What if The Grinch Was Actually the Hero of the Story?

So some of you might have noticed things were pretty quiet around here this fall. I wrote my over-analytical knitting post in November, and then silence reigned until New Year’s Day, when, inspired by the beauty of a long-awaited snowfall, I gathered some profound feelings of relief —

(Yay, there’s finally snow! And, yay, 2015 is over!)

— and with some fervent hopes for the new year, I broke my silence with a (probably trite) haiku.

November and December tend to be difficult months for me at the best of times. Even though we’ve always kept Christmases fairly minimalistic, I still find the month(s) leading up to the buying holiday season really difficult. It’s a season of pressure, after all; a season where even if you decide to keep things small and reasonable, to not buy all the crap, to not succumb to the you-must-have-it-all consumeristic mentality, you still have to work really hard to ignore it all.

Making things worse for me, Ruminator Extraordinaire, was a layering of a whole lotta other stuff. There was a heavy dose of way-too-much-to-worry-about with regards to loved-ones close to home, and there were also weighty matters farther afield, most notably in Paris: the terrorist attacks, as well as the climate change talks which took place there a few weeks after.

And when all of it was put together? Quite frankly, I was a bear this fall; a sad-sack; a grinch.

I’ve been tossing the word grinch around a lot these days. I mostly do it in a berating fashion, a mental pummelling of “Why are you such a grinch?” that comes quickly on the heels of the immediate knee-jerk irritation I feel when I see overblown consumerism or store-shelves filled with complete and utter crap.

(Oh, this is going to be a fun post; I wouldn’t blame anyone if they clicked away.)

So … grinch, yes … if you’re still with me, I’m going to assume we’re all familiar with the nasty character in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! … and I’m also going to assume we have the same narrative in our heads: the Grinch is a mean-spirited fellow who tries to ruin Christmas for the loveable Whos.

Since Seuss wrote the book in 1957, the term grinch has garnered a widespread, general meaning. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines grinch as:

an unpleasant person who spoils other people’s fun or enjoyment

But it seems to me that the term is tossed around much more loosely than that. I often feel that ANY non-compliance or non-participation in things which the majority of people determine to be fun or festive can result in being termed a grinch, if not in actual fact (aloud, and to your face), then — maybe more importantly and insidiously — by you, yourself, in your own head.

So, for example, if you are the lone abstainer in the outdoor-holiday-decorating olympics in the cul-de-sac, you run the (very small) risk that your neighbours will verbally call you out as a grinch (or merely whisper it to each other). The greater risk though, is that you yourself will label yourself as a grinch, and that your mind will then — perforce — either be filled with feelings of guilt, or feelings of defensiveness. In other words, a litany of justifications as to why you’re not *actually* a grinch.

/ Over-thinkers Anonymous? Yes, you’d better send help. Someone’s having a crisis. /

So … anyhoo* … an epiphany hit me the other day:

What if the Grinch was actually the hero of Dr. Seuss’ story?

It’s occurred to me that we only see things from the Grinch’s perspective. When he steals the Whos’ trimmings and trappings and hauls it all up the side of Mount Crumpit, we aren’t shown the Whos’ initial reaction, are we?

No. We have a small protestation by Cindy-Lou Who, and that’s it. After the deed is done, we see the Grinch waiting, perched with his stolen goods on the side of the mountain, and then we see the end result, the Whos gathering outside, hand-in-hand, to sing.

But what I’d like to know is, what just happened inside their homes?

When the Whos wake and clamber out of bed and find all their stuff gone, do they not even blink an eye?

Are they not even a little bit upset that all the stuff they’ve made/bought/wrapped/baked/cooked/decorated is GONE?

Are they not even a little bit disappointed that all the time they spent making/buying/wrapping/baking/cooking/decorating was completely WASTED?

Are they really just all, Oh well! … ?

Or … are they gnashing their teeth, wringing their hands, vowing revenge … until, perhaps, one Very Wise Who steps in and says, Hey! Wait a minute! It’s only stuff we’re crying about! What is Christmas actually all about, anyway? How about we all quit our whining, and get out there and sing?!

So … if the Whos have suddenly realized that Christmas will come even without all the trimmings and trappings, then WHATEVER motivation lay behind the Grinch’s actions — whether he’s simply a petty asshole with a heart that’s two sizes too small; or whether he’s acting out because he’s lonely and feels left out; or whether he’s stolen the stuff because this is his misguided-activist-way to protest child labour or mercury-laced strip-mining techniques or inhumane animal husbandry — whom do the Whos have to thank for this very valuable epiphany? Why, the Grinch of course!

This then leads to a further question: if the Whos can manage to celebrate Christmas just fine, thankyouverymuch, without all the trimmings and trappings, then what purpose do all the trimmings and trappings serve?

