All Aboard the Paraphernalia Wagon: Revisiting Dr. Seuss’s ‘Grinch Night’ Halloween Special

There’s a 25-minute gem you won’t find floating in your TV listings this Halloween week, and your Halloween will be less entertaining for it, although your kids might suffer fewer existential terror-based nightmares. Halloween Is Grinch Night first aired on this date in 1977 on ABC, won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Special, and continued to air at seasonally appropriate times long enough to allow children of the 1980s to hoard fuzzy homemade VHS recordings of it before disappearing from the annual autumnal television special rotation altogether. It also survives in full in YouTube form; if you have little ones who can sit through the opening credits without flinching, forge ahead:

Later released on home video as Grinch Night and It’s Grinch Night!, the show’s connection to Halloween is a tenuous one, mentioned in the original title and nowhere in the actual dialogue. There are familiar names sprinkled throughout the credits — Joe Raposo composing the music, Hans Conried and Thurl Ravenscroft providing speaking and singing voices, Henry Gibson singing the interior monologue of the Grinch’s dog (we will come back to this, I promise). The story is set in and around Whoville, site of the action in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but the color palette is new, trading Christmastime Whoville’s blues and whites for yellows, oranges, and browns. But the chronological setting of the story is the subject of some debate. The Halloween special aired 11 years after the original Grinchy Christmas special, but the Grinch is the primary antagonist, bearing no trace of the Yuletide lessons he learned or the limpid Cindy Lou Who blue eyes he earned in the process. We will also come back to this.

Anyway, fade in on an orderly Whoville society, with the citizens enjoying a particularly lovely sunset at the close of a fall day. A wind kicks up, a very particular kind of wind, and the town goes into a kind of mad bunkering. Windows shut, door bolts are thrown, Mount Crumpit looms. This is the special kind of wind that sets off a Grinch Night.

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This is about where we see the Grinch for the first time, and his entrance line is an all-time great: “It’s a wonderful night for eyebrows.” He sends his dog, Max, down to wherever the Grinch’s storage unit is located to fetch his “paraphernalia wagon,” and while the long-suffering Max is dragging this contraption back up the mountainside to a mournful dirge, the Grinch is … dancing to a brief big-band number about how excited he is at the prospect of heading down to terrorize Whoville, because of course he is. Max, apparently capable of both harnessing himself to this wagon and executing a turn with it at the top of the mountain with the Grinch aboard, begins towing his master down the path toward the town, and this would be where we go into Max’s interior monologue, in song: “How many times have I said in my head, what am I doing here?” There are some strange inferences you can draw from this song: Max was an orphan, raised by his aunt? Did the Grinch steal him from a wealthy family, or did Max fall into servitude through some fault or accident of his own?

Down below in Whoville, Euchariah Who’s small bladder sets the other side of the plot in motion. Slipping out the front door for a trip to the outhouse, he’s blown into the night by the sour-sweet wind, to the tune of a rather chilling song that proclaims:

“No one comes home through the wind

No one comes home through the growlin’

He is lost amongst the yowlin’

Lost forever in the darkness

Of the sour-sweet Grinch Night wind.”

Euchariah, it must be said, is not the cleverest Who down in Whoville. Wandering up the mountain, wondering aloud “where is that euphemism,” ignoring the overt shushing motions from an endangered creature being hunted by the Grinch, and calling Max “poor lost doggie” despite a visible collar and harness and wagon being attached to Max, he plants himself directly in front of the big green guy himself and ends up explaining the concept of astigmatism, which was probably inserted into the script because it sounds like a word Seuss might’ve made up. There’s some back and forth about the Grinching the Grinch intends to get up to down below, using whatever unseen horrors are rattling the lid of the wagon, and we see Euchariah do some instantaneous growing up, realize he can’t do anything but stall the Grinch’s progress, and place himself between the Grinch and the path to his people.

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The Grinch obligingly unleashes the horrors of his wagon on Euchariah instead, and here’s the part of the show where we all get what we came to see. Euchariah is variously menaced by a hellish menagerie of creatures, many of which don’t have noses or mouths, almost all of which have staring eyes. He journeys through an endless parade of gloomy, cavernous spaces. We don’t know how long he’s in there; it suggests both a longer period than the time he actually appears on the screen and the time that passes outside the wagon. But what’s important is that by the time Euchariah climbs down from the wagon, the wind has stopped, a fact Euchariah uses to confound the Grinch out of proceeding with a combination of folklore and what sound like environmental regulations.

SIDEBAR: We’re in the camp that thinks this is a sequel, and here’s why: As Euchariah and the Grinch part ways, Max slips his harness and runs away, catching up with Euchariah and covering him with puppy kisses before seemingly heading away for a happy life in Whoville. In the Christmas special, of course, he’s still in the service of the Grinch. So what happened to our green buddy? Was having a triply enlarged heart a dangerous medical condition that he was forced to have corrected? Did he just sit in Mount Crumpit on a lonely Who Year’s Eve, contemplating his impotence in the face of the passage of linear time, and decide then and there to live his best life now, and that that best life involved Grinching?

We may never know. Hauling his wagon back up the mountain, the Grinch mutters, “That wind will be coming back someday. I’ll be coming back someday.” Below in the town, Euchariah’s grandmother exclaims, “What an unusual way to come back from the euphemism!” Euchariah and Max receive heroes’ welcomes, and we leave the town celebrating in the dark of full night.

Grinch Night is a great gateway drug for young consumers into the more sustained dread of work like Something Wicked This Way Comes, but it’s not without its own message. Dr. Seuss stories rarely come without lessons veiled in cartoons, and oppression is not an unfamiliar theme in his work. There are direct visual and dialogue callbacks here to What Was I Scared Of? in the form of the brickle bush, and maybe that story’s the spiritual predecessor to this one, in which there are realer things of which to be afraid, elements that can still be conquered with the right kind of clarity. Euchariah’s bravery comes upon him quite suddenly, and without fanfare, but it manifests brilliantly, in the form of putting on his glasses and standing between danger and everyone he loves.

Also, there’s a great opportunity here to teach your kids never to get into anything called a “paraphernalia wagon,” not unless society itself is at stake.

Filed Under: TV, dr. seuss, Grinch Night

Holly Anderson is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ HollyAnderson