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The World of Dr. Seuss

Many authors create a world in one work, only to incorporate elements and ideas, including place names and characters, in others.

One author who did this in quite unusual and creative ways was Theodore Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss.

I’m not talking about sequels, like The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, I’m talking about a veritable world of weird, interconnected references. The best way to illustrate this is to start at the beginning, in 1940, with the release of Horton Hatches the Egg.

Horton Hatches the Egg introduces us to a lovable and loyal and stubborn elephant named Horton who lives in “the Jungle of Nool” who agrees to babysit the egg of an irresponsible mother bird named Mayzie despite the humiliation and hardships he must suffer. Horton sits on and defends the egg, even at one point suffering the indignity of being captured and placed in a circus. When Mayzie finally returns to take the egg back, the egg hatches into a bird that is part Mayzie, and part bird, an “elephant bird.” It’s a beautiful story, and at its end Horton and his child, (Morton?) is returned to the Jungle of Nool.

Where, fourteen years later, in 1954, Horton, his elephant bird child apparently all grown up and flown away, hears a tiny speck of dust, actually a tiny planet called Who-ville, float past. Horton makes contact with the tiny inhabitants of Who-ville, and is content to talk to his small friend, the mayor of Who-ville, until Vlad Vladikoff, the Wickersham Brothers, and the Sour Kangaroo take it upon themselves to disabuse Horton of his delusion that the Who’s of Who-ville exist. Horton, of course, is successful in saving the tiny planet.

And thankfully Who-ville was saved, because otherwise we would never have learned, in 1957, about How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Who-ville may be the name of the planet, but the main city or town on the planet is also called Whoville, which lays in the shadow of Mount Crumpit, upon which lives the miscreant The Grinch with his dog Max. The Grinch attempts to steal Christmas, but cannot steal the holiday by taking away its commercial aspects, as the true meaning of Christmas still comes through.

Theologically, this is an interesting concept. Remember that Who-ville is a microscopic alien planet resting on a clover held in the trunk of an earth elephant named Horton in the Jungle of Nool. as we can see from Horton Hears a Who the first contact the Who’s had with the outside world was with an elephant. How then, did the Who’s come to embrace Christianity?

Two theories present themselves. The first, and less interesting theory is that the Who’s learned of Christianity and Christmas from Horton. Horton would have learned of these things during the time he was captured trying to hatch the egg and forced to tour in the circus. In his conversations with the tiny Who’s Horton may have told them about Christmas and Jesus, and the Who’s embraced this idea.

This seems very unlikely. Who would proselytize to an elephant during his captivity in a circus? How would Horton come to accept the truth of Christianity or even come to think that Christianity had any relevance for him, a non human?

The more probable (yet at the same time, it also seems less probable, somehow) theory is that Jesus was incarnated on the world of Who-ville sometime in its past. This Jesus would have spread his gospel, and one day “died” for the sins of the Who’s. It’s hard to imagine the tiny planet Who-ville besieged with two thousand years of Christianity, Protestantism and the schismatic wars such ideas have fostered. Perhaps Who-ville was able to embrace the positive aspects of Christianity, and escape the bad parts.

Either way, it’s weird to think about a tiny crucified Who-Jesus suffering on a tiny Who-cross, and dying for the sins of the Who’s, who seem, except for The Grinch, to be a pretty decent lot.

Things get very confused when we move forward to 1982, to a made for TV special entitled The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. Here the two iconic characters meet, with the Grinch reverted back to his Grinchy ways tormenting the Cat in the Hat. Since the Cat in the Hat is very clearly a resident of our world, in the books he exists in he interacts with human, not Who children, how the microscopic Grinch can now mess with the Cat in the Hat is difficult to explain…

…unless you read the Cat in the Hat Comes Back. In 1958 the cat in the hat returned for a sequel which was essentially an alphabet book. The Cat removes his hat to reveal a smaller Cat in the Hat beneath it, identified as Little Cat A. Underneath Little Cat A’s hat is Little Cat B, and the series occurs all the way down to the microscopic Little Cat Z.

Obviously, Little cat Z, who looks exactly like the Cat in the Hat only much smaller, could not get by in our scaled to human world, but he might find some way to live on the planet Who-ville. This would allow the Grinch and “the Cat in the Hat” (or at least his tiny duplicate) to meet and interact.

Given the behavior of the Grinch in this special, and in a previous 1977 special entitled Halloween is Grinch Night, the assumption must be made that the Grinch’s Christmas conversion was only temporary, not permanent. the idea that these are prequels is not justifiable. At the end of Halloween is Grinch Night the Grinch’s dog Max leaves him, finding solace in a new life with a young Who named Euchariah.

The Grinch, it seems, will live, and die, alone.

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