In 1957 Dr. Seuss was enjoying what Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys would describe as his ‘imperial phase’. The Cat in the Hat had just changed how children learn to read forever, and another masterpiece, Green Eggs and Ham was to follow. In between came his Christmas book, and it was every bit their equal.
Seuss doesn’t mess around – in fact he goes straight for mother load, creating a mashup of the festive urtexts, A Christmas Carol and the Night Before Christmas.
The Grinch is like a manic version of Scrooge who has forgotten to take his medication. He is driven mad by the people around him, the Whos, with their love of Christmas and their toys and their NOISE!
‘Oh the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!’
His journey, like Scrooge’s is one of redemption, but it reads like a descent into madness. He begins a hermit, disheveled and paranoid before his hatred for people and fun kicks in and he becomes something altogether scarier.
The Grinch is obsessively driven to strip the Whos’ house of every vestige of Christmas, leaving just one speck of food, ‘too small for a mouse.’
This entire scene plays out like a reversal of Clement Moore’s the Night Before Christmas – his house clearing antics are even using the same rhythm. Phil Nel, author of Dr. Seuss: American Icon explains it here, ‘He writes in anapests – two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable repeated. It’s that da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da. And that is the Seuss rhythm. It’s a popular rhythm, “Night Before Christmas,” also the limerick.’
“Then he slithered and slunk, with a smile most unpleasant,
Around the whole room and he took every present.
Popguns! And bicycles! Roller skates! Drums!
Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums!”
And then everything is stripped away, and the Grinch takes his load to the top of the nearest mountain where he can revel in the peace. In this moment of stillness he hears the locals who are singing anyway, despite being robbed blind.
‘And what happened then…?
Well in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!’
The Grinch is reborn. The nihilistic void he has created in everybody’s life is suddenly filled with love. After the mania that has gone before, it is a sudden, shocking reversal. A beautifully cathartic moment in this masterpiece of Christmas.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is published by Harper Collins