I’m now coming up on the first Christmas where my son has been cognizant enough to give a damn, and so lately we’ve been reading that beloved Christmas classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
This is what got me thinking about the Grinch again, and, as any of my regular readers know, it’s when I start thinking that the…problems…begin.
Reading the story, I couldn’t help but mentally compare the book to the original movie. And by original movie, I mean the original 25 minute television special. And I couldn’t help but wonder about the things that were missing - the things that I had thought of as filler that had been added to stretch out a children’s book so that it was long enough to fill a half-hour time slot (and remember, this was back before an entire third of everything you watched on television was commercials).
And that’s what got me wondering…weren’t there, like, freaky eyebrows? And…wind, maybe?
If you’ve watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas in the past decade, you probably remember it well enough to say, “No, there wasn’t anything like that. What the hell is wrong with you?”
The answer is that my traumatized child mind somehow managed to mix together the memories of the three separate Grinch cartoons from my childhood.
And, since you probably don’t want to spend an hour and a half watching decades-old children’s cartoon shows in order to put the Grinch into perspective, allow me to, in the spirit of the Grinch, ruin Christmas for you.
There were a total of three cartoons: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Grinch Night (or possibly Halloween is Grinch Night), and The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat.
And so, to help you understand the Grinch’s context, a recap…
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The old classic, and therefore the one I paid the least attention to. Essentially, this one is about a moldy sack of avocadoes that steals Christmas. And brings his dog Max for some reason.
He eventually changes his mind when he hears the Whos–who are some sort of humanoid aliens, some of which have…antennae, for…reasons?–singing about Christmas. Or, at least, singing on Christmas. A lot of the words seemed to be gibberish, so it could’ve been some sort of Latin hymn about cheese. Upon hearing this, his heart grow three sizes, apparently curing his congenital heart defect by replacing it with another, equally severe heart defect.
His ruined heart now fails to supply his brain with sufficient oxygen, which is visually indicated by the way the Grinch’s naturally yellow-and-red eyes change to an unhealthy white-and-blue colors (except for the frames where the animators forgot to draw him that way). His judgment impaired, he instantly decides to undo everything he’s worked so hard to achieve by bringing all the toys and presents back down from his cave home on Mount Crumpit and gives them back to the Whos, who welcome him with open arms and even allow him to carve the roast beast.
This prequel was a Halloween special released under the titles Halloween is Grinch Night, It’s Grinch Night, and Grinch Night.
This installment takes us back to Whoville, where we find a darker vision of the Grinch (whose eyes have become a festive orange in honor of Halloween). In his Christmas special, the Grinch just hated the noise of Christmas, but in his Halloween special the Grinch…well, he also seems like he might hate noise, but it seems like a flimsy excuse to torture the Whos, abuse his dog, and sing a bland villain song.
I say this because evidently the Whovian Halloween is less of a holiday dictated by the calendar and more an occasional meteorological condition. Every so often, the citizens of Whotopia smell a sour, sweet wind–clearly a child-friendly way of describing the stench of decay carried in on the breeze–and that wind riles up the local wildlife, which starts making loud noises that ostensibly disturb the Grinch until he takes his anger out on the Whos. But since the Grinch starts off the night with a monologue about how excited he is by the prospect of terrorizing the Whos, and later expresses disappointment when the terrorizing is over, that seems rather like a lie.
Regardless of Grinch Night’s exact motivation, this special begins as the sweet sour wind picks up, prompting the Whos–who appear to have become fully human in this episode, having reached a stage in their lifecycle where they shed their antennae–to run for shelter and board up their windows like they’re preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse.
We focus on one particular Who child, Euchariah, as he holes up in his home with his family…up until he announces that he needs the “euphemism,” which is the term that they really used to describe the outhouse,  and is promptly blown away by the wind, conveniently landing on Mount Crumpit. This, I’ll add, creates an unresolved plot thread that nearly spoils the whole show: Euchariah never did manage to take that dump. Was he just holding it in the whole time he fought the Grinch’s demon army? Did he soil himself in fear? Was it a false alarm?
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
While Euchariah is getting abducted by the weather, the Grinch is making his way down Mount Crumpit with his Paraphernalia Wagon, pulled by his elderly dog Max, whom the Grinch whips mercilessly in his hurry to get down the mountain, stopping only to run over a flower for no reason, and also to hunt down some sort of cotton candy monster for sport.