And the answer to that is, Duh, Marian … the trimmings and trappings make things fun and festive!

But for me, this then begs the grinchy question: at what cost does that fun and festivity come?

Perhaps, in the Whos’ world, their trimmings and trappings are wholly and completely sustainable. Maybe there’s a local Whoville toymaker who makes frambamafoozlers from sustainably-harvested wood. Maybe their wrappings are reusable bits of cloth made from un-dyed, fair-trade truffula tufts. Perhaps their roast beast is wild-caught and humanely butchered. Maybe, for the Whos, there’s absolutely no harm in any** of it.

But that’s not the world we live in, is it?

We live in a warming world.

According to the vast majority of scientists, we have to keep this warming to a minimum in order to avoid catastrophic effects. Our very survival is hanging in the balance, and what do we do?

We ship fun and festive stuff, such as these Christmas crackers, halfway around the world.

Christmas crackers: each one comes with a hat, a joke, and a unique gift!

These particular Christmas crackers were made in Indonesia. They travelled over 14,000 km (nearly 9000 miles), over two-thirds of that distance on a container ship, just so Ontarians could have 30 seconds of fun and festivity at Christmastime.

And here’s the thing: did you know — because I sure as heck didn’t! — that international shipping — the way we get so many of our goods — wasn’t in the climate change talks? Emissions from container ships aren’t ascribed to any one country, so no country is responsible for doing anything to address the considerable carbon footprint due to shipping.

I wonder — maybe it would be a good thing if we all started to be just a bit more grinchy when it comes to choosing our fun and festive things.

But then again, maybe grinchy is the wrong word altogether. After all, the Grinch’s success — if indeed my thought exercise managed to convince anyone — hinges on the simple fact that he (perhaps) caused the Whos to see things differently. In the end, it has nothing to do with spoiling fun; rather, it’s about seeing things in a different light.

More on that coming up next …


*I once said, Never again! to the use of the word anyhoo. But sometimes it’s the only word that fits.

**This mostly-vegetarian simply cannot stop herself from pointing out that there is indeed harm done to the beast who is roasted.

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12 thoughts on “What if The Grinch Was Actually the Hero of the Story?

  1. “Making things worse for me, Ruminator Extraordinaire, was a layering of a whole lotta other stuff”

    / Over-thinkers Anonymous? Yes, you’d better send help. Someone’s having a crisis. /

    I adore you. 🙂

    I, too, am a bit of a grinch. Which is why the only store I visited (outside a in and out trip to Target for a suitcase because of an unexpected trip to Michigan) is the grocery store.

    But I’m also a bit of a Pollyanna (to confuse the literary reference) because I DO love the making or purchasing of a great gift and the look on a family member’s face when they open it. I love the candlelight Mass and driving home and seeing the lights (even though I get a twinge at how it may not be the best use of our limited resources). I love the food and the games and the laughs with people I love. And while there were some really dark days (both literally and figuratively) this holiday season, I still choose to see Christmas as a season of hope.

    Looking forward to reading more in your future post. 🙂

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    1. Ah Kate, that first bit you said made my day — thank you 🙂

      I too, not surprisingly, try to avoid any store other than the grocery store. But maybe it will come as a bit of a surprise when I say that I actually see the benefit (and need) for celebrations and holidays, AND that I think a well-chosen and thoughtful gift can be a nice thing. For many years now, ever since coming across it on the internet, I’ve used the “want/need/wear/read” poem to figure out presents for our kids, and it’s (mostly) worked out well. It keeps all of us grounded: it helps me to assess things and keep things minimalistic and even (between kids), and it keeps my kids’ expectations reasonable. The problem, as I see it, is when things are overdone, or when gifts are thoughtless and given “just because”.

      I’m not religious now, but I was raised Lutheran, and one of my favourite times was the Christmas Eve candlelight service at our church. I grew up in Edmonton, so it was always freezing cold that night, and the chill would seep through my tights and I’d be shivering in the car … but it was magical: the singing and the candles, the snow-covered landscape, the stars in the dark sky, the lights on the houses … But here again, things have gotten so overblown: yes, there are people who keep their lights simple; but then there are the people who have a veritable carnival in front of their house — lights everywhere, candy cane walkways, light-up reindeer that move … and the inflatables … oh.my.gosh. the inflatables … I swear they must breed, because there are *always* two, or three, or four of them out on a yard. (Actually, their breeding would be better than the reality — the fact that they’re (in all likelihood) shipped from China). It’s like people don’t understand the word “enough” anymore, and *no one* seems to be giving any thought to where all this stuff comes from (never mind the electricity it takes to run the show) 😦 .

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  2. Oh, I too am a Christmas grinch. I suggested a few years ago that perhaps instead of doing gifts for everyone (I have a massive extended family, and buy gifts for most of them) we could adopt a family in need, and everyone acted as though I had suggested that we slaughter puppies in our living room. Adding a needy family is ok, but dropping the non-needy people is not ok. So now I just silently fume at the entire holiday.

