Richard Wilkins shares Mormon themes from Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol'

Published: Monday, Dec. 19 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Richard Wilkins as Scrooge and Scott Fidel as Tiny Tim in Hale Centre Theatre's 2002 production of "A Christmas Carol."

Steve Fidel, Deseret News Archive

Editor's note: Richard Wilkins, former BYU law professor and Ebenezer Scrooge for 27 years, died over Thanksgiving weekend. We are highlighting the following article in honor of his passing.

There is a good reason why President Thomas S. Monson loves to read and reference Charles Dickens’ timeless classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

“I personally feel it is inspired of God,” the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wrote in the Ensign's August 2008 First Presidency Message. “It brings out the best within human nature. It gives hope. It motivates change. We can turn from the paths which would lead us down and, with a song in our hearts, follow a star and walk toward the light.”

President Monson has cited “A Christmas Carol” in each of his last two First Presidency Christmas Devotional messages. From the ghost of Jacob Marley to Ebenezer Scrooge, and from three visiting spirits to Tiny Tim and the Bob Cratchit family, Dickens’ immortal tale teaches true gospel principles of repentance, redemption, Christ, family, and service. Unselfishness and caring for the poor are also major themes that always instill the spirit of Christmas in the prophet’s soul.

“This touching account never fails to inspire me,” President Monson said earlier this month in his devotional message.

What is so powerful about a 168-year-old Christmas story? What are some examples from “A Christmas Carol” that illustrate LDS principles, lessons and themes?

Richard Wilkins, a former Brigham Young University law professor who has studied and acted in the role of Scrooge for 27 years, and R. William Bennett, author of the recently released novel, “Jacob T. Marley,” have their ideas.

Life in 1843

Before discussing the main messages, Wilkins said its helpful to understand the circumstances in which Dickens, often called the man who saved Christmas, wrote his Christmas story.

Christmas was in decline in the 1840s. It was not even a day off for most workers. Few people would have remembered or gathered for festive celebrations, said Wilkins, a Dickens expert. Young children were forced to work 15-18 hour days in factories and were ill-fed, ill-clothed and ill-treated. Dickens himself worked in a boot-blacking factory at age 12 after his father was imprisoned for debts. Educational opportunities for the poor were very limited.

In 1843, Dickens was invited to give a speech at the Manchester Athenaeum. He spoke about the need to eliminate want and ignorance. The speech was well received and when he concluded, Dickens received a standing ovation, Wilkins said.

That’s how the Dickens came up with the idea for “A Christmas Carol.” He had promised to write a pamphlet called, “A Plea to the People of England on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child,” and the “Carol” became his plea, as well as a political statement against a lack of child labor laws and lack of education among the poor.

“The idea of a man’s obligation to assist his fellow man is at the heart of the story,” said Wilkins, who spends much of the year working abroad for the government of Qatar. “President Monson is a man who has given his entire life in service to others. That begins to explain why he loves this book so much.”

Gospel themes

Wilkins has played the role of Scrooge for 27 years at Hale Centre Theatre’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol."

Both Wilkins and Bennett agree that at its core, “A Christmas Carol” is a story of repentance, family, service and Jesus Christ.

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