(Dec. 11, 2022) — Millions of people read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” this time of year. After all, it has so much going for it: 18th and 19th century Britain, with its dark and cruel history of child labor, debtors’ prisons, collapsing mines, poverty and filth.
Of course, it also has the sounds of carols sung by the rich and the poor alike. And what reader doesn’t love a great ghost story?
Well, now it’s time to read its prequel, “Marley’s Ghost,” by California writer Mark Hazard Osmun. We know from “A Christmas Carol” that stingy, mean-hearted Ebeneezer Scrooge is scared into redemption by four ghosts: the Ghost of Christmas Past, of Christmas Present and of Christmas Yet to Come – along with the ghost who prepares Ebeneezer to meet these spirits, that of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, long dead, “dead as a doornail.”
The ghost of Ebeneezer’s past lets us see what his youth was like. Even though the ghost of the present tells us how miserly and intentionally mean he is not only to young Cratchit, but to all the needy, Dickens does not tell the reader exactly how Ebeneezer came to be that way or how he met up with Jacob Marley.
Osmun brings Dicken’s Jacob Marley to life, which in literary terminology means Osmun has given us Marley’s backstory. Jacob Marley was not always his name. He is born Jake Turner and is a whiz with numbers. His twin brother, Ezra, is a musical savant, which means that most people find Ezra very odd. The boys are orphaned when only 10. Before his mother dies, Jake promises her he will always look after his brother.
To survive, both Jake and Ezra go to work in the coal mines, where deplorable working conditions are augmented by Jake’s math talents when playing cards with older miners. Jake is prevented from fulfilling his promise to his mother when a mine collapse separates the brothers. Jake never forgets his promise, even after he is “dead as a doornail.”
The mine collapse is followed by a false conviction of murder, imprisonment and, years later, a chance rescue by a former prisoner who promises to help Jake (whose name then becomes Jacob Marley) find his brother if he will use his math talents by going into business with him.
Money and a fearsome hatred of mankind become Marley’s goals, with little room for kindness. Scrooge comes into his life with a similarly hardened heart, easily encouraged to new, deeper depths of ill-will by Marley.
Seven years before Scrooge’s ghosts, Marley has his own deathbed encounter with a spirit(s), and forgiveness, often hard to recognize, gains importance. Marley, chain-shackled, has much to learn before he can counsel Ebeneezer.
Then Osmun adds a twist to Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Is it believable? Does it matter? Or has Tiny Tim always had it right, “God bless us, everyone?”
Sunny Solomon holds an MA in English/Creative Writing, San Francisco State University. She is a book reviewer for “The Clayton Pioneer” and her poetry and other writing has been published in literary journals, one chapbook, In the Company of Hope and the collection, Six Poets Sixty-six Poems. She was the happy manager of Bonanza Books, Clayton, CA and Clayton Books, Clayton, CA. She continues to moderate a thriving book club that survived the closure of the store from which it began. Sunny currently lives next to the Truckee in Reno, NV.