Tag Archives: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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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"Your mother can't be with you anymore…"

Dramatic tension is essential for holding the interest of jack russells

Years ago, when my daughter and I first began drawing faces together, she discovered how easily tears could be added, and she would implore me, “Mommy, draw girl crying!” and I would do the round circle head, the eyes, the down-turned mouth, and last of all, the tears. My daughter is, and was then, a happy, sociable, energetic child, but during that phase she would have watched Bambi every day if I let her. Among her favourite books were the ones I mentioned in my last post, which have happy endings but go to dark places along the way — the threat of being eaten or embedded in stone. Such stories are still the ones she wants to hear again and again, long after the cute, sweet, light stories have been shelved and forgotten.

Babar is riding happily on his mother's back when...

I like to muse about why children want these stories; when (if) they can be too much; how parents should handle the emotions they expose, and the inevitable questions they instigate. For instance, it took my daughter a long time to understand what the gunshot meant in Bambi, and to know what to do with the knowledge. When we read Babar, the story of an elephant whose mother is killed by a hunter, she immediately stopped me and asked, “Do hunters take moms away? Are there hunters in Toronto?” And for the rest of the book, she kept flipping back to that page where Babar’s mother was shot.

For weeks after the Bambi penny dropped, she’d ask, “Did you lock the door?” as soon as we got home. And then I started to hear her role-playing with her stuffed animals, and having one say to the other, “Your mother is not coming back. Your mother is never coming back.” (For a time I worried, but she is turning out just fine.)

Bambi, A Life in the Woods, by Felix Salten

First released in 1942, the movie Bambi holds up well today, and the book, originally published in Austria in 1923, is considered a classic and often referred to as one of the first environmental novels. Apparently its author, Felix Salten, wrote the story with an adult audience in mind, and indeed the Wall Street Journal reported that “you’ll find it in the children’s section at the library, a perfect place for this 293-page volume, packed as it is with blood-and-guts action, sexual conquest and betrayal.”

Salten was in his fifties by the time he wrote Bambi, A Life in the Woods, and had been writing plays, short stories, novels, and essays for years. But his books were banned by the Nazi regime in 1936, and as a Jew he was forced to leave Austria for Switzerland, where he remained until his death in 1945 — just three years after Disney released the animated version of his story, featuring a white-tailed deer rather than a roe, but retaining the heartbreaking scene in which “your mother can’t be with you anymore.”

Plate I from Darwin's Expression of the Emotions

I once met a grandmother who told me she didn’t think her toddler grandson should read How the Grinch Stole Christmas because she believed it was best to expose him only to happiness at his tender age. So that he would only be happy, I guess. But not even babies are “only happy.” In fact, you might argue that happiness is one of the more rare baby emotions. It takes weeks for a baby to smile; the wait is longer for laughter. (Said Charles Darwin, upon observing his own babies for The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, “In this gradual acquirement, by infants, of the habit of laughing, we have a case in some degree analogous to that of weeping. As practice is requisite with the ordinary movements of the body, such as walking, so it seems to be with laughing and weeping. The art of screaming, on the other hand, from being of service to infants, has become finely developed from the first days.”)

Actually — if one is looking for good messages in children’s literature, the Grinch is a stellar example. This is one of the rare Christmas stories in which the protagonist comes around not out of self interest or self preservation, but simply because he is moved by goodness. But I’ll save that for a December post.

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