Friday, December 21, 2012

It's A Wonderful Carol

So, are there any stories based on A Christmas Carol or influenced by it that we might not realize are inspired by it?

I'd say... Yes!

There is a very famous film based on a short story called "The Greatest Gift" that had been privately printed by its writer, Philip Van Doren Stern. The film highly expanded on it, and was released in 1946 as It's A Wonderful Life.

The film tells the story of the life of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who starts as a aspiring young man who wants to travel the world, but repeatedly winds up making decisions (normally to help others) that keep him in his hometown of Bedford Falls. Soon, he has a loving wife (Donna Reed) and family.

In the film, George's past life is shown to the angel Clarence (Henry Travers) before he is sent to earth on a fateful Christmas Eve where George Bailey will get a chance to see a desperate wish fulfilled: that he was never born.

Bedford Falls is now Pottersville, mainly owned by the miserly Mr. Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore, who had played Scrooge annually on a radio adaptation of A Christmas Carol), and full of casinos and other businesses of questionable morals, far from the wholesome hometown George knew. An entire ship of army men was shot down in World War II due to George's brother Harry having died because George was not there to save him from drowning as a child, and his wife Mary is an old maid.

Horrified at what his lack of existence has done, George revokes his wish and realizes that while he might not have done what he wanted to, he's actually done so much more at home.

So, how is this story like A Christmas Carol? By reversing the protagonist. Instead of the bitter Scrooge who has not contributed anything positive to society, we have a man who has actually kept his community clean, though he didn't realize it. Instead of a bad man, we follow a good man who fears that he is about to hit rock bottom.

We see George's past, though he doesn't see it himself (though he is made to appreciate it), and instead of a dark future, we see a dark alternate present. Instead of the Ghosts, we have one Angel. But still, we have the major point of a man's life affecting others and how, thanks to divine intervention, he has an epiphany that makes him re-evaluate his life.

Did the makers of It's A Wonderful Life or the writer of "The Greatest Gift" consciously take their idea from Dickens? Maybe. I haven't seen anyone claim so, but Dickens' story was popular, so it could be that it wasn't a conscious take.

But at any rate, even if it does make some similar points, It's A Wonderful Life is definitely worthy of its own status apart from A Christmas Carol, but its possible origins in Dickens are well worth speculating on.

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