Tuesday, December 20, 2016

An Illustrated Ghost-Story of Christmas

by Cory Godbey

There's hardly a more beloved story for this time of year than that of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. 

The ghostly, redemptive journey of one soul through Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, has been illustrated time and again throughout it's 173 years of publication. I've gathered a selection here for your enjoyment!

One thing I particularly love is seeing all the different ways to illustrate the same moment. From the arrival of Jacob Marley to the vision of Scrooge's own grave, the solutions are endless.

A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas by Charles Dickens.

Stave I

John Leech. The original illustrated edition. 1843.

Stave II

Arthur Rackham. 1915.

It's sobering to think of Rackham working through these illustrations during 1915, the second year of The Great War. I checked my copy of Arthur Rackham: A Life with Illustration by James Hamilton to see what, if anything, was noted about this time in his life. 
This was the first Dickens story Rackham had attempted, and despite its ghostliness, and the opportunities for the supernatural that story presents for its illustrator, Rackham did not exploit these to the full. ... It's as if, in choice of his subjects, he voluntarily passed by the opportunity to terrify his readers with too many ghosts and images of retribution, and chose instead to calm them with pictures of sliding on the ice in smoky London, dancing with Mrs. Fezziwig and children bouncing about on Christmas Eve. Perhaps caught by the national anxiety and tragedy of wartime, Rackham voluntarily softened his interpretation of Dickens' story in a way he might not have done eight or ten years earlier - or indeed twenty years later with Poe's Tales.
Despite that, as you can see, I chose the spookiest ones to include here. There's some top-notch grumpy old man face Rackham on display. I mean, just look at that Scrooge nose.

Stave III

P. J. Lynch. 2006.

One of the more recently illustrated editions on this list is by the prolific Irish illustrator P. J. Lynch. This is a truly beautiful collection by a living legend.

If that final piece of Scrooge playing in the snow doesn't lift your heart, well, I'm sorry to say that you might actually be dead: to begin with.

Stave IV

Trina Schart Hyman. 1983.

What more could I say about the inimitable Trina Schart Hyman? I adore her work. Rather than me go on about it, I'll let her ink and paint do the talking.

Stave V

Carter Goodrich. 1996. 

I'm probably showing my hand here by posting this as the final one so I'll just come out and say it: This is my favorite illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol. 

If you haven't happened to have seen it, I'm not exaggerating when I say that every single piece in this book is a masterclass in design, storytelling, and composition. The warmth and life of the characters, the glowing color and impeccable values, the despair and joy written on Scrooge's old face... 

I'm in absolute awe every time I crack it open.

And the story is pretty good, too.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm with you on Carter's work - WOW! Do you know what his medium is here?

    1. Elisabeth carter works in watercolor with a ton of color pencil on top.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. One of the most beautiful versions of Dickens' Christmas Carol is - I think - the work of Lisbeth Zwerger. Amazing artist.


  5. Great post, Cory! Love the selections. Carter's especially now.

    And yes--Lisbeth Zwerger! Whoa....

  6. Wow. I think I need to go hunt down that Carter Goodrich book. Beautiful!

  7. My first thought when I saw this post was wondering if Carter Goodrich's work was included here, and I'm not disappointed. The book is beautiful, as is his other Christmas book (same size, similar thickness), The Nutcracker.

  8. Hi Cory, I am honoured to Have my version of A Christmas Carol included here with these great artists.
    Many thanks and a happy Christmas to you and all at Muddy Colors. PJ

    1. It's wonderful to see you here, PJ! You've done a beautiful job on that book.

  9. Beautiful work by all of these wonderful artists. Each brings his own unique vision to the timeless Dickens story.
    I would like to submit the 1996 version by Robert Innocenti to the list. Mr Innocenti captures Victorian era England to perfection. The grimey snow covered vistas of an Industrial Age city are juxtaposed against the warmth of candle lit interiors. The faces of the main characters, along with those surrounding them, are captured with great personality and detail. The three spirits range from the youthful innocence of days gone by, to the frightful countenance of the reapers hand. You are truly transported to the world Dickens brought to life on the page.
    Give it a look, you won't be disappointed.

    Merry Christmas to all!



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