Of all the many Christmas-themed movies, books, and TV shows that audiences can readily consume and re-enjoy each and every November and December, a handful are non-negotiable. Millions of holiday revelers will make time amidst the hustle and bustle and eschew so many other entertainment options to cozy up with Dr. Seuss’s "The Grinch," be it in the form of the 1957 storybook "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!", the 1966 animated TV special, the 2000 live-action film, or the 2018 animated movie.
While each take on the character and the story is executed a little bit differently, the endearing and enduring gist remains the same. The Grinch, living a lonely life with his dog Max on a mountain as chilly as his heart and soul, has his fill of the cheerful yuletide spirit of the Whos of nearby Whoville, and he steals Christmas — all of it, every light, decoration, and even the roast beast. Of course, he learns the real meaning of Christmas by the end, and he comes to love the holiday and all it represents.
He’s a mean one, that Mr. Grinch, but he’s one of the most famous holiday characters of all time. Here’s a look into the long and delightful history of the notorious green guy.
The Christmas-thieving Grinch was not Dr. Seuss’s first Grinch
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas!", the original book and its assorted adaptations for television and film, include the most famous and definitive usage of the word "Grinch," the personal and species name of the titular holiday-hating monster — but it’s not nearly the first or only time Dr. Seuss employed its use. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" was first published in 1957, but in a summer 1955 issue of Redbook magazine, according to the Smithsonian, the author published and illustrated a poem called "The Hoobub and the Grinch." In this instance, the Grinch is a huckster who sells a piece of string for the exorbitant price of 98 cents to a furry, yellow, sunbathing boor.
And while that Grinch isn’t too far removed from the latter one, character-wise, Dr. Seuss used this made-up word in his 1953 children’s book "Scrambled Eggs Super!" Withdrawn from publication due to offensive content concerns (per CNN), it concerns a kid named Peter T. Hooper who makes scrambled eggs from the shelled, edible leavings of various exotic birds. Among the creatures he encounters is the "Beagle-Beaked-Bald-Headed Grinch." Resembling a vulture but covered in a thick layer of Big Bird-yellow fur, its eggs aren’t scrambled because on the day Peter encounters him, it isn’t laying any.
Dr. Seuss didn’t have to look far to find inspiration for The Grinch
Fortunately, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" is not directly based on true events. No town called Whoville was ever besieged by a furry green malcontent from the mountains (and his dog) who robbed all of their homes on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, The Grinch himself is based on a real person — his creator, children’s literary icon Theodor Seuss Geisel, who wrote under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss.
Geisel was brushing his teeth on the morning after Christmas in December 1956 when he noticed he didn’t feel right. "I noted a very Grinchish countenance in the mirror," he told Redbook (via "Dr. Seuss: American Icon") upon the publication of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" in 1957. "Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me." That inspired Geisel to write the classic Christmas tale, as did the motivation to "rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost."
According to Biography, it took Geisel just a few weeks to make the "Grinch" manuscript, the only trouble coming when he needed an ending — he didn’t want it to be overtly and explicitly religious, and settled on the scene of the title character and some Whos dining on "roast beast" together.