Thursday, January 25, 2007


Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. everyone knows the name. i'm almost certain everyone has read at least one of his 44 books. his imaginative illustrations and whimsical rhymes danced in all our eyes at some point in our formative years. i've never lost my appreciation for his work, but it wasn't until i reached adulthood that i really began to understand the genius of this man.

his earlier books were definitely more whimsical and generally fantastic. aimed towards younger children. first time readers. imagination building tales of crazy worlds full of crazy creatures doing crazy things. as his career progressed, his messages developed. he began implanting morals into his stories. many of his latter books revolved around deeper, satirical, and/or rhetorical messages. here, in two of many possible examples, in lies his brilliance.

"The Lorax" is an account being retold by the Once-ler to a small boy. his story explains how he discovered the monetary potential of the truffala tree and how he then began concocting bigger and better ways to mass produce them. all the while, a small furry creature, the Lorax, urged him to stop.
he spoke for the trees.
it wasn't until nothing was left but a barren plain of stumps and pollution did the Once-ler realize the error of his ways. As he finishes his retelling, he tosses a truffala tree seed to the boy with the last written word, "unless?". hope, and this all made sense in my little, growing brain without becoming preachy. i somehow understood the dangers of greed. short-sighted capitalism. the problems of pollution and environmental destruction. i couldn't put it into those words, but i understood it.

"The Butter Battle Book", still one of my favorites shearly for the devastation it suggests in children's literature, was published in the midst of the cold war. in this world, two neighboring towns, the Zooks and the Yooks, have grown to despise each other over a trivial indifference. one side insists that bread should be buttered on the top. the others say the bottom. this dispute has led to a wall being built to keep each other out, ala the berlin wall. this divide is guarded on either side. one day, a guard shows up with a stick. this provokes the sentinel on the other side to get a bigger weapon. quickly, this escalates into an arms race, similar to what was happening between russia and america. a bigger stick to a sling shot to a gun to a canon to an army. the climax finds both guards standing on the wall, holding a tiny but extremely destructive bomb over the edge with a question. "who's going to drop it?" "be patient...we will see." the end. neither has defense. i was left to think how things count mount so quickly to such chaos. again, a mature topic, here being the threat of nuclear holocaust and the arms race, was made evident to a small boy. i was too young to fully grasp the historic context, but i saw the problem and how it arose. there is no benefit of blind hatred. the importance of acceptance and compromise, peace and understanding, were all made clear. he just made things click.

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