    Reframing the narrative is always a fascinating experience. When I taught legal writing I used to do an exercise about representing the morally unattractive client, because most of the time you probably won’t get to pick who you represent. Students would be assigned a historical or cultural figure that was “bad”, like Cinderella’s stepmother, or Typhoid Mary. Cinderella’s stepmother had a very naughty stepdaughter who refused to do her chores, heard voices from animals, stole her sister’s clothing, and kept running away from home with strange boys. Typhoid Mary was demoted from her high-paying job which she had invested years of training, was unable to find employment and became destitute, and was eventually held for decades on a deserted island because of a physical characteristic that she had no control over (she constantly shed the typhus virus, despite decent personal hygiene). No one is 100% evil; there is always something nice to be found about someone if the villain is cast as the protagonist. (Even Monsanto gives a ton of money to charitable causes.)

    I do have the same feeling that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Things will probably be fine for me, and maybe even my kids, but my grandchildren are going to have serious problems. I think history will look back on us and think “what jerks.”

    I hope that all the family stuff resolves itself and the worries begone.

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    1. I would be fuming too, if I had to buy (and receive, which is probably even worse for me!) gifts for a massive extended family. We’ve mostly stopped doing gifts for and from extended family, and it has been the HUGEST relief. (Is it ok for me to admit that your “slaughtering puppies” analogy made me laugh out loud?)

      I too, love the whole “reframing the narrative” thing (and what a creative tool to use with students in law school, to get them thinking beyond their biases and foregone conclusions!). It’s reminded me of an assignment my daughter had in 6th or 7th grade English: she had to tell the story of Hansel and Gretel from the perspective of the oven! (Oh, I had *such* fun discussing that assignment with my daughter; I just LOVE words and stories 🙂 ).

      I swing from despondent despairing lows (the world is going to hell in a handbasket and no one cares) to stupidly-optimistic highs (we’ll figure things out and everything will be ok). (I can usually only manage the latter when I’m at home; when I’m out and about and I see the sheer magnitude of wastefulness and thoughtlessness, it’s the former. Hence all the grinchiness, I guess…). My daughter sent me this just before Christmas: http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/12/06/what-will-his-life-be-like-with-climate-change.htmlI . I cried when I read it. I often ponder what people in the future will think of us — how they will assess what we did and what we didn’t do, how disgusted they’ll be to see how we wasted our resources so badly. We will have a lot to answer for if we don’t fix this, and the thought of what possible future grandchildren may have to go through fills me with despair.

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    2. This made me think of a paper I wrote in college in defense of Lear’s daughters. And how some of my favorite reads have been “fractured fairytales.” Reframing classic narratives is fascinating to me. A writer friend, Emily Whitman, wrote a novel a few years ago in which she imagined the Persephone myth from Persephone’s perspective, and it was a story about an adolescent daughter trying to individuate from her mother. Funny and insightful. I love anything that gets me to see something I thought I knew from a different perspective.

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  3. Oh, Marian: Does your head ever just wear you out? I say that because your account of what goes on in yours reminds me so much of mine, and mine wears me out sometimes. Considering that Suess was also the author of The Lorax, I think it’s absolutely plausible that he intended the very meaning you are drawing from The Grinch. And even if he didn’t, who cares? (As an English major, I never cared much about author’s intent. I care more about the meaning a reader can derive from the text.) Your interpretation holds and makes sense.

    Like you, I find November and December challenging. I love October, once the weather finally starts to turn. (Later and later it seems.) I love darker days, and rain, and putting on sweaters and big socks. I love doing puzzles and cooking soups and burning candles and lighting fires. It’s my favorite time of year. But I’m also a creature of routine, and what the holidays do is disrupt my routines. By the end of December, there’s been so much of that, and so much of things I feel I have to do to “celebrate” that there’s never been enough time to do the kind of winter nesting I’d really like to do. We are now back to routine (which I love), but the season is already slipping away. The light is different. The air is different. It’s not the same when I light candles, somehow. Add to that all you’ve said here about the waste and cost (even as minimally as I’ve come to do the holidays) AND the feelings stirred up by all the people I used to celebrate with who are now gone AND the way year endings make me mark the passing of time AND my hamster-wheeling brain…and, yeah, funky time of year.

    I hope you’re feeling better now. I’ve missed your voice here.

