Reading the story would have been worth it for the initial description of Scrooge alone. There’s nothing like a Victorian writer for giving a complete description:
The shorter pieces, “Christmas Festivities” and “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” which appear before A Christmas Carol in this collection (and, presumably, which appeared in journals prior to Carol’s publication) have elements that are found in the longer work. The family gatherings in “Christmas Festivities” are reminiscent of the party at Fred’s house and the transformation of the Sexton clearly echoes the transformation which Scrooge undergoes. Each of these shorter stories is a pleasant read, but it in the Carol that Dickens’s ideas are fully fleshed out.
The Haunted Man & the Ghost’s Bargain is another tale of transformation. Redlaw, the central character, is a chemistry teacher who broods on the evil which has been done to him and grief he has experienced in his past. One night, near Christmas, he listens to his servants talking of their good memories despite their circumstances (particularly of Philip…who has seen “87 years!” and had many things to overcome) and he falls into a particularly deep brooding state. A shadowy phantom of himself appears and offers him the chance to forget all the wrongs from his past. With this “gift” comes the power that will pass the “gift” on to those Redlaw comes in contact with. The result? Peace and happiness as Redlaw expects? Not so. Redlaw and those he comes in contact with fall into a wrathful state of universal anger. All but Milly, one of Dickens’s purely good female characters and a young boy that Milly has taken in who has known nothing but evil treatment until now. Finally, Redlaw—seeing the damage his “gift” has wrought—begs the phantom return and remove the gift. It is done…but only Milly’s goodness can counteract the anger and bring everyone back themselves. And it is Milly who presents Redlaw with the moral of the tale: "It is important to remember past sorrows and wrongs so that you can then forgive those responsible and, in doing so, unburden your soul and mature as a human being." Redlaw takes this to heart, and like Scrooge, becomes a more loving and whole person. Just in time for Christmas.
“A Christmas Tree” is a weird little story. It begins with the narrator sitting before a Christmas tree and reminiscing about his past Christmases…all the toys and presents of the past. Most of these presents seem to have scared him in some way. These memories give way to several stories of ghosts—ghosts seen by the narrator or by those he knows. And in the middle off these ghost stories the narrator informs us that he is dead. “But it’s all true; and we said so, before we died (we are dead now) to many responsible people.” I’m still not sure that I know what the point of this piece was.
“What Christmas Is, As We Grow Older” is also an odd little piece—talking about the changes in our views of Christmas as we age. The best part is this quote: “Therefore as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons that they bring, expands! Let us welcome every one of them, and summon them to take their places by the Christmas hearth.”
The final short piece, “The Seven Poor Travellers,” is nice story of a Good Samaritan. The narrator, a traveler himself, discovers that there is a house that welcomes six poor travelers (neither “rogues nor proctors”) to spend the night free of charge and gives them four-pence each. Now, as the housekeeper in charge of the house tells the narrator, four-pence doesn’t go very far in buying the travelers their dinner. So, the narrator decides that since it is close to Christmas he will provide a feast for the six travelers who spend that very night in the house. It is a nice little story about a man who sees a way to do a good turn for others and does it.
All of these stories showcase Dickens’s talent for description. Carol carries it off best with the descriptions of the various spirits and the scenes that they reveal to Scrooge—not to mention that initial description of the man himself. Some of the shorter pieces go on a bit too long, particularly when you consider that the story is much shorter than Carol. And in The Haunted Man Dickens outdoes himself…going on for two whole pages describing what winter is like when Redlaw is in his home. “When the wind was blowing, shrill and shrewd, with the going down of the blurred sun. When it was just so dark, as that forms of things were indistinct and big, but not wholly lost. When sitters by the fire began to see wild faces and figures, mountains and abysses, ambuscades and armies, in the coals. When….” And this goes on, as I said, for two pages. Some of the descriptions are very apt and effective, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.