By Jesse Sumpter
Hollywood does not understand the Grinch’s heart problem. The famous song has it correct: Mr. Grinch’s heart is an empty hole. But the last two movies about the Grinch have redefined his problem, placing the problem somewhere else. In this way, both movies fundamentally gut the story of its magic.
In the version from 2000, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, it shows how the Grinch was mistreated in school by his classmates which made him hate Christmas. He is later humiliated again at the Whobilation party and then he seeks revenge. The 2018 version, The Grinch, shows how he was an orphan and had to spend Christmas alone. This makes him lonely at Christmas time.
Both of these movies argue that the Grinch hates Christmas because of something that happened to him. This is a fundamental change from the story that Dr. Seuss told.
To clarify: this article is not a cranky movie review about how the ‘original’ is better than the ‘movie’ version. Rather, I am using the movies as a foil in order to show the real gem of the story that Dr. Seuss told.
The magic of the story can only be realized when we understand that the Grinch really is a Grinch. He hates Christmas. This hate is not a result of how he grew up or how he was mistreated by others. This hate is a pure and deep hatred. If we don’t understand that point, then the magic of the story doesn’t work.
The original story clearly gives the reason for the Grinch’s problem. The narrator says, “But I think that the most likely reason of all / May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” The Grinch has a heart problem. He hates and loathes Christmas because his heart is bad. The point of the story is that the Grinch has a spiritual problem.
This contradicts the two movies which suggest that exterior forces have made the Grinch this way: he was mocked when younger or he was an orphan when younger. These versions say the problem is exterior to the Grinch.
Placing the problem exterior to the Grinch moves the story into a materialistic worldview where evil is external to the person: it is other people and situations that make people go bad. That is what happens to the Grinch in these other versions of the story.
This materialistic idea places the blame on the material world. This in turn means the solution, implied by this worldview, is also to be found in the material world. What is the Grinch’s problem? He was hurt by others and he was lonely. What does the Grinch need? He needs people and stuff. That kind of message is vastly different than the original one.
In the original story, the Grinch does not need more stuff or more people. The primary problem is that the Grinch needs a new heart. His heart is two sizes too small. Or as the song says he has garlic in his soul, his heart is full of unwashed socks, his soul is full of gunk.
It is important to point out that the Grinch, like Hollywood, has a materialistic worldview. He steals the presents and decorations and Christmas trees and he thinks he has stolen Christmas. Hollywood thinks that people’s problems are caused by material issues. If others were just nicer or shared more, then there would be no more Grinches in the world. It is the externals that make people happy or sad. It is the externals that make Christmas.
The truth, however, is that joy is something more than the material. As the Grinch discovers about Christmas, “It came without ribbons! It came without tags! / It came without packages, boxes or bags!” The Grinch thinks the material stuff is what makes people happy or sad. He hates what the Whos have and he wants to take it away. But what the Whos have is not merely the stuff. They have a spiritual joy that cannot be stolen. Or as the Grinch realizes, “Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
The materialistic worldview thinks that the problem is external and so the solution must be external also. But that is not true. The problem is inside us, in our hearts. The Grinch, like all of us, needs a heart change. To throw more stuff at people who have evil hearts will not change their hearts. Their hearts need to be changed first, then they will be able to enjoy what they have, even if they do not have much.
The materialistic worldview ultimately argues that the human problem is not really that bad. People are only a little bad. The Grinch is not really that evil. He only has a little garlic in his soul. And so the materialistic idea of salvation is not really that deep. It suggests that we just need to wash our face and then everything will be right again.
However, the true story of the Grinch is deeper than that. The Grinch really is evil and he utterly hates Christmas. There is no good reason for his hatred other than his evil heart. His heart needs to be changed. And that is what happens: “…the Grinch’s small heart / Grew three sizes that day!”
If you don’t understand how evil the Grinch is, then you cannot understand how joyful the redemption is at the end. And that is the true magic of the story. The Grinch is an evil, wicked person and yet an evil, wicked person can be changed.
The end of the story is also important to understand. A changed heart does not ignore the material world. When the heart has been healed, it realizes that everything in the world is a gift. The Grinch brings back all the stuff he stole from the Whos and he is welcomed into the Christmas celebrations. When a heart is changed, it brings more people together and it makes the party bigger. This means there is more than enough stuff to share for everyone. Even the little you have, is enough to share, if it comes from a changed heart.
Originally published Dec 24, 2019