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First Presbyterian Theater’s production of “An American Christmas Carol” wraps today.

Why the dickens has story endured?

Today is your last chance to see “An American Christmas Carol” at First Presbyterian Theater and Fort Wayne Youtheatre’s “A Christmas Carol” at Arts United Center.

They both start at 2 p.m. so you’ll have to choose between weighty and blither versions of Charles Dickens’ holiday tale.

The novella, which turned 168 years old on Saturday, is as ubiquitous today (if you count its uncountable incarnations) as it ever was.

“Why?” I wondered aloud as I tried to warm my fingers over the candle on my desk.

Dickens’ world of coal boxes, gas lamps, cobbled streets, pickpockets and child labor seems far removed from our own, Republican talking points on child labor notwithstanding.

And yet are we not all annually visited in various ways by various Scrooges whose common errand is to remind us of what we borrowed this year and what we will owe the next?

Here are three of many reasons why I think the story has endured.

It’s scary – Imagine if someone from your past, someone who knows your deepest and darkest secrets, reappeared out of nowhere and demanded – in a manner far less ingratiating than Carlos Santana’s – that you change your evil ways.

Now imagine that this person is at best an ex-person – in other words, a ghost.

Portrayals of Scrooge’s former business partner Jacob Marley have been aided by special effects and shtick over the years, but what makes him truly terrifying is that he has visited a place that the living can only imagine and has returned to report that for some spirits, it’s not so nice.

Add to that the scene where Scrooge’s charwoman scavenges his bed linens and curtains and the scene where Scrooge weeps over his own grave and you have an ostensibly heartwarming holiday tale that is, nevertheless, packed with horror.

Without the horrors, Scrooge would not have reformed.

There’s a lesson here for purveyors of sickly-sweet Christmas entertainments: It’s always darkest before the dawn (and that’s a good thing).

Earthly justice – In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” kindly George Bailey is shown how terrible the world would be without him in it. In “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is shown how terrible the world is with him in it.

Nobody doesn’t love George Bailey, but it may be more satisfying to see a “bad” man get what’s coming to him than a good one.

“A Christmas Carol” never goes out of style because everybody who has ever existed has known one or more somebodies who would have benefited from being visited by three (or more) ghosts.

“Carpe Diem,” aka “Money Can’t Buy Happiness,” aka “People Who Need People Are the Luckiest People in the World” – When Scrooge praises Marley’s business acumen, Marley’s response is one that has certainly annoyed wealth accumulators and magnate fetishists for generations, not to mention people who wish Jesus hadn’t been so unequivocal about how the poor should be treated.

“Business!” Marley says. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

As miserable as Scrooge tries to make everyone in the book, there is no one in “A Christmas Carol” who is as unhappy as himself.

The life lessons that Scrooge has learned by the end of “A Christmas Carol” are timeless: Share what you have, enjoy the moment, and behave in such a way that people want to have you around.

Steve Penhollow is an arts and entertainment writer for The Journal Gazette. His column appears Sundays. He appears Fridays on WPTA-TV, Channel 21, WISE-TV, Channel 33, and WBYR, 98.9 FM to talk about area happenings. Email him at spen@jg.net. A Facebook page for “Rants & Raves” can be accessed at www.facebook.com/pages.

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