On the web
Even without a Dickens bicentennial to ramp them up, there are lots of Dickens sites, containing links to other sites containing links to lesson plans, online biographies, historical and social background material. Who has time to comb through them all? Not me—but here are some of the more fun and helpful sources turned up from preliminary combing:
- Gads Hill Place is the name of Charles Dickens’ last home; also the name of a superior collection of resources that edge beyond the commonplace. All the relevant biography, chapter by chapter, “the largest collection of Dickens quotes online” and this collection of fun games and puzzles, some of them fairly challenging.
- For high school students who need to go a little deeper, there’s no better source than G. K. Chesterton, whom I’ve already quoted in the introductory post. Chesterton’s entire Dickens criticism, novel by novel, is available for download here.
- This is cool, especially for aspiring writers: high-resolution images of an original manuscript for A Christmas Carol, showing revisions in Dickens’s own hand. They’re a little hard to read, but you can click on parts of the manuscript for annotations about what the author’s thought process might have been as he was perfecting the story.
- Bookmark for next year: Here’s how to throw an educational Christmas Carol Party. The activity is structured for 6th-8th grade classrooms, with an emphasis on “learning objectives,” but it could easily be adapted to a homeschool group or cooperative learning center.
- Collect ‘em all: The UK Guardian has an interactive page featuring clever drawings and descriptions of some of better-known Dickens Characters. It’s also available as a wall chart.
- What the Dickens? is a program sponsored by the UK Schools Cooperative, aimed at boosting student writing skills. They’re sponsoring a story competition (not open to Americans, I think), but the website has some interesting videos and lesson plans about the writing process, inspired by Dickens characters and plots.
- Just for fun, the UK Mirror rewrites Dickens classics as 140-character Tweets.
- Was Charles Dickens an orthodox Christian? Probably not, but here are some interesting essays about the spiritual side of his works: Chuck Colson compares Dickens and Darwin, Mark Roberts reflects extensively on A Christmas Carol, and Christianity Today analyzes Dickens’s attitude toward the church and faith in general.
If you have BBC in your cable package, find out what the Beeb is doing about Dickens (check local listings, etc.). And, speaking of the BBC, here’s a short animated biography the little ones might enjoy.
Biography.com has a 45-minute video biography, featuring clips of film adaptations and accompanied by a 7-page printable biography and critical assessment.
And what are the best movie or TV adaptations of Dickens? Whooo . . . I’m way behind on my Dickens filmography, so I had to rely on “best adaptations” websites. Here’s the general consensus, all of which are available through Netflix:
- A Tale of Two Cities: the 1935 version with Ronald Coleman is still considered way up there, though it’s a bit melodramatic for some modern tastes. The 1989 Masterpiece Theater version is more subtle.
- Bleak House: Hands down, high praise heaped upon the 2005 BBC mini-series. Considered one of the best Dickens adaptations of all time. And at 15 episodes, it’s a time investment, but I’m going to check it out.
- David Copperfield: movie historians love the 1935 version with W. D. Fields, but the 1999 Masterpiece Theater version, with Bob Hoskins and a pre-Harry-Potter Daniel Ratcliffe, looks interesting. Not a mini-series, but 181 minutes long, so settle in.
- Great Expectations has been done over many times. The version directed by David Lean in 1946 is still considered the best ever by some, even though Lean had never read the book. The updated version with Ethan Hawke and Gwynneth Paltrow (1998) is to be avoided, and this guy hates the upcoming BBC series. Interestingly, a big-screen feature adaptation will open in April with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.
- Little Dorrit: the 2008 BBC 14-episode series with Matthew Macfayden is highly praised, though not as highly as Bleak House. A 1988 2-parter with Derek Jacobi and Alec Guiness has received some favorable attention also.
- Nicholas Nickelby: A 2002 mini-series with Christopher Plummer can’t be got from Netflix on disc, but is available for instant play. There’s also a six-episode BBC version that seems to be in the mediocre range.
- Oliver Twist: David Lean supposedly struck another home run in 1948 with Alec Guiness as Fagin. I’m sure I’ve seen this, but can’t remember. The 1969 movie of the musical Oliver! still holds up well, and will give kids a romanticized view of the unscrubbed but loveable London lower class. Bill Sikes is still scary, as he should be. Also, Roman Polansky directed a 2005 feature-film Oliver Twist with Ben Kingsley as Fagin; I should know something about this but I don’t. Since it’s Polansky, the rating is edgy: PG-13. An 88-minute TV adaptation with Richard Dreyfuss (Fagin) and Elijah Wood (Artful Dodger) appears to be more family-friendly.
- The Pickwick Papers: PP hasn’t received much video attention, but a 1985 12-episode miniseries from the BBC looks like fun.
- There are several documentary biographies of Dickens, but use care with the later ones (such as A&E) which tend to focus on his darker side. Of course he had a dark side, and his unfortunate marriage doesn’t speak well of him at all, but that’s a story for teens to consider, not the younger kids.
What, no video recommendation for Dickens’ most popular work, A Christmas Carol? We already did that; it’s here.