The Grinch: A Villain Makes a Hero’s Journey

tumblr_lwoa32M1pW1qcyr71By Suzanne Lucero

Around this time of year a person might find his or her thoughts turning to a well-known literary character whose ultimate redemption holds hope for even the most hard-hearted of individuals.

I am speaking, of course, of the Grinch.

In the first sentence of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (by Dr. Seuss), we are introduced to the villain of the piece.

Every Who

Down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot …

But the Grinch,

Who lived just north of Who-ville,

Did NOT.

That’s terrible, we think. Who doesn’t like Christmas? A few sentences later, though, we are given the probable reason for the Grinch’s dislike. His heart, you see, is two sizes too small. Suddenly, the Grinch is a tiny bit sympathetic, and we sort-of understand when he declares,

“Why, for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now!

“I MUST stop this Christmas from coming!

… But, HOW?”’

This is the inciting incident. The Grinch thinks Christmas means noisy toys and feasting and singing, so how does he stop all this from happening? The Grinch comes up with a plan, a “great, grinchy trick,” and puts it into action. In other words, his journey begins.

He begins by making a Santa Clause hat and coat. (He foregoes the snowy-white beard, though. Maybe it itches.) Then he decides grinch+with+doghe needs a reindeer to complete his St. Nick impersonation. For this he enlists his tiny dog, Max. The Grinch ties a horn on top of Max’s head, thereby changing the dog from a mere pet to a minion: Max will be aiding the Grinch by pulling his sled.

The plan starts well. The Grinch has Max pull the sled into Who-ville and proceeds to steal everything from the first house he sees. The only obstacle that presents itself to the Grinch comes in the shape of a child who has woken up to get a glass of water. When she asks why he is taking the Christmas tree, he placates her with a lie and sends her back to bed. The Grinch continues to ransack the village until all the presents, all the decorations, and all the food for the feast is packed into bags, loaded precariously on the sled, and pulled:

Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpet,

He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it.

(You’ve really got to be feeling sorry for Max at this point.)

The Grinch gloats. He’s won! Christmas can’t come, now. Everything is gone and the Whos will all be crying. He pauses to savor his victory and puts his hand to his ear to listen.

And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.

It started in low. Then it started to grow…

But the sound wasn’t sad!

Why, this sound sounded merry!

It couldn’t be so!

But it WAS merry! VERY!

In the hero’s journey, there comes a point where he or she must “enter the cave.” This is the ultimate low point in the story. The hero is alone, either physically or emotionally. Everything he or she has been working for is crumbling and the antagonist has triumphed; the hero is, actually or metaphorically, dead.

This is the Grinch’s cave. This is where he realizes he’s failed.

 He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming.

IT CAME!

Somehow or other, it came just the same.

But How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a hero’s journey, not a morality tale. For all villains, unless they are true psychopaths (which is a medical condition), the cave offers a final chance to redeem themselves. When their defenses have been beaten and they are no longer fighting but only trying to understand why they failed, their hearts can be touched with a little thing called grace.

Then the Grinch though of something he hadn’t before!

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

“Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”

That was the elixir the Grinch found in his cave, the piece of him that was missing. He realized that material things don’t bring happiness. Simply being together with those we love is reason enough to sing.

the_grinch_cut_the_first_roast_beast_by_rhetoric_of_sushi-d4jyzdfAnd what happened then …?

Well … in Who-ville they say

That the Grinch’s small heart

Grew three sizes that day.

With this new understanding and (we hope) love in his heart, the Grinch completes his hero’s journey by returning everything he has taken from the Whos and sharing in their celebratory feast.

Merry Christmas everyone.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Suzanne Lucero is a wife, mother, and pre-published author who knows a little about a lot of things and is constantly learning more. She is passionate about writing and is determined to publish her novel-in-progress within 5 years.

 

 

8 thoughts on “The Grinch: A Villain Makes a Hero’s Journey

  1. A very nice and timely essay. There’s a lot of people who could learn from the Grinch’s journey.

    I’d also like to add we can learn an important lesson from the Whos: The best way to beat the bad guys is to be better than they are. A good example can change the world.

    We can learn important lessons from The Who, too, but that’s another story for another time.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post because of how classic a tale the Grinch is. It is common to solely think of the Grinch as a villain he uterally dispises Christmas. However this post takes a different approach in analyzing the Grinch and his actions. For this author, it’s a tale of a redemption. After reading this post, it becomes clear to me that the Grinch is a transposed villain and thus through his change of heart, can be seen as a hero. The dissection of a transposed hero/villain is one of much complexity. In regards to the Grinch, his change to a hero has many layers and emotions behind it. But in the end, the Grinch decides to take the role of hero and give the town one of the best Christmases they could ask for.

  3. the Grinch is a great example of a transposed villain in a children’s story. He goes through a major transformation (of the heart and of morals) and just shows you why people love it when they see a redeemed hero/villain.

  4. This is a classic example of morally transposed villain. His change of heart provides hope in other villains in that it may possibly occur to them too. It’s a great story that teaches people that Christmas is not all about gifts.

  5. It’s hard to believe that a children’s story could have such subtle, yet strong themes, like that of transposed heroism others mentioned above. I’ve always loved the Grinch, and this essay only made me love him more.

  6. When I first saw this movie, I just thought the Grinch was this evil maniac who just felt bad at the end. This “feeling bad” shows so much more about heroism and villainy than what seems to exist on the surface. It shows that no villain is without some sort of inherent goodness in their heart. Many villains are who they are because they are lacking a missing trait. In this story, the Grinch realizes the community and warmth he sees is his missing trait.

  7. I agree with Cheuk. When you first see the grinch as a kid you don’t really think of the grinch as a villain going through a heroic transformation. I think this blog as well as the Heroes and Villains FYS course was extremely effective in that it really opens your eyes to truly analyze a person or fictional character. After reading this blog it is evident that the grinch is a transposed hero. You can also link to Joseph Campbell’s journey of a hero because the Grinch was missing an important inner quality.

  8. The Grinch is a great example of a villain who gradually becomes a hero. It is interesting to look back at characters from our childhood with a eye towards how what we’ve learned since then affects our perception of them. I also like how the creators were able to work such universal and mature ideas as the heroes journey into a movie primarily aimed at children.

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