To drive home the point that the Grinch is awful, during his journey down the blighted hellscape that is Mount Crumpit, we get a mournful song where Max mentally sings about how he regards himself as a slave, which…the Grinch seems to respond to out loud, seemingly suggesting that either the dog broadcasts his thoughts, the Grinch can read minds, or that the two of them have some sort of telepathic link.
Shockingly, Euchariah and the Grinch manage to run into each other on the side of this enormous mountain, and they have a bit of a will they/won’t they thing, with the Grinch–who I’ll remind you specifically stopped his wagon and flipped it into reverse so that he could run over a single flower that he had missed on the way down–declared that Euchariah wasn’t worth a first-class Grinching, and that Euchariah would have to settle for some weird black magic where the Grinch’s giant demonic eyebrows leapt free of his face and…sort of flew around Euchariah for a while… and then nothing? But Euchariah stalks him down, and, in an effort to save the town by stalling, tells the Grinch, “Will you please scare me some more? I kind of like it.” To which the Grinch says no…again.
Suffice it so say, Euchariah eventually wins out, and the Grinch patiently(-ish) waits for Euchariah to clean off his glasses and climb up on top of the wagon, where a weird, gassy blob pops out and glares at Euchariah, and…then he’s in some sort of bizarre nightmare world where more weird, blobby horrors sing “Euchariah” at him, until he manages to escape the wagon, which he was either somehow inside of, or was just hallucinating on top of.
Either way, he finds the Grinch–again, patiently waiting–and declares victory, since the sour, sweet wind has now died down, which means the Grinch has to go back home, for some reason. At which point the Grinch says, “Well, I’ll be Grinched,” and has a change of heart where he decides that he should be kind to the Whos after all.
Just kidding. He ominously declares that someday the wind will be back, and so will he, so he can inflict more of that sweet, sweet psychological torture on the innocent townsfolk.
And, to top it all off, as Euchariah runs off to go home, Max bails on the Grinch and follows Euchariah home, leaving the Grinch to haul his own stupid wagon full of demons back up the mountain.
The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat
In this crossover event, we find the Grinch waking up in a cheerful mood in his mountain home, which surprises and delights his loyal dog, Max.
But the pleasant surprise doesn’t last long. When the Grinch sees himself in the mirror, his reflection yells at him for being happy, and forces him to recite the Grinch’s Oath, the tl;dr of which is “Be a dick for some reason. It’s what Grinches do.” Then the Grinch turns evil again, and goes out to his…car, and heads out to presumably go do some sort of Grinch stuff. While he’s out there, he has a fenderbender with the Cat in the Hat, who left his car out in the middle of the road while he cooked himself a hot dog. The Cat manages to offend the Grinch, and they have a car chase where the Grinch playfully tries and fails to murder the Cat by forcing his car off the road.
Afterward, the Cat relaxes at home and begins to sing, when he suddenly finds the song interrupted by a bad chord. As it turns out, when the Grinch returned to his mountain supervillain base, he activated his evil anti-music machine and pointed it at the Cat. Personally, I’m with the Grinch on this one. Of all three specials, there’s exactly one tolerable song. Sure, everyone knows “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” but can you name a second catchy Grinch-related song?
Take your time, I’ll wait.
Given up yet? Good. The Grinch didn’t, though.
He decided to mess with the Cat using a variety of other inventions, including a darkhouse (opposite of a lighthouse), and some sort of color changing machine that, I guess gets everyone high, because stuff got confusing in there. I won’t go into all the details, but I will mention that it evidently never occurred to the Grinch that he could have saved a lot of effort by just whipping out a laser pointer, and the Cat would’ve gone crazy all on his own.
After hijinks ensue, the Cat brings an angry mob up to the Grinch’s door, where they…er…serenade him about his mother, and what she would say if she were around to see him now.
In response, the Grinch bursts into tears, and then hallucinates the visage of his mother in the tear-puddle on the floor. Grinchy then dismantles his infernal machines.
The next morning, when the Grinch sees his evil reflection, Max uses the noise machine to prevent him from sucking the Grinch back in with his evil oath.
So What Does It All Mean?
Okay, so let’s establish a chronology. I referred to Grinch Night as a prequel–which it is often referred to as by the Internet at large–but here’s the problem.
Max is present in all three movies, but he leaves at the end of Grinch Night.
This means that, unless Max came crawling back to his abusive master, Grinch Night has to be the last installment in the series.
