Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Dark Side of the Lorax

Remember the Trees, Dammmit!

I used to like the Lorax. Dr. Seuss's classic first Lorax book was a timeless and effective parable on ecological conservation, a perfect example of Seuss' later period. Seuss' later works, such as The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book, featured the traditional Seuss wordplay and fanciful illustrations offset against serious allegorical themes. The books were especially effective because of their narrative efficacy on multiple levels: younger children could enjoy the books based simply on their colorful content, while older children and even adults could marvel at the simplicity and soft-spoken moral eloquency of his metaphors.

Of course, things started going downhill when Seuss (Theodor Geisel) continued the Lorax's adventures. Pretty soon the Lorax started teaming up with Horton the Elephant to fight pedophiles and drug cartels. The colorful characters, who had once served as universally recognized emblamatic figures whose metaphorical quandries were readily appreciated by millions, became vehicles for an increasingly baroque variety of complex and increasingly unsettling adventures. Most of Seuss' general audience abandoned the books, but a small coterie of older Seuss aficianados became rabidly supportive of the stories. It was soon obvious to most that the once-beloved childrens' characters had been hijacked in the service of Geisel's increasingly myopic rants against women who had spurned his advances in high school. Most of his remaining fans, it later turned out, were single men who had had similarly unpleasant experiences with "shrewish harradins" during their public school education.

Most parents, if you asked them, would probably never share a Dr. Seuss book with their children now. Of course, they don't remember wonderful books like The Cat In The Hat or How The Grinch Stole Christmas, what they remember is the lurid headlines followign the publication of The Lorax Says That All Women Are Either Sluts or Immaculate Saints. Most people would like to forget the lawsuits that followed, as Geisel was sued for inserting photos of Colleen McDonald, who had refused Geisel's offer to take her to the Prom in senior year of high school, into his book as an insane murderer named Mollie McGoodlesnarp, who killed the Cat in the Hat's wife in a thinly-veiled attempt to win the Lorax back. It became obvious that Geisel, and everyone involved in the publication of his later books, had serious issues, but they weren't the kind of serious issues that had made his earlier books almost universally accepted classics of children's literature.

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