The Corner

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

John,

While it is true that The Lorax is a soft-brained environmentalist rant, unhappily well-enough written and illustrated to capture the sentiments of children and those who read to them, many people have noticed that Theodore Geisel’s worldview went left as he got older. The earlier works are the sounder works. (Though it is possible that, early on, it wasn’t quite so clear that environmentalism would become the mortal enemy of economic growth. After all, ad men are not usually reflexibly anti-capitalist.)

The majority of Dr. Seuss’s work has no politics embedded. But Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose is a very clear statement about what happens when well-meaning productive types offer a (literal) free ride to those less willing to take responsibility for themselves. It is a hard-core anti-welfare state message. Yertle the Turtle, my personal favorite, is as clear a statement about the evolution of tyranny and it’s costs to the individual as you will find in children’s literature. Ditto Bartholemew Cubbins and the 500 Hats. Bartholemew Cubbins and the Ooblek, a classic, dwells more on what happens to (legitimate) kings who indulge their egos and overreach. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a message about the deeper meaning of the holiday, and the joy of spiritual joy — even without presents. Gertrude McFuzz is a parable about accepting yourself as God made you, and rejecting the need to meddle (or design your children).

For that matter, having contemplated both the text and the response it evoked when my children were very young and I was intellectually underemployed, I’d say that the Cat in the Hat is a pretty scary scenario of what might happen if the adults abandoned their role (as they were in the process of doing when Seuss was writing his best works). The Cat is all Id at play without a Superego. (As I write this I realize that all that Freudian jargon sounds very old and dated.) The kids at home without their mom do not have fun with him — they regard him as out of control, and frightening. He highlights the desire for order and (benign) authority.

There are few enough really talented conservative cultural messengers — especially when it comes to inculcating children with solid values. It’s a mistake to overlook all the wonderful stuff Dr. Seuss did — and did well enough to be memorable. And by all means, read (or listen to John Lithgow reading) Scrambled Eggs Super!, which has no message at all, but is charming nonetheless.

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