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Author Topic: EP375: Marley and Cratchit  (Read 2172 times)
eytanz
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« on: December 23, 2012, 05:23:41 AM »

EP375: Marley and Cratchit

By David Steffen

Read by Emma Newman

---

STAVE 1: THE MARVELOUS MACHINE

In those days Jacob Marley was full of life and vigor. His smile shone so that anyone who saw him soon smiled widely in return. A moment in his presence would make one’s worst burdens seem lighter. His optimism and generosity brought out the best in others, catching easily as a torch in dry straw.

Those were happy, hopeful times. Ebenezer Scrooge, the pinch-faced and greedy miser, would not weigh on his mind until many years later. In those later years the two men’s appearances matched as twins, and their customers would often confuse one for the other. But in every other manner they were as different as two men could be. I will speak further of Scrooge, but not yet, for this is not his tale. In these days long gone, Jacob Marley was a portly man, neatly dressed and neatly groomed, with hair black as pitch and never a whisker on his face. Marley entered the shop on that momentous day in the manner with which he was accustomed, swinging the door wide and exclaiming “Hallo!” to his business partner in a sonorous voice that any Shakespearian actor would envy. His jowls swung with the force of his entry, and wobbled like a custard for quite some time after. His clothes were not of the finest material, but were fine enough for a man of his young age, a sign of the moderate inheritance left him by his father the year prior. The front office held two desks, one tidy and one covered with heaps of paper and mechanisms.

Behind the cluttered desk Bob Cratchit looked up with a quiet smile. Where Marley was expansive and memorable, Cratchit was small and quiet and utterly forgettable. He was a pleasant man, so pleasant that I have only ever known one man to ever speak crossly of him: Scrooge, that nasty old miser who spoke crossly of everyone, regardless of cause. Look! He has intruded again upon our story where he is not wanted. I will speak of him no more until his presence enters upon the story.

Although Cratchit was a pleasant man, and earnest, he was easily
forgotten, apt to leave no lasting impression on the memory. In fact,
even I can no longer bring his features clearly to my mind. All I can
say of his appearance is that he was exceedingly ordinary in every respect, and he was of an age with his partner, both old enough to have earned their own reputation, but young enough to hold wild and optimistic musings of their future. Cratchit’s forgettable appearance suited him well enough, because people made him unaccountably nervous, and he found even idle conversation to be terribly taxing. If no one remembered him, then no one would seek him out and he would be left to his alchemy. In those days he did little else, his efforts supported by Marley’s coffers in the hopes of finding something to build a business on.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2012, 07:02:11 AM »

Wow, first. Never happened to me before.

First things first: the reading was excellent. Very well done Ms. Newman.
And now we can get down to business.
The story was pretty good. One indication of that was that I was totally immersed in the story, and totally swept away by it.
I did catch on to the reveal about Scrooge very early on, so that came as no surprise.
I never actually did read the original A Christmas Carol, I can't seem to ever make it through an entire Dickens story. :\
But I am familiar with it, and this as a sort of prolog is pretty cool.
A well written and a well-told story.
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2012, 09:51:07 AM »

This thread was dead, to begin with.  There is no doubt whatsoever about that.  The view count was low, there was but a single reply, and the days had passed in quantity before anything new was written.  The old thread was dead as a doornail.  I'd like to change that; as I loved this story.

This reminds me of Wicked in how that book grapples with The Wizard of Oz, takes a story that we think we KNOW and through modified context, changes almost everything about it into something new.  It's not a remix or a reboot, it's an entirely new worldview that the original Christmas Carol plugs into like a Lego block, and I fracking love Lego.  Well, except for when in the darkness I step upon an errant piece and find myself transported through a whirlwind of pain to stumble as if shoved by the ghost of toys past, of course.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2012, 10:39:45 AM »

Exactly what I was thinking, Thunderscreech. This is story is to A Christmas Carol what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz. It was an interesting and fun look at a possible past for all the Christmas Carol characters. I loved the idea that Scrooge is a split personality of Marley, like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing. I also love how Fred is actually Marley's nephew, but as he's in on the whole thing, he still refers to Scrooge as "Uncle".

