The Charles Dickens' story of "A Christmas Carol" is a seasonal staple for many families, including R. William Bennett's family.
They usually go to the Hale Center Theater's production of the story of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and how his heart and perspective change during the course of ghostly visitors the night of Christmas Eve and into Christmas morning.
His late partner, Jacob T. Marley, only seems to have a bit part — one where he appears to Scrooge in chains before the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future appear.
"(Marley) seems to be on the periphery of the story, yet he's essential" as he apparently arranged for the three visitors, Bennett said in an interview with the Deseret News about the release of his book "Jacob T. Marley" (Shadow Mountain, $17.99).
Who Marley was and why he was able to appear to Scrooge also intrigued Bennett.
"He obviously feels so terribly about his life," Bennett said. "He's done something that allows him to visit Scrooge. He's the one who makes the difference and then vanishes."
Then after seeing a production of "Wicked," which is the back-story of the Wicked Witch of the West, he came up with the idea of how to tell the side story of Marley's life.
Bennett tells Marley's story in the recently released "Jacob T. Marley." Marley and his normal, happy family come with a heritage of heroism. Then, slowly but surely, Marley wraps himself up in work and making money such that every relationship is considered for its profitability and severed if not worthwhile.
"I wanted to give Marley no excuses for the life he led," Bennett said, contrasting that to Scrooge's unhappy childhood.
"He just plain tripped up and wants to turn around," Bennett said of what Marley realizes after his death and his attempts to help the colleague he molded to avoid the same fate.
"Just like 'A Christmas Carol gives use hope that like Scrooge, we can change, ('Jacob T. Marley' has) the message of hope that change can stick," Bennett said. "When a heart truly changes, it lasts."
In "Jacob T. Marley," Bennett also incorporates Scrooge's life after that Christmas Day.
"All we know about Scrooge's future was that Dickens said that Scrooge is as good as his word," Bennett said. And that Tiny Tim didn't die, so Scrooge presumably was involved.
"I wanted to make the case that Scrooge's repentance stuck and that he remained a good man," Bennett said.
Bennett spent most of his career in business and was division president for Franklin Covey when he decided he wanted to write full time — something he had wanted to do his whole life.
His first book, "The Christmas Gift," was published in November 2009 and is currently being made into a movie.
He made researching a full-time job — working five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — as he read everything he could find on or by Dickens and why he wrote "A Christmas Carol," including letters and books.
As it turns out, Bennett found and watched as many as he could of the more than 55 different movie versions of "A Christmas Carol" — from the version starring George C. Scott to the Flintstones. (One of his favorites is the 1999 TV movie version starring Patrick Stewart.)
While researching and writing, Bennett felt some trepidation as he was potentially "treading on sacred ground" of the original story and wanted to be true to the world that Dickens created without re-interpreting it. He also tried to target a family values-based audience rather than veering into any particular religion's version of the afterlife and also be true to Dickens' vernacular.
"What I tried to use were all of these hooks he left hanging out there of unanswered questions that I thought would be able to add to the story without altering the original," Bennett said. These are hooks like the firm's name while the two were partners, how Scrooge came to live in Marley's home and what happened to Scrooge's little sister, Fan, who died young.Comment on this story
"As long as there wasn't any analysis of what Dickens meant in particular by it, I grabbed a hook and attached it to the story," Bennett said of the dozen or so hooks he uses to tell Marley's story.
The result is an emotional and engrossing story that draws the reader into the world of Marley and Scrooge, sharing their selfish downturns and broken hearts, along with the joyful potential of their lives after Scrooge's decision to change. Bennett neatly wraps other story lines into the book.
"I hope Dickens would be pleased," said Bennett, who has plans for other books.