I’ve never felt there were many Christmas books that stood out compared to other forms of seasonal entertainment. Movies and television specials of the season have definitely delivered more memorable moments for me over the years.
Take the sheer lunacy of A Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (still a favorite in my household) for example. The classics of my childhood, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman, etc. Even A Charlie Brown Christmas sticks out stronger in my memory than most seasonal books I’ve read. But How The Grinch Stole Christmas has one thing that even the most lavishly illustrated book about Santa Claus or The Night Before Christmas or even A Christmas Carol doesn’t have. Just like the television specials I mentioned above, the Grinch creates a completely unique, yet utterly believable, fantastical world of its own.
There are two main reasons this book means so much to me. First and foremost is the fantastical world Theodore Geisel aka Dr. Seuss creates. This is a land of Grinches and Whos - creatures who live very different (yet perhaps parallel in some ways) lives than we do, in a very different place and time.
Although Santa Claus (or Santy Claus as the name is written) is mentioned and he is even referred to as Saint Nick, it is obvious from the world we see, that this is a different Claus than the one we know. The village of Whoville gathers together to sing and feast on roast beast at a huge table together. The Grinch lives in a cave in the mountains. Yes, he has a dog, but this dog is very much of this other world in appearance and surprising in his apparent supernatural ability to pull a giant sled full of presents all on his own.
There is no specific mention of time or place but the Whos seem to live in a rural setting with a mere handful of houses in the middle of a valley, possibly in the middle of nowhere. And yet, somehow, they have access to gift wrap, cardboard boxes, electric lights and refrigerators and even a supply of things like tricycles, silverware, drums and toy trains.
How this is possible is never explained, but since there are no roads, electrical poles, visible phone lines or other sources of energy, we must conclude that this fantastical world gets power and supplies through other means. It’s up to our own imaginations to solve this conundrum. While Dr. Seuss does not state outright that the worlds he takes us to in his books such as The Grinch are “not of this earth” it is certainly obvious that the places he puts before our eyes are unpredictable, surprising and sometimes downright alien.
I have always loved falling into another world, running to another place through fiction and other art forms. In fact, my love of theatre comes from the very same place. A created world that, although we know it isn’t real by the edge of the stage and the curtains behind, we are still pulled into simply by the beauty and strangeness presented before us.
My entire life, I have been drawn to stories of odd realities, of fantastical, clever, self contained worlds. Much of this comes from growing up reading author/illustrators like Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry and even Herge. Whether set in a version of the supposed real world or in a fantasy land of sorts, I grew up immersing myself in books that showed me places beyond the boring small-town world I lived in. Beyond schoolwork, bullies, troubles in my family, beyond anything I knew. Dr. Seuss and the others created places I could escape into and given the life I had, at times, this was the only thing that got me through...
Read on for the rest of The Grinch and I, and to learn about R.J. Downes' upcoming radio play...
Many of the stories of Dr. Seuss, beneath the nonsense rhymes, beneath the bizarre looking characters, are essentially moral tales of being good to each other, of understanding and kindness. (Although not always, of course.) No other Dr. Seuss story shows this more so than How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
The classic, miserly Grinch dislikes how much the Whos like Christmas and wants to destroy their fun so he doesn’t have to listen to it from his lonely cave on the mountain top. His dastardly plan to steal Christmas has more to do with wanting others to be miserable just like him than an actual hatred of the holiday. It magnifies his loneliness and solitude.
It’s only when he realises that it isn’t the presents and decoration that make the holiday, but rather the coming together of people to share, celebrate and be kind to one and other that things start to change. When he realizes he is wanted and included, he finally starts to allow his heart to thaw and ‘grow’. Only then does he make the connection that he isn’t alone if he doesn’t want to be. That he too can be part of it all. This is where this book hits on a personal level for me.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas, besides being a book about the true spirit of the holidays, was also a story about belonging. About putting aside differences and coming together. A story about a creature who dislikes others because he feels separate from them. And, for a young boy like me, who felt separated from the world at large by a family and life splintering at the seams.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas was a tale of fantasy in an imaginary land that struck right at the heart of my sometimes somber reality. In doing so, it made me feel a little less alone and a little less trapped in my own self-contained world. By going to another place and reading a fantasy story, I felt a little more a part of my own world…and my heart a little happier about my place in it.
These are the evils we, see, we read about. The ones we are aware of. But even if we know these dangerous men, who are the ones we don’t know? What’s ahead? How will future politicians shape our worlds if this is where we are now? What lengths will they go to, to make our countries in the image they want? And what would we as individuals do, to get back our freedom? Our democracy? Our lives?
The Revolution Has Failed is about all these people. A fantasy about our world just a few minutes into the future when a major act of terrorism has changed the minds and hearts of many Canadians. When a group of everyday citizens feel like the only way to be heard is to commit their own act of rebellion to bring forth a revolution. But mainly it is a story about the fallout and reality of that very revolution falling apart even before it begins.
Just how much of our humanity are we willing to lose to feel safe from those who think differently from us?
Shortwave Theatre Festival (Fall 2020)