Somehow or other it comes just the same

We’ve already cracked open one of our favourite Christmas stories here at home: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. My daughter’s birthday is in early December, and we’ve taken to finishing the party with a raucous reading of that book — I’m the narrator, and my husband transforms into the Grinch himself, reciting all the Grinch lines and doing the faces too. It’s amazing how he actually does begin to look green. His heart is small and shriveled at the beginning of the story, and he hunches himself around it as he slinks through the living room giving the children evil stares — and then his hand cups his ear by the end of the story, and his ballooning heart thumps under his sweater. This is that key moment I mentioned in my last post, when the Grinch changes course not because he can get something out of it — in fact he loses all the “things” he’s acquired — but simply because he is moved by goodness. He sees it actually isn’t possible to steal Christmas. “Somehow or other, it came just the same.”

Last year, steeped as we were in Christmas stories and movies and shows, my husband and I noticed how prevalent was the theme of “what’s in it for me,” and got into quite a discussion as we discovered just how true it was that the Grinch was a cut above other villains.

Scrooge's third visitor, by John Leech, 1843

There’s the classic one — Dickens’ Scrooge, who is terrorized into kindness and compassion by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and most ominously the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Dickens himself would probably have loved Alastair Sim in this role in the 1951 movie version of A Christmas Carol. He gets all of the expressions just right, and oozes a bah,  humbug quality. It’s likely that Theodor Seuss Geisel had Scrooge in mind when he developed his Grinch, but the difference between the two curmudgeons lies in what motivates them to change.

Scrooge extraordinaire. It's best not to mention Jim Carrey...

And think of Professor Hinkle in Frosty the Snowman. Frosty was originally a simple little song first recorded by Gene Autry in 1950, but by the 60s it had morphed into the film we still see on television at this time of year. The enlarged story included Hinkle, a magician who fails to realize the magical properties of his hat before tossing it aside, and is now determined to retrieve it as he chases Frosty and friends on foot and by train to the North Pole. Of course, the gang eventually ends up encountering Santa himself, who tells Hinkle that if he repents, he’ll get a little something in his stocking Christmas Day.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer started out as a story in 1939. Its author, Robert L. May, used The Ugly Duckling tale as inspiration, and you can certainly still see links between the two, even though the 1960s television version took Rudolph in some new directions. The show is still big with kids at Christmas, and we love it too, for a number of reasons — the charming stop-motion animation, the Island of Misfit Toys, gravelly-voiced Yukon Cornelius, and the unexpected detail of an elf who’d rather be a dentist. And yet, once my husband and I got going on our what’s-in-it-for-me-investigation, we realized the theory held true here as well. After all of Rudolph’s adventures, when he finally returns home, he is only really accepted by Santa and the rest because they realize his glowing nose will guide them through the storm. He is useful to them, and so welcome.

The doctor draws the Grinch's puzzler

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Somehow or other it comes just the same

  1. Tracy

    Rudolph is my own personal least liked Christmas song or show, and the reason is the message. You are different so we don’t like you, and in fact will bully you, but once we figure out you can do something for us we’ll accept you. Doesn’t say much for the character of the other reindeer. In fact, I’ve never really seen that there is a joy-to-the-world-goodwill-to-men (and reindeer) message in that story at all. The Grinch, on the other hand, does, I think, deliver a worthwhile message, and is our household favourite too. Merry Christmas!

    • kristendenhartog

      Hmm, wonder which one is more realistic?? Of course, having the “wrong” message can still sometimes make a great story! Apparently Seuss himself said he avoided moralizing at all costs because kids can smell a moral a mile off, and “they gag at it.” But seems to me he managed to tuck them into many of his stories anyhow, in rather expert ways.

  2. helen

    Great post Kristen, love the illustrations! Do you remember the Ghost of Christmas Past in Belize?

  3. jim

    I keep going back to this post and its sad heading, Your Mother—-. But not because of the title as much as ?”Are there hunters in TO?” It shows how difficult it must be for a child to fit the world of the imagination, the world of fantasy and the real world in something that can be understood and coped with without fear. I’ve not read of any brain research on the very young. To work with a clean slate and to see where the brain gets activated when it is still very innocent must be very exciting and ‘illuminating’. (-: . Of course an attentive and intelligent mother (parent) gets to do that everyday as the post shows!

  4. jim

    Sorry Kristen, my comment was meant to go with your previous post-a senior moment!

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