Friday, December 24, 2010

Reflections on "Scrooge" and "Grinch"

Merry Christmas everyone! If you've noticed the length of this post, you may have guessed what has happened...I'm done my book! That's right! John Paul 2 High Book 3 is finally finished! 
Ah....I'm still reveling in this fact, rolling around in it like a...well, the only metaphor I can think of isn't appropriate either to a family blog or to the festive season, but hopefully you catch my drift. And in celebration of this happy event, I am sitting here at Starbucks. I waltzed right in here, wished the cashier a Merry Christmas, and asked for a cup of tea. What kind? she asked. The most Christmassy kind you have, I answered jauntily.. And she gave me...Tazo Joy. It's not bad. It's kinda Christmassy. It would have been more Christmassy if Starbucks had a liquor license, but whatever. 
So...what's this Christmas Eve post about? About two stories that, for good or for ill, have come to encapsulate the Christmas Season: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. (Useful link note: you can read the first online here; the second, of course, is still copyrighted.) 
These two stories share many similarities. Both are not overtly religious. This, paradoxically, adds to their power. The salvation story sneaks up on you, like a thief in the night, like Marley's Ghost or like that stubborn Christmas star that, despite old Greeny's efforts, "came! Somehow or other, it came just the same!" 
Both stories have the same theme - of a damned soul that is saved through mercy and grace. Both Scrooge and the Grinch are unabashedly evil at the start of the story - both are restored to childlike innocence by the end. Scrooge transforms from "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner" to to "as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world." The Grinch transforms from a thing that doesn't have his head screwed on just right, with shoes too tight, and with a heart two sizes too small, to the bringer of Christmas, "blowing pooh-pooh on his trumpet" and carving the "roast beast". 
Even when the two stories differ, they differ in remarkably parallel ways. Think about it. Scrooge is evil in a passive way - Grinchy is evil in an active way. Scrooge is sunk into himself, "secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster," caring for no one and cared for by no one except his saintlike nephew. The Grinch, on the other hand, isn't content with not keeping Christmas himself - he goes out of his way to ruin it for everyone else. 
Their salvation, conversely, is precisely the opposite - Scrooge is saved by the active invasion of the four spirits (Marley, Past, Present and Future) who, in rude and hilarious fashion blast into his cramped little world and pry open his heart. The Grinch, on the other hand, is the invader - and is saved by beholding the unbroken joy and love of the Who's. He can't steal Christmas from them - and that makes him realize that Christmas is something more than annoying "noise" and "singing" - but something "a little bit more." Suess doesn't spell out exactly what Christmas is. But he doesn't need to. We all know. 
Saved Scrooge becomes an active participant of Christmas - Saved Grinch becomes an active recipient.  Both hearts are opened, but in precisely opposite ways. 
But I'm getting off the subject - or rather, I'm straying from my original idea. What struck me first about these two grumpy old codgers were their names. As I can attest, having just finished my second novel, coming up with names - really memorable names - is one of the trickiest things in the world. A really good name is hard to find and nearly impossible to generate by grunt work - and grunt work is 99% of writing. In other words, you can't just come up with a name - at least I can't. It has to come to you. It's pure inspiration. 
Well, Dickens and Seuss were both touched with inspiration when they got the names scrooge and grinch. Think about it. Both words tell a story just by the spelling and prununciation. What better name for a coldhearted old jerk than scrooge? What better monikor for a green-furred old grump who burgles tinsel, toys and groceries than grinch? 
Both words are easy to say, but unpleasant to hear - a fitting characteristic for the vices they represent. Scrooginess and Grinchiness are horribly easy to fall into - their hellish spirit can sneak up on you - either by misguided political correctness ("happy holidays", anyone) or by a misguided prudence ("Christmas is too commercialized!" is too close to the "Are there no prisons" spirit for my taste.) We must fight against them, every year. 
One final note before I sign off to enjoy my Christmas Eve - how many people out there have actually read "A Christmas Carol?" Too few, I'll warrant. You should. It's a delight. You can read it online, of course, but if you, like me, have too little time for such things, I would highly recomend that you purchase it in audiobook form. There's an excellent rendering of the old tale available on iTunes, read by none other than Jim Dale (the same guy who does the Harry Potter audiobooks). Costs $14.95 and worth every penny. Download it and listen while you're wrapping presents, doing last-minute shopping, or cooking dinner. 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! God bless us, every one! Enjoy your roast beast! 

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Thanks for finishing book 3. I got book 2 for my Goddaughter and she finished it in 2 days. It took me a week!