Why 'The Grinch' Is MUCH Darker Than You Ever Realized
As is told in the ancient Roman text How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, every Christmas, the Whos down in Whoville stand hand-in-hand and sing carols. Nothing can stop their impenetrable Christmas spirit. Even when The Grinch steals Christmas, they still stand out in Whoville Square without any presents at all, singing as loud as they can.
But they're not singing because they love Christmas. They're singing because they're terrified that they're all going to be slaughtered. Because that's what How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is really about: a community of traumatized people who live in constant fear of genocide.
You might've missed that part when you were four years old. And even more surprising is that it's not The Grinch who is threatening them. It's far crazier than that ...
Whoville Was Once A Silent Place
See, The Grinch isn't a standalone story. It's the third part of a trilogy. It's the continuation of two other books: Horton Hatches The Egg and Horton Hears A Who!, both of which are about an elephant named Horton who has the worst friends imaginable. In the first book, they all make fun of him for taking care of a baby bird instead of abandoning it to die, and in the second book, they try to commit mass genocide ... against the Whos of Whoville.
When we meet the Whos, we learn a few things about them that the original Boris Karloff narration of the 1966 Grinch cartoon left out. The first thing is that they're microscopic. The entire species lives on a speck of dust on top of a flower. The Whos are like a hippie version of that tiny Kryptonian city that Superman keeps around, presumably so that he can still say "But look at how BIG and MIGHTY I am!" whenever he gets his ass kicked by Batman.
The other thing is that Whos never make a peep.
Whoville: Before the catastrophe.
The Whos, at this point in their history, don't blow floofloovers or bang tartookas, and don't play noisy games like Zozittacarzay. Instead, they ride bikes. They go on walks. They're peaceful and quiet; so much so that nobody but Horton even notices they're there.
When Horton does notice them, it's a little bit weirder than you might realize. Because Horton doesn't hear a speck of dust bustling with noise -- he hears one Who yell out "Help!" and nothing else coming from all of Whoville. In fact, the town is so quiet that Horton thinks there's only one person there at first.
Horton Can Hear The Who Mayor Because There's Literally Just One Person Making Noise On Their Entire Planet
To put that into perspective, this speck of dust is their whole planet, and Horton is several feet away. This is like one person on earth yelling out the word "Help!" and it overpowering all seven billion other people by so much that an alien on the other side of the galaxy can distinguish it from every other noise coming out of the planet.
That means that no other Who was making any noise whatsoever.
The Whos Were Nearly Wiped Out
Whoville being quiet isn't just a minor detail. It's the main point of the book. Horton's the only one with big enough ears to hear the one person on their whole planet making noise, so everybody else just thinks Horton is crazy. The other animals then decide that nothing would be funnier than to throw Whoville off a mountain and then boil it in oil. Because Horton's world is the type of place where the Armenian genocide ends with Ashton Kutcher telling people they just got punked.
"Their screams and cries will make a great show. Why the long face? It's just a prank, bro!"
The whole narrative is about Horton trying to get them to make enough noise to save themselves. He tells every Who in Whoville that they can't be quiet any longer. They need to start banging on things and screaming as loud as they can, because the only way he can convince the animals to spare the Whos is if they can hear them.
Horton Hatches The Plan To Stop A Wholocaust
So they do. Every Who in Whoville starts making noise until finally the animals decide not to kill them after all. It's heartwarming at first ... but then you realize that every time Horton isn't around, these creatures are two seconds away from massacring anything that won't shriek back at them.
As a story on its own, this teaches children a valuable lesson: Never commit genocide, no matter how hilarious it might be. But in the history of the Whoish people (Whores?), it tells the story of a major turning point -- the near-destruction of their entire species, brought about because they didn't make enough noise.
"Now look alive, if we are to survive! Make rackets to hear, for cold death is near!"
You'd better believe it changed them.
Whoville Has Lived In Terror Ever Since
When we next see the Whos two years later in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, they're immediately described as incredibly noisy people. And they aren't just noisy at Christmas. It's not like they sing carols for a few minutes and then go back to being quiet. If they did that, The Grinch probably could've just put in a few earplugs and moved on with his life, instead of slowly descending into insanity like he's Dr. Seuss' version of Gollum.
They're noisy all the time. Every single present that kids in Whoville get is some type of noisemaker. They have tubas so massive that they take six people to play, elaborate drums that play an entire kit at once, and even play a version of lacrosse that has been inexplicably modified to involve as much screaming as possible. You earn points when your opponents' inner ears start to bleed.
"Play with your gifts, don't stand aside! Loud as you can, or we all die!"
The Grinch hates Christmas, but that's just because it's a little bit worse than usual. The Whos are like this all year-round, which is probably why he lives on a mountain outside of town.
This is a huge cultural shift. These people were once so quiet that if one person shouted, they could overpower the entire planet. But a near-genocide has turned these quiet, modest people into terrible neighbors who can't go three seconds without banging a drum.
"Bang those things like the star of a porn, then eat some beans to toot your own horn!"
Which is actually completely reasonable. Because they were in constant peril from the start of Horton Hears A Who!. When we first see them, they're terrified that their planet is going to drift into a pool and they'll all drown.
At the end of the book, a kangaroo volunteers to take care of them. But the kangaroo can only figure out where they are when every single Who in Whoville is making as much noise as physically possible. Meaning that all of that protection that keeps them alive is gone if they stop banging on drums for so much as a second.
"All day and night you must all toil, or get dropped in beezlenut oil!"
That means that they're not making this noise to celebrate. They're making that noise because they live in constant terror that at any moment, some random kangaroo might come along and throw them into a vat of oil for a laugh.
The Grinch's Plot Might Have Killed Them All
It's not entirely clear what's wrong with The Grinch, then, but he's obviously not the most educated person. He hears his fellow countrymen banging as loud as they can to keep their planet alive, and he finds it annoying. He's like a distant uncle who will see a news report about food drives and use it as a way to blame the homeless for his problems. If he'd kept himself even the least bit up to speed on the local headlines ("Whoville Nearly Destroyed In Senseless Boiling" would be the biggest news story in forever for these guys), he'd know that singing and Blum Boopers are the only way to stave off the apocalypse.
His plot to steal Christmas is kind of crazy. He's trying to put an end to the one thing that's keeping his species alive. When the Whos wake up to find that they've all been robbed, they go out into the town square to sing carols. The Grinch thinks that they just really love the holiday. Damn, Grinch. Would it kill you to read a paper every now and then?
"Must stopping our extinction be so annoying? At least take a lesson, to learn what you're playing!"
The Whos aren't celebrating their love of Christmas; they're just continuing to make as much noise as possible to prevent the extermination of their race. They've woken up to find all their noisemakers stolen, and they're freaking out. Their survival relies on those things. If their animal protectors can't hear them, they could drift into another pool or get picked up by another eagle, and the whole society would be over.
So they do what they can with what they have: their voices. And only because it's the holidays do they harmonize something other than "FOR GOD'S SAKE. DON'T KILL US. DON'T KILL US. WE HAVE FAMILIES. PLEASE, GOD."
"Sing so our words can reach God's ears! It's Christmas Eve, judgment is here!"
So no, Grinch, they're not out there singing because they love Christmas so much. They're out there singing because they'll die if they don't.
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