One of my favorite Christmas stories doesn’t mention Jesus or even Santa Claus, but it captures the Christmas spirit quite nicely.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! has become a holiday classic since it debuted as a children’s storybook in 1957. Since then, the tale of the curmudgeon who descends from Mt. Crumpit intent on dashing the holiday dreams of the Whos — only to end up embracing the spirit of the season — has been retold as a cartoon, a musical, and a feature film starring Jim Carrey. In addition, a new feature-length animated version of the film was released this year, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.
There’s something remarkable about the tender way the Grinch is won over by the joyous sound of the Whos singing together, even in the midst of loss and disappointment. The moment where the Grinch’s heart “grows three sizes” is moving without being maudlin.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the moral of the story is neatly tied up in an elaborate package of absurdity that makes it such a pleasure to unwrap. Seuss’s inventive rhymes and familiar yet exotic characters inhabit a world so much like ours, yet delightfully off-kilter.
Theodor Seuss Geisel, the man who came to be known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, had the moxie to create his own words and his worlds, all aimed at changing our own words and our world. Here’s how:
Moxie explores, risks, and sometimes fails.
Geisel didn’t start out writing children’s books. Instead, he started in the Ivy League, earning a Ph.D. in English Literature from Dartmouth before heading to England to study at Oxford. There, he met his first wife, Helen, who convinced him to take up writing professionally full-time.
Geisel then launched into a successful career as a writer, editorial cartoonist, and ad man for some of the biggest brands of the day. He was successful enough to sustain himself and his wife through the Great Depression.
He believed in the importance of travel for inspiration, and the rhythm of a ship’s engines inspired his first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.
You’d think a successful writer and illustrator with an Ivy League education would have no trouble shopping his book around and getting it published. You’d be wrong. Geisel’s first book was rejected 27 times before a chance encounter with an old college friend who just so happened to be a children’s book editor for a publishing house gave the book the opportunity it deserved. Geisel was off and running, publishing three more books before pausing to serve in World War II.
What if Geisel had stayed in school and become an English teacher as he intended? What if he had kept his head down and focused on his day job? What if he hadn’t unplugged from taking the time to travel and see the world? What if he’d given up after that first rejection, the tenth, or the twenty-sixth? We wouldn’t have seen the 60 books that followed.
Geisel had the moxie to let his life unfold with just the right amount of risk-taking and adventure.
Moxie serves when duty calls.
World War II broke out at an inconvenient time. Geisel’s career was going strong. He was successful as a writer and illustrator and had several book titles under his belt, too. But when war broke out, he paused his civilian career and used his talents to further the war effort.
He penned editorial cartoons in support of U.S. involvement in the war, and he joined the Army and became part of the first unit dedicated to producing films. He turned out award-winning posters and movies to bolster American spirits and communicate key messages. Two of the pieces he worked on went on to win Academy Awards.
Like so many of his generation, Geisel answered when his country called, and he brought all his talent to bear in support of the cause. However, moxie puts its interests aside for a greater purpose.
Moxie has a message.
Geisel penned hundreds of editorial cartoons throughout his career. He was proudly liberal and supported the New Deal and FDR.
His opinions certainly didn’t disappear when he picked up his pen to write books whose primary audience was children, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas! pushes back against consumerism and materialism; Yertle the Turtle takes on authoritarianism, and The Lorax champions environmentalism.
Geisel didn’t talk down to children; in fact, he seemed to relish the challenge of writing for an audience with a low tolerance for blatant moralizing. Nevertheless, he was confident enough in his views to believe they were worth passing on to the next generation and the moxie to make no apologies for it.
So where is your moxie? Have you got it hidden? When you look back at your life, what will you say that you did?
Dear friend, take a chance, let your moxie take hold. Be strong today, be brave and be bold.
You’ve got it inside you; I see it right there, So you’re ready to launch anytime, anywhere.
Just remember this man, a young guy named Ted. He failed two dozen times before his story got read.
He brought us a Cat and a Grinch and the Sneeches. He took us to places only imagination reaches.
Where will you take us? What adventures await? Let’s buckle up! Let’s go! It’s never too late!