One thing I couldn't figure out, and maybe it's not meant to be an actual character, but who was the narrator? We must assume she's female as the reader was female, but who is she? She has an intimate knowledge of all the characters, knowing as much as the inner desires of Bob Cratchit. For a while I expected her to turn out to be Molly Cratchit, but that wasn't the case, unless I missed it. Perhaps she is no one other than the narrator, but with the way she spoke to the reader as sharing a story she was a part of, it would annoy me if she was nothing more.

Finally, props to Unblinking. You did a wonderful job with this tale and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The voice of the piece was fantastic as was the writing itself.
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« Reply #4 on: December 27, 2012, 11:30:45 AM »

One thing I couldn't figure out, and maybe it's not meant to be an actual character, but who was the narrator? We must assume she's female as the reader was female, but who is she? She has an intimate knowledge of all the characters, knowing as much as the inner desires of Bob Cratchit.
It's obvious who she is. It's Lachesis.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2012, 01:58:44 PM »

This thread was dead, to begin with.  There is no doubt whatsoever about that.  The view count was low, there was but a single reply, and the days had passed in quantity before anything new was written.  The old thread was dead as a doornail.  I'd like to change that; as I loved this story.

Eh, it's the week of Christmas. Smiley

Anyway, I really enjoyed this story! I was a bit slow on the uptake, which made the gradual reveal all the more exciting for me as pieces began to fall into place. The idea of the crystal allowing the holder to follow the various threads of possible lives throughout time was awesome! And the scene where Scrooge tricked Cratchit into revealing his hope of helping Marley was particularly creepy. The story did start to feel like a slow spiral of inevitability about the time that Cratchit returns to London, however, I enjoyed seeing the story end up right where the traditional story begins. Also, like Cutty McKay, I am left wondering about the identity of the narrator.
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« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2012, 04:04:13 PM »

I enjoyed this story.  The reading was well done, the story drew me in, made me curious just how this story was going to hook up later with A Christmas Carol.  My only minor concern was that as we draw to the end of the story, the shift seems to be a little awkward.  Sort of one of those '*poof* A Miracle Occurs Here' moment and we have a clerk and the stage is set for how we get to the original story.  The build up to that was very nice, well done, but this part felt forced to some degree.
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« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2012, 09:55:41 AM »


Finally, props to Unblinking. You did a wonderful job with this tale and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The voice of the piece was fantastic as was the writing itself.
Yes indeed. I almost missed this as I didn't seem to get the email - maybe that happened to other people and that's why the thread was dead? Anyway, I'm delighted I found it - a cracking good story that could have been painfully derivative and was absolutely not.
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« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2012, 10:02:54 AM »


First things first: the reading was excellent. Very well done Ms. Newman.

Here here. [It's been a good year to be British but we'll go back to cynical snarking come 2013, be assured]
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2012, 12:57:15 PM »

And here I expected people to be complaining that this is not, strictly speaking, Science Fiction  Smiley

(I didn't mind; it's Christmas)

My only question is how this actually plugs into "A Christmas Carol", as I'm fairly sure there are references (in flashback, or cited in the past) of Scrooge and Marley actually being in the same room at the same time, and not just from Scrooge.

Though I'm prepared to be wrong.
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2012, 01:37:50 PM »

My only question is how this actually plugs into "A Christmas Carol", as I'm fairly sure there are references (in flashback, or cited in the past) of Scrooge and Marley actually being in the same room at the same time, and not just from Scrooge.
To my recollection, the closest to this is in the opening chapter where Marley's death is indicated as being witnessed and certified by the undertaker, doctor, etc.
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« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2012, 01:45:49 PM »

I'm going to sound like - well - like a bit of a Scrooge when I say this, but this is the first A Christmas Carol take-off that has actually entertained me in years. I think this is a testament to the author's skill and to how freaking tired and overused A Christmas Carol is.

Maybe it's 'cause I'm Jewish?

Anyway, at least it wasn't another Santa Clause story. Urgh. I am sick to death of Santa Clause stories.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2012, 03:56:27 PM »

I'm going to sound like - well - like a bit of a Scrooge when I say this, but this is the first A Christmas Carol take-off that has actually entertained me in years. I think this is a testament to the author's skill and to how freaking tired and overused A Christmas Carol is.

Maybe it's 'cause I'm Jewish?

Anyway, at least it wasn't another Santa Clause story. Urgh. I am sick to death of Santa Clause stories.



