As if it were Christmas morning, a fantastic present for me arrived in the mail.
I don’t know how much I should be giving away here—the book isn’t to be released until October—but I’m so excited I can’t wait to share this. Last winter I worked on a very fun title for Marshall Cavendish: The Year Without a Santa Claus. I showed you my character designs for Santa here.
You may already know The Year Without a Santa Claus as a Rankin/Bass animated Christmas special. The original story was written by Phyllis McGinley in the 1950s. In my opinion the original is way better than the special it inspired (I’m not sorry that the Heat and Cold Misers are not in her story). Phyllis McGinley writes this poem with a master writer’s attention to meter and makes some fun, unexpected rhymes. It’s a little on the long side for a 32-pager, so we expanded the book to 40 pages. She provides plenty of imagery for an illustrator to revel in.
The story was first published in 1956. I got my hands on a used copy. The drawings that accompany the text are really more decoration than illustration. They have a loose, watercolory look. My favorite image from that edition is the one on the cover of Santa relaxing in an easy chair, smoking a hookah!
Anyway, back to this fantastic present. It turns out that Boris Karloff narrated The Year Without A Santa Claus in the 1960s around the same time he narrated How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Marshall Cavendish has decided to re-release the recording along with the book. Editor Marilyn Brigham very kindly sent me an advance copy of the cd. It is glorious! Boris Karloff never sounded better. Listening to it makes me wonder what an animated special in the hands of Chuck Jones might have been like. But, if that had happened, I wouldn’t have had the marvelous opportunity of illustrating this lovely story.
It looks like you can get the cd now (here), even before the book is available. Definitely get both. Absolutely.
Let’s face it: there’s nothing new. We create only by standing on the shoulders of giants. What came before is a blueprint for our every effort. The legacy of Western culture is a valuable gift because without it, there’s hardly anything for us creatives to draw from. The classics of literature, for instance, can become a set of toys for a talented genius to play with.
Take the epic poem Beowulf—in which ‘there lived a monster in a cave. He was a hideous beast with green fur and yellow teeth. The townspeople feared him and would never approach his cave, he in turn would never venture out to the town for he knew he was not wanted and didn’t like the people much anyhow. There was one particular day of the year that he couldn’t stand, and on this day he vowed to ruin the towsnfolk’s fun, for if he could not have any, why should they.’
It must have occurred to Dr Seuss to bend this ancient story to his own use; to retell it as a picture book. I was thinking about the similarities between Grendel, the monster from Beowulf, and the Grinch—even down to their names. What really struck me was the bit about how neither one could stand the sounds of civilization.
“It harrowed him / to hear the din of the loud banquet / every day in the hall, the harp being struck / and the clear song of a skilled poet / telling with mastery of a man’s beginnings, / how the Almighty had made the earth . . .” (Beowulf 34).
If there’s one thing I hate…oh the noise, noise, noise, noise! …They’ll blow their flu-flubas. They’ll bang their tartinkas. They’ll blow their who-hubas. They’ll bang their gardinkas!”
A quick search on Google revealed a couple of essays written about Grendel/Grinch. Here‘s one by Courtney Shay. She brings up other similarities I hadn’t thought of: both monsters are miserable—without joy, and wreak their havoc on society in the darkness of night.
To compare Grendel to the Grinch is to appreciate how a master of the picturebook can distill an assortment of ideas down to one clear and simple storyline.
As we descend into the chaos of the season, spare a thought for the anonymous Anglo-Saxon scribbler whose poetry lives on in How The Grinch Stole Christmas!