via Project Gutenberg
The dreary, sad existence of Ebenezer Scrooge that Charles Dickens paints in A Christmas Carol might not seem a fount of memorable images and phrases, but the references found in its pages are not limited strictly to the holiday season. (For example, when we call someone a “Scrooge” it’s synonymous for calling them a grouchy miser, regardless of the time of year.)
The characters and plot of the classic novel have become so ubiquitous that adaptations, especially during this time of year, are a dime a dozen. There are relatively faithful adaptations — from the likes of Mr. Magoo, The Muppets, and Jim Carrey — as well as departures such as Scrooged or even, some could argue, It’s a Wonderful Life.
One of the highlights of my college career is that once I was able to quote a Saturday Night Live sketch in an academic paper. (It was the “Firelight” sketch, specifically, but darn WordPress won’t let me embed Hulu videos.)
The paper itself was about the way, over the last two hundred years, our culture has “dumbed down” the story and lesson of Frankenstein. This seems pretty relevant to the blog, so I thought I’d talk a bit about how the reverse of media-changing-language is sometimes true. The novel Frankenstein deals with some pretty weighty stuff — science vs. nature, unchecked ambition, revenge, isolation, the pros and cons of living in Switzerland — you know, serious matters. But, you wouldn’t know that based on the way we throw around the word “Frankenstein” in common conversation.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is something of an reference-generating machine. This piece of children’s literature and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass have been alluded to more often than can probably be accounted for in the hundred and fifty-odd years since its initial publication.
The story has been retold on film as Alice in Wonderland (with varying levels of faithfulness to the original novel) numerous times (including a great, recently restored version from 1903) and has also been alluded to in adaptations and has influenced television and music as well.
You probably mentally completed that famous phrase involuntarily as soon as you started reading it, huh? That’s because the Man of Steel has, over the last seventy-plus years, become such a huge part of our culture that we all know he is able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
And we know that Clark Kent is a mild-mannered reporter just as well as we know that Superman is faster than a speeding bullet.
The story of the Kryptonian growing up in Kansas before becoming a reporter for The Daily Planet in Metropolis, all while trying to keep his identity secret from Lois Lane and defeat Lex Luthor is so well know and has so permeated the collective consciousness, that it would be impossible to guess at how often it is referenced in film, television, music, literature and even advertisements.