Haha, we should raise a cry for more Chanukah stories!
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statisticus
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« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2012, 09:54:19 PM »

I'm going to express a minority view here by the look of it, but this one left me cold.  A major flaw to me was that though it was nominally based on A Christmas Carol the story departed from it on too many levels.  We have Cratchit as a partner in the firm instead of Scrooge, we have Marley as a cheerful, friendly person instead of the clone of Scrooge which he is in Dickens,  we have the addition of alchemy and magic to the story. I could perhaps have dealt with one of these, but making all those changes at once departed too far from the original for my suspension of disbelief to handle - especially the last.  I couldn't actually finish this one; the story differences were too large and the story itself not absorbing enough to keep me going despite it.

I don't really think this works with A Christmas Carol like Wicked & Wizard of Oz.  Although both stories are re-imaginings of their original, in this case the addition of the alchemical element is too foreign to Dickens. In Wicked most of the additions are political, which is a universal of all worlds; here the addition of the magical/mythological element is too big a leap - at least for me.

Now, where did I leave my jar of Humbugs...
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« Reply #14 on: December 29, 2012, 12:30:46 AM »

Great tale, well told -- loved it.

I deny the Wicked comparison too, but only because this was more entertaining in 30 minutes than Wicked is in all of it's boring incarnations, IMO.

...We have Cratchit as a partner in the firm instead of Scrooge...

We have Cratchit /starting/ as a partner of Marley. When he returns from world travels, it's as a debtor as he attempts to settle down with the new family. Debtors are Scrooge's specialty, so we have grounds for the "enslavement." And guilt keeps Cratchit coming back when he could just leave (which I honestly think is the only weak tie in the story. I mean, really, most folks would hang on for a bit, but in the face of a true Jeckyll/Hyde scenario, we'd move our families out of the blast radius).

we have Marley as a cheerful, friendly person instead of the clone of Scrooge which he is in Dickens...

Read your Dickens, Scrooge started cheerful -- it was his lost love and his partnership with Marley that led him to darkness. For me, the way it was handled in the story was perfect because Scrooge was supposed to be the self delusion of a mental patient. Such a self delusion would be more than happy to remember the past any way it wanted. I love the idea that the Scrooge half would become so all-consuming that Marley would have to appear as a ghost bearing the brunt of the blame in A Christmas Carol in order to soothe the ego into being open to what follows -- it's not really your fault, and now here's a way out if you want it -- friggin' brilliant! My understanding about paranoid schizo delusions (all collected from mass media, thank you) is that they are willing to ignore details to make the grand illusion work in their minds, which would be perfect for "Scrooge" to relegate "Marley" to the back as the guilty. Love it!

...we have the addition of alchemy and magic to the story...

Worse than (or even separate from, for that matter) supernatural visitation in the original story? Less believable than a complete character reversal after a night of odd dreams? Not in my book. Works just fine if you accept the source material as cannon.

I'm not picking on you specifically, you just mentioned everything I wanted to address in one easy package. Like it or not -- I could care less. I'm just saying that none of these were sticking points for me in a fun, well-written, well-read story. And for the record, I say all of this having actually sighed when Mur shared the title of this episode because I thought it would be terribly cliche to run another Xmas story rip off during the Xmas show.
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« Reply #15 on: December 29, 2012, 01:15:47 PM »

Yay. That was a fun ride, just the thing to take me the hour drive to my parent's home on Christmas morning! I must admit I was more than a little bit skeptical that the story was going to have the chops to carry itself all the way to the inception of Christmas Carol without somehow falling off the rails of believability. It started off in such a very odd place, indeed, that I could not envision the transition from That Place to Dickens. But, boy howdy, did it get there- with alchemy, a fractured personality, and Lachesis, Oh My!

Nicely done.

Also, polite applause to the excellent reader.
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« Reply #16 on: December 29, 2012, 02:03:53 PM »

And here I expected people to be complaining that this is not, strictly speaking, Science Fiction  Smiley
Since when is alchemy not science fiction?
It's as science fiction as steampunk and stonepunk.
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« Reply #17 on: December 30, 2012, 09:33:25 PM »

And here I expected people to be complaining that this is not, strictly speaking, Science Fiction  Smiley
Since when is alchemy not science fiction?
It's as science fiction as steampunk and stonepunk.

Chempunk?
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statisticus
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« Reply #18 on: January 01, 2013, 04:00:20 AM »


...We have Cratchit as a partner in the firm instead of Scrooge...

