Yesterday we looked at an important literary influence on the American Christmas tradition, from the nineteenth century. Today, one of the most important twentieth-century literary contributions to Christmas, courtesy of a children’s writer whose books have sold over half a billion copies worldwide (but whose name most of us are still mispronouncing).
The writer we’re talking about is Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as Dr Seuss (which should be pronounced ‘Zoyce’, by the way), and his contribution to Christmas folklore is his classic holiday story involving the Grinch, the creature that steals Christmas.
Most sources will tell you that the Grinch first appeared in the 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – see, for instance, this Wikipedia entry. But it’s a little-known fact that the Grinch actually made his debut in print two years earlier, in a 1955 poem, ‘The Hoobub and the Grinch‘. This 32-line poem appeared in the May 1955 issue of Redbook.
But then, as Philip Nel suggests in Dr. Seuss: American Icon, perhaps this ‘Grinch’ is not the Grinch, since he is a smaller creature than the more famous creation of two years later. But, Nel goes on, they are both relatives, at least, for they are both con artists. Just as the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! cons the young Cindy-Lou into thinking he is Santa Claus doing a good deed, so the earlier creature of that name cons a Hoobub into thinking that a piece of worthless green string is valuable.
One of the reasons that the earlier Grinch story is not remembered is that it was never published as a picture-book, so never had a chance to attain the canonical status enjoyed by the more famous creation of 1957. That is, until recently: in September of this year, ‘The Hoobub and the Grinch’, along with some other ‘lost’ Dr Seuss stories from the 1950s, was finally published in book form.
So before the Grinch there was the plain-old ‘Grinch’, and before him there was the verb to ‘grinch’ – used by Rudyard Kipling in his Barrack-Room Ballads in 1892 and meaning ‘to make a harsh grating noise’. Whether this is where Seuss got the word from cannot be said for sure.
Image: Ted Geisel, American writer and cartoonist, at work on a drawing of the grinch for ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ (author: Al Ravenna, 1957), Wikimedia Commons.