Virtually every page—indeed, virtually every paragraph—of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol includes some salient moment. The work is so imaginative, so densely filled with action and meaning, and so widely known and beloved that almost every one of these salient moments is someone’s “favorite part.” Many people will recognize such a moment, perhaps even be eagerly anticipating it. When that passage arrives, readers and listeners may be disappointed if any heavy-handed meddling has been done. Thus, when veganizing such a salient passage, the light touch of a “minimally invasive” approach is particularly necessary.
“More of gravy than of grave about you”
Ebenezer Scrooge’s quip, in Stave 1, about there being “more gravy than grave” in Jacob Marley’s ghost is one such salient moment. Here, Scrooge is trying to argue with Marley’s ghost, seeking to establish the point that Marley’s ghost is actually just a figment of Scrooge’s imagination. Scrooge’s theory is that Marley’s ghostly visitation is but a hallucination, one that is likely to have been caused by some malfunction in Scrooge’s senses, perhaps the result of Scrooge’s stomach having been upset by something that he ate. Scrooge summarizes this argument in the final quip, which reads, in relevant part:
“There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
The line is brilliant for several reasons: alliteration and internal rhyme; apt summation of the argument being made; revelation of some of the internal workings of Scrooge’s mind. Changing but a single letter—the ending “-y” to “-e”—to achieve such a stroke is a fair instance of poetics.
Need to veganize
Generally speaking, a principle to which the Veganized Classics Series adheres is that, if a word has a vegan meaning and a non-vegan meaning that is plausible in the context of the original work, that word can remain unaltered. While vegan gravy does exist today, the reality is that “gravy” in its origin and in the time and place in which A Christmas Carol is set was made from and defined in terms of the juices of a dead body of an animal. A vegan gravy-like item would have been called something like a “sauce” in Scrooge’s day, such as the “apple-sauce” that is expressly mentioned later in the book.
Thus, the choice, while perhaps not absolutely necessary, was made to veganize this word in the making of A Vegan Christmas Carol.
“Gravy” to “grain”
The challenge in veganizing a passage with this level of artistry and memorability is to retain the essential meaning while also preserving its beautiful form.
Fortunately, the English language comprises a word for a plant-based item that works very well, both to retain the poetics of the line and the role that the line serves in the argument Scrooge is making: the word “grain.”
Originally, the poetics include recurrence of four identical letters: gravy and grave. The veganized form gets very close: grain and grave.
Moreover, the meter is slightly improved: “gravy than of grave about you” has three essentially unaccented syllables in a row—not a strong form, and one that is not used elsewhere in the sentence. But “grain than of grave about you” sets up a very pleasurable and catchy meter: / u u / u u /.
Editorial opportunism: capitalizing on serendipity
This instance exemplifies the sort of happy accident for which one should be on the lookout when veganizing a work. It’s editorial opportunism: if the language happens to present an opportunity to retain both the literary substance and the poetic form of a line, we should be ready to take full advantage of that opportunity. Such a happy accident allows the line to be read or heard by someone who already knows and loves the line without missing anything—or perhaps without even noticing that the line has been veganized.
This case can be used as another touchstone, a prime example of the type of serendipity we’re looking for when we are trying to veganize a passage, particularly one that is very well-known and well-written and, therefore, needs to be handled with delicate care.