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    1. I’m of two minds about my hamster-wheeling brain. On the one hand, it’s exhausting. There are days when I would do just about anything to shut off the constant noise. On the other hand, at least it’s not boring in there 😉 . I wonder sometimes what it sounds like in other people’s heads; maybe we’re ALL hamster-wheeling. Maybe the question should be what are we hamster-wheeling about? I think I would rather be ruminating about big things (even though the big things seem completely out of my control) versus a constant litany of small things (which has the effect of making me feel superficial and shallow). (And just to be clear (so I don’t come off as condescending or superior) I hamster-wheel about both). The blog has been both a blessing and a curse: I can now organize my thoughts and write them out, and have fantastic conversations with like-minded people. I love love love playing with words and ideas and this is a wonderful outlet for that. On the other hand, it takes a lot of time to put my thoughts into coherent form, time which I sometimes feel could be spent in more productive ways. (I think it’s about an 80/20 split, this feeling of blessing vs. curse, so this isn’t at all a “good-bye” comment).

      While I LOVE the family and food parts of the holidays (playing scrabble or Settlers of Catan, playing outside or going skiing (snow permitting), baking our “traditional” goodies), I too, find the disruption of routine difficult at times. It’s bittersweet nowadays, because hovering in my thoughts is the fact that once the holidays are over our daughter has to once again go back to university, and yet I also feel such a profound sense of relief when the small bits of Christmas decor are boxed and the tree is gone and the house is back to normal! And I’m totally with you on sweater and sock weather and dark and cozy evenings — I am 100% a winter-girl.

      I am feeling better — many of the close-to-home worries have been somewhat settled, so that’s been a relief. I hope 2016 has, so far, been fine for you as well.

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      1. I am so glad to hear that your close-to-home worries are settling down.

        As for whether or not we all have hamster-wheel brains, I think no. Cane does not have one. I am often quite envious. I still remember my son, still just a toddler, telling me that he couldn’t go to sleep because he couldn’t turn his brain off and that he wanted an off-switch for it. I knew just what he meant, and felt sorry that he’d likely inherited that from me.

        I think if the writing helps you work through your thoughts (and has the bonus of connecting you with others), you might consider that time well-spent. I find that once I work through some things, they tend to leave me alone more. Which is better for everyone. 🙂

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      2. I too, am envious of people like Cane, whose brains are “better behaved”. My husband doesn’t have a hamster-wheel brain either, and I know he finds it hard at times to understand what I’m going through. (Not that he doesn’t try to). This means that when two out of three of our children get their own hamster wheels going, I am the only one who can really help them. (But it brings me to tears sometimes, knowing what they’re going through, and that they get it from me 😦 ).

        Hamster wheels or not, I do still wonder what it’s like in other people’s heads. If they don’t have a running commentary of let’s-spend-every-waking-moment-figuring-things-out, then what the heck are they thinking of? 🙂

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  4. I’m so glad to hear that some of your close-to-home worries have been resolved, Marian. May 2016 bring brighter days for you and your loves.

    I was really tickled by this post and like Rita I thought of it as being a great contribution to the genre of stories rewritten from the antagonist’s perspective — like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, or John Gardner’s Grendel.

    That’s pretty interesting that international shipping wasn’t covered in the climate change talks (though, as I understand it, sea shipping is actually one of the most efficient modes of transportation). I recently talked to a researcher/activist who was heartened that the talks had finally started to include discussions of public transport (rather than the previous exclusive emphasis on renewable electricity + electric vehicles) but still frustrated by the slow uptake of the topic (billions of carbon-free trips happen every day — i.e., by bike or foot — and aren’t accounted for).

    I thought your speculation that maybe the Grinch did what he did because he didn’t want to be left out was interesting. It made me wonder whether, in labeling ourselves Grinchy, we are partly expressing a fear of being left out. I think that might be true, in my case.

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    1. I’m so glad you liked this post, Sarah 🙂 . I’m not familiar with either of the books you mentioned, so I’ll have to take a look at them!

      I think there’s going to be a lot of frustration over the (necessarily) slow response to what needs to be done to combat climate change, the world’s economy being the behemoth it is … I’ve heard too, that sea shipping and rail transport are more efficient than trucking, but I feel like statistics like that are a bit of decoy and take attention away from what should be a larger and more fundamental discussion. If the goods being shipped are useful and necessary items, then it makes total sense that they should be shipped by the most efficient means possible. But if the goods being shipped are — for lack of a better descriptor — worthless crap? Then it’s a waste of resources no matter how efficient the transportation. But of course, in a free-market society, that opens up a can of worms because that’s a values discussion (which goods are *worth* shipping and which are not?).

      It’s funny — I didn’t expressly think of myself when brain-storming those ideas to explain the Grinch’s behaviour, but the fear of being left out would definitely fit me as well. In my case, I have to wonder which came first: have I been left out of things because I’m seen as a grinch, or have I become a grinch because I have been left out of things? (Quite honestly, I don’t think fun has really ever come easily to me, so it’s probably the former 😦 ). (Actually, the eco-warrior Grinch also fits me quite well too, although I’m too law-abiding to commit burglary and theft 😉 ).

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