In the sort of labor of love Dickens inspires, Epstein, author of The Friendly Shakespeare (not reviewed) and sometime university lecturer, has written her well-informed and engaging pop reference for those sick of the annual maladaptations of A Christmas Carol and students who have encountered them only as ""textbooks, not novels."" Dickens biographers and scholars have been hard at work since Edmund Wilson to dismantle Dickens's respectable Victorian facade, usually with Freudian tools, but The Friendly Dickens balances demystification with erudition as it encapsulates his prodigious work and literally Dickensian life. Peppered throughout are intriguing and odd bits of information, culled from a wide variety of sources, so that the casual browser will learn Dickens's robust walking speed (4.8 m.p.h.), the total number of characters he created (13,143) and all those he killed off before the age of 25 (over a dozen), and the amount of dung deposited on London streets (40,000 tons per annum). Some of the liveliest and most opinionated sections are the interviews with fellow Dickens aficionados, including actors Roger Rees on the role of Nicholas Nickleby, Miriam Margolyes on Dickens's women in her solo revue, and Patrick Stewart on his one-man Christmas Carol, and critics David Lodge on academic snobbery toward Boz and adapting Martin Chuzzlewit, Phyllis Rose on his marriage and mistress, and Jonathan Yardley on the cultural shifts in popular entertainment from books to movies. Ironically, the best reference section is an extensive filmography of every major screen and television adaptation, enlivened by Epstein's assessments of W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber, the discordantly cheerful Oliver!, and Michael Caine opposite Kermit the Frog in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Dickensian in every sense of the word, especially Victorian eccentricity and Pickwickian good humor.