We don’t get to know much about Whoville, the quaint, remote hamlet setting in Dr. Seuss’ iconic 1957 children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But while Whoville serves as little more than a fictional backdrop in the short, sweet book, in the 2000 film adaptation (directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey), there is plenty more time to explore both it and the larger universe in which it exists.
To that end, in many ways, Whoville is a lot like our world. The denizens there work boring jobs, love their pets and have allowed the generous, joyful spirit of Christmas to be mangled and bastardized by the bottomless pit of consumerist greed located right where their souls used to be.
But in other ways, Whoville is nothing like Earth. For starters, it exists entirely in a snowflake. Then there’s the matter of the giant green Grinch (Carrey) who stalks it. Yet the biggest difference between Earth and Whoville is the process of reproduction. The Whos’ baby-making process is a confusing, potentially supernatural experience that bears no resemblance to anything you will find anywhere on this planet.
The basics of reproduction in Whoville are revealed when Cindy Lou Who is gathering intel in order to figure out why exactly the Grinch is such a dick. The precocious child reporter interviews Clarnella and Rose, the two women who ended up raising the Grinch, about his upbringing, and they start by sharing where babies come from in Whoville. “On calm nights, baby Who Girls and tiny Who Fellas drift from the sky in their own pumbersellas,” Clarnella explains.
Essentially, then, in Whoville, babies arrive via pumbersellas (i.e., a basket with a little umbrella that allows the wind to guide them) on the doorstep of their parents, who are then expected to raise them. It’s sort of a play on the stork delivery system that parents tell their kids to stave off the sex talk for a few more years. But in the case of the Whos, the pumbersellas aren’t an old wives tale or a half-baked euphemism meant to distract children. It’s really how babies are delivered (or at least so we’re led to believe).
This alone raises plenty of questions about the confusing aspects of Whoville baby deliveries. As such, I asked Sarah Otto, a professor of zoology and theoretical biologist at the University of British Columbia, if there was any species or specimen that had an umbrella-esque style of reproduction in the real world. Her theory: “I can only conclude that the Grinch and Whos are plants!”
“Not only is he green, but many plants reproduce by dispersing their seeds with little umbrellas,” Otto explains. “This umbrella, called a ‘pappus’ by botanists, catches the wind and carries the seed away from the mother plant, a classic example being dandelions.”
There are a few other things we can surmise about Who procreation as well by digging a bit deeper. Unfortunately, though, most of it is either slightly tragic or extremely confusing. First of all, the clip makes clear that a safe, secure delivery isn’t guaranteed. Case in point: We see Baby Grinch bump into at least one other pumbersella, which is what seems to make him end up in Whoville by mistake. So it would seem that whatever Who Deity is responsible for baby delivery is only really concerned about the initial launch. Once a Who Baby takes flight, they’re on their own, including the Who Baby that was set off course by Baby Grinch and presumably raised in Grinchville.
Perhaps more importantly, despite the fact that the Whos don’t physically give birth, sex does seem to be a part of the reproduction process. How do we know? Well, it’s very clear that sex is a thing in the Whoniverse based on the intense eye-fucking Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski) and the Grinch engage in every second they’re onscreen together.
Moreover, we also know that sex specifically plays a role in reproduction based on Clarnella and Rose recounting the arrival of Baby Grinch. In that flashback, we see that a Baby Who lands on a doorstep and is spotted by a man who is setting out his empty milk bottles. The overjoyed new father then delivers a short but telling line. “Hey, honey, our baby’s here!” he exclaims, before giving the baby a closer look while an unmistakable look of concern sweeps over his face. “He looks just like your boss.”
On the surface, it’s a heartbreaking one-liner about a new father discovering that he’s been cucked. But more deeply, it confirms that intercourse definitively plays a role in the reproduction of Whos. Because if sex and reproduction didn’t correlate in Whoville, the surprisingly grim joke about a family being torn apart by infidelity wouldn’t make any sense.
As members of a species that also fucks to make babies, the notion of sex leading to offspring is hardly a new concept. Yet there’s a key difference: Despite both requiring sex to procreate, humans give birth to their babies, while Whos have their babies delivered via magic flying umbrellas, which is a tough concept to wrap your head around, both existentially and logistically. Basically, in Whoville, sex leads to — or at least plays a role in — the making of babies; but unlike human reproduction, the act of intercourse doesn’t literally cause a baby’s creation.
Or does it? Is Who Cum somehow magically transported to its designated pumbersella where it incubates until it’s ready to be delivered? Or maybe Whos deliver their sperm to whoever is in charge of the birthing operation and they somehow make it a baby? The possibilities are endless — and all deeply weird.
For her part, Otto says she couldn’t conclude one way or another if the Grinch and Whos are reproduced sexually or asexually as “dandelions in North America reproduce asexually (plants only carry the DNA of their mothers), whereas their close relatives in Europe reproduce sexually.”
Sadly, a single throwaway line at the end of a flashback in a Christmas movie based on a 69-page children’s book didn’t give us all of the answers about the intricacies of the reproductive process in Whoville. But maybe someday, we will find the knowledge we’ve been searching for in the form of a sequel where Martha May has to catch the Grinch up on the birds and the bees when the two decide they want a little half-Grinch, half-Who child of their own.
Here’s hoping it goes better than that time cartoon Renée Zellweger fucked a bee.