The word “Grinch” is now part of the Christmas lexicon. Whether you are familiar with the story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or not, you surely know what Grinch means.
The Grinch is Dr. Suess’s green equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. A Christmas denier of the highest order you might say. From his cave of misery high on Mount Crumpit, the Grinch can hear the happy hullabaloo of the residence of Who-ville below who think Christmas is just peachy keen.
All this merriment annoys the bejesus out of the Grinch. Why I hear you ask? It “may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”
"And they're hanging their stockings!" he snarled with a sneer "Tomorrow is Christmas! It's practically here" Then he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!"
To put an end to all these annoyingly frivolous festivities, the Grinch devises a dastardly plan to steal Christmas from the Who-villians. So he throws on an unconvincing Santa get-up, chucks some reindeer antlers on the head of his dog Max and heads down to Who-ville in a makeshift sleigh.
There he proceeds to steal every last remnant of Christmas including presents, food, Christmas trees and even logs from the fireplace.
He heads back to his Grinch cave with his haul to listen to the sweet, sad sounds of the citizens of Who-ville lamenting their misplaced Yuletide.
“But the sound wasn’t sad! Why, this sound sounded merry! It couldn’t be so! But it WAS merry! VERY!” How could it be that Christmas was proceeding regardless?
"It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!" And he puzzled three house, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. "May be Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"...
"And what happened then...? Well...in Who-ville they say That the Grinch's small heart Grew three sizes that day!"
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” should be part of every Christmas reading list in the English-speaking world. I dare say that any translation of the Seussian signature wordplay for non-English speakers, would be near impossible. Paraphrasing him won’t work either.
If you are anything like me 20 years ago, when I had just moved to Australia from a non-English speaking Soviet Union, you would never have heard of Dr. Seuss. It took me a very long time to discover his books, even though I was into reading and children’s literature all my life. My son’s toddler years were immersed in reading vintage Russian picture books from our home library.
One day he brought “One Fish Two Fish” and “Green Eggs and Ham” from his pre-school library and we read them aloud. Once, twice, many times over, he could not get enough and neither could I. The interplay between words and pictures was an instant hit with us both. I was like a little kid all over again enjoying the rhythmic verses, the weird and wonderful creatures of his illustrations, and the mangling of everyday words and names was so uniquely witty.
“The Grinch is as closely associated with Christmas as Santa Claus, Scrooge and Rudolph“, wrote Charles D. Cohen, the world’s authority on all-things-Dr. Seuss. This is hardly news. But what I didn’t know before launching into research for this post is how much Dr. Seuss himself sympathised with the Grinch’s killjoy attitude.
In his great essay “The True Spirit of the Grinch” Charles D. Cohen tells of the frustration that Theodor (Ted) Geisel (the real name of Dr. Seuss) felt about the commercialisation of the holiday season; a frustration that started long before “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!“ was published in 1957.
In 1924, Ted Geisel had penned an article for Jack-O-Lantern titled “Santy Claus Be Hanged“, satirising all the disappointing and inappropriate gifts that people get – when, for example, instead of the desired “silk unmentionables” Sister gets some “burlap unpronounceables”.
In 1957, aged 53, Ted confessed to seeing “a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror” the day after Christmas of 1956:
“Something had gone wrong with Christmas…or more likely with me. So I wrote the story…to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.”
,  Background information referred to in this post comes from the essay “The True Spirit of the Grinch” by Charles D. Cohen, the world’s foremost collector of Seussiana and the author of “The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing but the Seuss”