But Max’s presence isn’t the only factor. Max’s age also varies throughout the series. In the Christmas special, Max appears to be an energetic puppy. In the Cat crossover, Max seems more middle-aged, and in the Halloween special, he appears elderly and worn down from years of whipping and manual labor.
I was unable to determine what breed of dog Max was because I am an idiot who knows nothing about dogs and couldn’t be bothered to spend more than ten minutes screwing around on Google after I already burned and hour and a half watching Grinch cartoons, but I think we can assume that his life expectancy would be somewhere from 10 - 20 years, so let’s split the difference and say that the specials take place over an interval of no more than 15 years.
Let’s also take a moment to address the geography involved here. Clearly, the holiday specials are in the same location, but that does not seem to be the case with the crossover, which appears to feature a different mountain, as well as being otherwise incompatible with being near the Whos. How, you ask?
Well, the Whos aren’t exclusively related to the Grinch. In fact, they also appear in the story Horton Hears a Who, where it is revealed that they are microscopic, such that their entire world is on a speck of dust atop a clover that an elephant named Horton has charged himself with guarding.
The Cat in the Hat, in contrast, appears to live in a normal, human sized world. Does that mean that attempting to establish a single, canonical timeline involving the Grinch is a pointless, futile endeavor?
Hey, do I go to where you work and tell you to shut the hell up?
The solution is subtle, but clear enough, provided that you actually watched the cartoons rather than settling for my abridged summaries. You see, in one of the Grinch’s early songs during Grinch Night, he casually reveals that he can change size at will. With no apparent effort, he briefly shrinks down, then grows even larger before returning to his normal size.
Between this dance number, the fact that he spent some time living in a normal scale world, and the whole thing with his heart growing three sizes, the Grinch appears to have the power to manipulate not only his own size, but also that of others, since he took his dog with him when he moved away from Whoville.
Placing How the Grinch Stole Christmas into the context of this broader series sheds a whole new light on the special. For one thing, for as much as the Grinch hates the Whos at the start of the show, he chose this. He demonstrates later on that he is perfectly capable of not only moving away from Whoville, but also of leaving their entire world behind.
Beyond that, though, it also robs the story of its core arc and replaces it with a new one.
You see, the Grinch succumbs to his darker impulses and attempts to steal Christmas, only to have a change of heart and see the value of love and kindness. Then, some years later, we find the Grinch, in a human-sized world, back to his old ways…and, when he fails to act like a jerk, his own reflection forces him to relapse into acting like a monster, before he undergoes another transofrmation to become a Good Guy again. This reflection would seem to either a) reveal the descent into madness of a mind torn asunder by these dueling sides of the Grinch, or b) some dark force had found its way into the Grinch’s soul, possibly the result of some infernal contract with the demons we find in Grinch Night.
Which, of course, brings us to Grinch Night. Here, we find the Grinch fully embracing his darker nature, and Max defeated by both time and abuse. The Grinch has returned to Whoville with a vengeance, but now we know he chose this. There’s no justification where he just hates the sound of the Whos enjoying Christmas. He came back so he could periodically drive his wagon of demons down to the town and unleash the eldritch horrors he had aligned himself with, possibly to the point where they had irreparably corrupted his soul.
We don’t know specifically what happened between these specials, but we do know that we went from the Whos willingly accepting the Grinch into their homes to a scene in Grinch Night where it is revealed that the Whos have a “Grinch Alarm Center” - a Who stationed deep in Grinch territory–and I say stationed because this does indeed appear to be a military operation–which is responsible for reporting the status of the Grinch to the civilian population. The once innocent, welcoming Whos now hate the Grinch so much that they use their military to spy on him while they cower in their homes.
And, since this is the only special without a redemption arc, that means that, viewed together, these specials form a single story wherein the Grinch wrestles with his dual nature, perpetually struggling to become a better man, until at last he succumbs to his darker impulses and is abandoned by his oldest friend (Max) while he intentionally surrounds himself with people he hates.
And, if you really want a darker twist, do the math here: the Grinch, a powerful shapeshifter and brilliant inventor who consorts with demons, has the power to grow to an enormous size and leave the Whos’ dust-speck world, and at that size, he could easily destroy them. The implication? If he ever finally grows bored of torturing the Whos for his own amusement, he’ll probably just go ahead and murder them all.
The moral? Your childhood is a lie, and the world is an abyss that will one day suck you into darkness. Merry Christmas!
The Grinch specials apparently depict a Whoville lacking technological sophistication, as they seem to not yet have invented indoor shitting-in-a-bucket. ↩︎