Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

A Christmas Carol: Was It Legal to Scare Scrooge? (Part I)

Each year I take time out of my busy schedule of haranguing my team about Oxford commas, calls to action, and proper tone to write about the legal issues found lurking in our most beloved Christmas traditions. First it was the Grinch, the fuzzy green Christmas anti-hero of all time. Then it was the 12 Days of Christmas -- the law breaking in that seemingly innocent song is rather breathtaking. But really, I have always wanted to take on Dickens and his master creation, Ebenezer Scrooge; I just never could find a way.

Scrooge was "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner" but to date, I never could figure what laws he might have broken on his journey through Christmas past, present, and future to become less of a pain in Victorian London's collective bum. Maybe I just wasn't trying hard enough. Maybe it was a lack of knowledge of English commercial law. Then, I had an idea ... an awful, wonderful idea. Maybe it isn't Scrooge I needed to look at, maybe it was those darn ghosts.

As you will recall in A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was visited by three ghosts the night before Christmas, each who took him on a journey (quite without his consent at first, but we'll get to that) which lead to the discovery of a better Scrooge, right in the center of his shriveled up old heart. But the journey of many Christmases starts with one step, and that first step was an old friend. A dead friend, by the name of Jacob Marley.

Jacob Marley: Vandalism
Marley was dead: to begin with.

Marley, Scrooge's former business partner, kicks off the story by materializing as the doorknocker on Scrooge's front door. Once he realizes the apparition is not the result of a lower GI tract upset, Scrooge comes to understand he will be visited by three specters which will, if he listens to their counsel, save him from Marley's fate of bumping about the earth tied forever to chains of the material wealth he sought during life.

What can we possibly accuse Marley of? Let's save the emotional distress discussion for the really scary ghosts, Marley is but a harbinger. I would say the best action we have here is a bit of destruction of property or vandalism. He does mess with a very nice brass doorknocker, after all.

Ghost of Christmas Past: Kidnapping
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past." "Long Past?" inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature. "No. Your past."

Scrooge is awakened by this first spirit and led to the window, where he will be forced to leap back into his past. He wants to resist the spirit's command, but cannot. Let's trot out a definition of kidnapping here, defined by U.S. law as the taking of a person from one place to another against his or her will. Scrooge certainly doesn't want to make this leap, even though it ends in a visit to Fezziwig, the scene of one of his happiest memories. In the end, he is released back to his chambers, but that matters not. He was forced to "go" against his will which is, transparently, a kidnapping.

Finis Part I. Come back for Part II.

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