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A Christmas Tale with a Masterly Twist


A Perfect Novelty Book

How The Grinch Stole Christmas
A Christmas Tale with a Masterly Twist

How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Cover

 

Dr Seuss’s work never found its way into our house when I was growing up but when I discovered his books as an adult I immediately knew that I was on to something special. When you consider the period in which his books were first published (early fifties) its clear to see that he took the art of picture books forward into areas which it had previously never gone. He achieved in children’s books what Jimi Hendrix did in music and Spike Milligan did in comedy. It takes artistic pioneers such as these to open the door for the next generation of artists to come through and walk in their footsteps. I recognise that, though I never read him as a child or even when I started producing picture books, in some ways I owe a great debt to this man.

 

At times I have considered coming up with a Christmas picture book but know I probably never will because the best Christmas book has already been written and it is called ‘HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS.’

 

Like all great works of art, this book has the power to move us in many different ways. It manages to be both reassuring as well as, at times, quite disturbing. (In this you could say it is just like life!) How many children’s books do you know whose lead character’s chief attribute is his sheer nastiness? (Of course Dickens did this for adults with Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol ). The Grinch really hates the Whos in Whoville, whose open hearts are beautifully and poetically signalled by the light from their windows:

 

          Staring down from his cave with a sour Grinchy frown
          At the warm lighted windows below in their town.

 

For a book to have the power to move us it must be true to life and that means characters must be psychologically correct; if they are not we do not believe in them. This little portrait of hatred is spot on - I like the way the Grinch’s closed heart (‘two sizes too small’) cannot bear the happiness of others because it shows up its own misery.

 

However, it’s one thing to have strong characters and a good story, but you’ve got to have the skill with words to be able to tell it well. This is something the great Doctor has in abundance. Listen to this delicious piece of poetical storytelling:

 

          Then the Grinch said ‘Giddap!’
          And the sleigh started down
          Toward the homes where the Whos
          Lay a-snooze in their town.

 

Who else could these lines have come from but Dr Seuss? It’s quite something to have created a writing style that is so distinct it can be recognised within the space of a few lines!

 

But as well as his idiosyncratic writing style, it’s the way that Seuss ‘colours in’ his characters and gives them light and shade, that also makes the stories so unique. For example there’s something playfully wicked about the way he doesn’t shirk from making The Grinch quite cruel when he lies to Cindy Lou Who:

 

          'Why, my sweet little tot,’ the fake Santa Claus lied,
          ‘There’s a light on this tree that won’t work on one side.
          So I’m taking it home to my workshop my dear
          I’ll fix it up there, then bring it back here.’
          His fib fooled the child. Then he patted her head
          And he got her a drink and sent her to bed.

 

The Grinch with Cindy Lou

 

I think it’s the fact that he lies to her and then gets her a drink like a loving parent would do that’s so disturbing. You can’t help feeling that Seuss is having great fun in making the Grinch quite so nasty, especially when he humorously documents the way the Whos house has been cleared out.

 

          On the walls he left nothing but hooks and some wire.
          And the one speck of food he left in the house
          Was a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.

 

After all the fun exploring the Grinch’s nastiness in taking every vestment of Christmas away from the Whos, Seuss delivers the ingenious twist in which the whole point of the story is revealed:

 

          Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small
          Was singing - without any presents at all.
          It hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, IT CAME
          Somehow or other it came just the same!
          Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store
          Maybe Christmas... perhaps - means a little bit more!

 

We find out that the Whos have their own source of warmth and light which cannot be taken away by the Grinch. It’s interesting that the moral is not really aimed at the Whos; it is aimed at us, the reader. The Whos get all their presents back but only once they have demonstrated to us (they seemed to already know) that Christmas is about more than just presents.

 

To understand what Christmas is really about Seuss creates a sort of anti-Father Christmas in the Grinch. He turns the world upside down but in that inverted mirror we see our world more clearly. For me this talent for holding a mirror up to the world is what makes Dr Seuss so special.

 

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