In early October 1843, his fortunes at such a low ebb that he was deeply in debt to his publishers, Charles Dickens conceived the idea of a novella celebrating the Christmas spirit. It would have to be written in no more than six weeks, then illustrated, printed, bound and distributed to booksellers before the holiday itself.

Rendering this herculean task even less probable of success was the fact that his publishers would have nothing to do with it. They regarded the whole enterprise as sheer desperation, and were not about to throw good money after bad. This would surely have dissuaded a lesser man than England’s first and greatest popular novelist.

Instead, Dickens undertook to publish A Christmas Carol himself. This he did, in a burst of creativity and energy which is virtually without peer in the history of literature. On December 19, he had 6,000 copies ready for sale. They were gone in three days.

A second printing was rushed through, and then – before the passing of the New Year – a third was ordered. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print from that day to this; it may be the most beloved work of fiction in the English language. Indeed, it’s been suggested that if every extant copy were suddenly to disappear, there would be enough people who know the book’s 30,000 words by heart that together they could recreate it.

The story of Dickens’ achievement, and of its salutary effect on what had hitherto been a holiday of secondary importance – completely overshadowed by Easter – is told with equal parts charm and erudition by Les Standiford in his delightful little book The Man Who Invented Christmas. I commend it to your attention this holiday season, and will be surprised if you don’t get a terrific kick out of it. (A film of the same title made from Mr. Standiford’s book is significantly less successful, despite a bravura performance by Christopher Plummer as Scrooge.)

But speaking of films, the Robert Zemeckis – Jim Carrey CGI Disney’s A Christmas Carol is probably the best introduction you could possibly give your kids – short of actually reading the book to them. And you yourself will be impressed by that film’s extraordinary faithfulness to the original text, as well as its creation of scenes in the book that could never before have been filmed.  

Finally, if you’re going to be in New York City between now and early January, treat yourself to a visit to the Morgan Library, which during the holiday season exhibits Dickens’ original manuscript. If you love the book nearly as much as I do – and who doesn’t – this is a genuinely magical experience.

© 2019 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. The new book Nick Murray’s Scripts was published at Thanksgiving, and is available only at