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You’re a Mean One, Mr. Geisel

December 25, 2011

On this most cherished and most commercial of holidays, I always find myself thinking of that beloved children’s author and veritable genius of social allegory Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who wrote what is probably the best true-meaning-of-Christmas story ever conceived.

The simplistic brilliance Seuss’s 1957 book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, resides in the effortless relatability of its holiday-hating title character. I mean, who among us hasn’t—at least on occasion—scorned the season with complete Grinch-like acidity? Who hasn’t felt violently ill after hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” for the five-hundredth time? Who hasn’t cursed Coca-Cola’s very existence upon seeing those sappy CGI polar bears?

Yup, there’s a little Grinch in all of us, even Dr. Seuss himself.

Indeed, the good doctor drew inspiration for the character from his own Grinchy tendencies. On the morning of December 26, 1956, Seuss was brushing his teeth when he caught a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror. Seuss, who at 53 was far more ripened and rippled than Cindy Lou Who, thought his reflection looked like something of “a Grinchish countenance,” in his words. And in that moment he began to feel like “something had gone with Christmas … or more likely me.”

The following year, Random House published How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, which appeared simultaneously in Redbook magazine. In an interview with Rebook’s editor, Seuss explained his motivation for crafting the tale of the grouchy green troglodyte. “I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost,” Seuss said.

Of course, we all know what happens: The Grinch realizes that stealing presents doesn’t prevent Christmas from coming and his heart subsequently grows three sizes—a transformation that probably never quite happened to the author who created him. Despite the playfulness of his children’s books, Dr. Seuss remained a hardened soul, so affected by the rise of fascism and the events of World War II some years earlier that he developed a lifelong concern for the future of civility and human rights.

That said, for anyone who still can’t help but get a little grouchy around the holidays, check out this classic scene from the terrific 1966 adaptation of Seuss’s classic story by the animator Chuck Jones. While we’re at it, can we all just pretend that embarrassing live-action abomination by Ron Howard never happened?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2011 5:16 am

    We haul out the classic “Grinch” and watch it every year. I’ve never seen any of the other adaptations, and I refuse to even peek at them. When you get it right the first time, don’t mess with success. :-)

  2. December 30, 2011 6:05 am

    Perfectly stated.

  3. Kris permalink
    December 31, 2011 3:35 am

    I never get tired of hearing about the ‘real’ Dr. Seuss.

  4. February 13, 2012 11:51 am

    I watch The Grinch so often during The Season — for me, from Thanksgiving to the week after New Years — I can recite the lines along with the narrator.

    No. Not claiming that’s a marvel of memory. I love the season and have since I was a young kid and could expect a pair of slippers, new undies, and one just-for-me inexpensive present each year. But, I’ve moved so far from WhoVille, where the day is celebratory with or without a gluttony of food and gifts.

    I had no idea the real Dr. Seuss was a tortured soul. It’s said the seed for many artist’s humor took root in the pain. This revelation supports that theory.

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