We have Cratchit /starting/ as a partner of Marley.

Yes, I got that from what I heard of the story.  My point is that there is no suggestion of it in Dickens. A change, though not necessarily a bad one.


we have Marley as a cheerful, friendly person instead of the clone of Scrooge which he is in Dickens...

Read your Dickens, Scrooge started cheerful -- it was his lost love and his partnership with Marley that led him to darkness.

Not quite.  Yes, Scrooge started off cheerful as a child and young adult, as we see in Christmas Past.  However, he doesn't throw himself into business because he has lost his love, he loses his love because he devotes himself to his business:

To quote Dickens:
Quote
"It matters little," she said softly. "To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and, if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve."
"What Idol has displaced you?" he rejoined.
"A golden one."

Again, there is no suggestion that Marley corrupts Scrooge either, or vice versa.  Dickens doesn't tell us about how they met or became partners.  All we have suggests that the two were as bad as each other:

To quote Dickens again:
Quote
"Mr. Marley has been dead these seven years," Scrooge replied. "He died seven years ago, this very night."
"We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner," said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.
It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits.
Similarly, Marley's ghost tells Scrooge that his own chain was as long as Marley's at the time of Marley's death.



For me, the way it was handled in the story was perfect because Scrooge was supposed to be the self delusion of a mental patient. Such a self delusion would be more than happy to remember the past any way it wanted. I love the idea that the Scrooge half would become so all-consuming that Marley would have to appear as a ghost bearing the brunt of the blame in A Christmas Carol in order to soothe the ego into being open to what follows -- it's not really your fault, and now here's a way out if you want it -- friggin' brilliant! My understanding about paranoid schizo delusions (all collected from mass media, thank you) is that they are willing to ignore details to make the grand illusion work in their minds, which would be perfect for "Scrooge" to relegate "Marley" to the back as the guilty. Love it!

Asolutely no idea where you're getting this.  The only suggestion in Dickens is that Scrooge is bad - unkind, ungenerous, cruel and grasping, rejecting any love or friendship offered.  Not delusional.  Marley is particularly scathing in his assessment of Scrooge, but has no comfort to offer him:

Quote
"Jacob!" he said imploringly. "Old Jacob Marley, tell me more! Speak comfort to me, Jacob!"
"I have none to give," the Ghost replied. "It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men."

Through the intervention of the spirits he is shown the error of his ways.  He wasn't always this bad (past), there are still people out there who care about him (present) but if he doesn't change he will die firenless and alone (future).  There is no doubt who's fault it is, or who has to bring the change about; it is Scrooge himself.  All the spirits can do is point the way.

...we have the addition of alchemy and magic to the story...

Worse than (or even separate from, for that matter) supernatural visitation in the original story? Less believable than a complete character reversal after a night of odd dreams? Not in my book. Works just fine if you accept the source material as cannon.


Again, I'll stick by this one.  In Dickens we have a single supernatural event spread across the fateful night, which affects a single person and brings about a major change in their character.  Nothing unusual there, story wise - folklore and fantasy is full of such stories; the common theme of such is that the supernatural event is unique and affects only one person directly.  In this story, though, we have magic (alchemy) widely used in the world over a period of time - Cratchit and Marley even use it as an industrial process, the foundation of their business over many years.  A *very* different proposition to the folkloric tradition that Dickens is tapping into.

FWIW, I got up to just after Cratchit's return on my first listen.  Having read the rest of the comments I picked up where I'd left off and listened to the rest of the story.  When I first posted I hadn't got to the big twist of this story which makes more sense of the whole. 

So, though I feel better about the story having heard the whole (and the plot twists are clever) it nevertheless still feels like too big a leap from Dickens for my tastes.
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« Reply #19 on: January 01, 2013, 04:04:32 AM »

And here I expected people to be complaining that this is not, strictly speaking, Science Fiction  Smiley
Since when is alchemy not science fiction?
It's as science fiction as steampunk and stonepunk.

Hear Hear!  The original story can't be considered science fiction, and one could even argue that it is a morality tale pure and simple, and not even a fantasy.  After all, who's to say that there are any spiritual manifestations at all?  Perhaps Scrooge (prompted by an uneasy conscience, perhaps?) imagines the whole thing.  In this story, though, the alchemy (used as an industrial process) is definitely treated in a science fictional way.
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