Monster of the Week: Of Grinch and Grendel

The Grinch gets an idea... MGM Television

Whether contemplating the Grinch or Grendel, the scenario is much the same.

Sure, one cave-dwelling monster haunts the Danish moors while the other lives within the microcosm of the Who Dust Speck. One tale ends in bloodshed, the other in Christmas cheer. But both stories concern a lone outsider a "shadow-shooter, earth-rim-roamer, walker of the world's weird wall."

Infuriated by the cacophony of distant merriment, the Grinch/Grendel sets out to silence the maddening revelry of the Whos/Danes. The outsider strikes to cripple the very center of his adversary's culture.

We've of course already explored Grendel's curious anatomy, so let us turn our attention to the lone denizen of Mount Crumpit...

Worlds Within Worlds

The Who Dust Speck is home to a number of organisms, some alien to us (such as the antennae-equipped, bipedal Whos) and some micro-counterparts to our own species (such as dogs and mice).

To which category does the Grinch belong? Is he truly analogous to our Grendel, or perhaps the Yeti? Certainly, he resides at high altitudes and possesses a furry body to brave such temperatures. Or is he merely a high-altitude variant of the Who, with fur-covered antenna easily mistaken for eyebrows or animate locks of hair?

Such questions are simply unanswerable, but we do know one key facts about the Grinch's strange anatomy: His heart is "two sizes too small."

Heart of the Grinch

It's a rather unfortunate situation given the Grinch's low-oxygen environment. If he truly evolved to thrive at high altitudes, then his species should boast slower development, delayed maturity, greater lung volume and a larger heart. As pointed out in "Essentials of Physical Anthropology," we find all four of these attributes in lifelong high-altitude human residents.

(Random House)

The Grinch's heart is simply ill-suited for the environment. Did he grow up at a lower altitude and thus develop an undersized ticker? Does he suffer from a developmental defect of some sort?

Perhaps it isn't even his heart! Might the Grinch's chest currently hold a transplanted Who heart? After all, undersized replacements are certainly an issue in human heart transplants. The procedure could have been carried out by a now-departed member of the same species, or a robotic surgical bay now in disrepair.

Whatever the reason, the grinch's lack of oxygen no-doubt confounded his misery, forcing him to descend on the town of Whoville and pilfer their material possessions -- an act that allows the Whos to reconnect with their bonds of family and community, just as it produces both a literal and figurative change of heart in our green, furry earth-rim-roamer.

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.