make this small addition to pennagain’s post: that’s a good movie, but I think this one is better: