He’s Not the Lorax: Why Mythologizing Dr. Seuss Is Grinchy

Published on March 30, 2014

by Beth Perry
Clash Daily Cntributor

This March is just about over, and with it ends another month of celebrating everything Seuss. It began in public schools years ago as a one-day commemoration of the March 2nd birthday of late author and cartoonist, Theodor Seuss Geisel – better known by his nom de plume, Dr. Seuss. It was not long before these annual commemorations turned into week-long celebrations. Some schools even began dedicating the entire month of March to Seuss-centered activities. Then in 1997, the NEA (National Education Association) decided to create an official event called the Read Across America project.

The association describes the project as,

NEA’s Read Across America is an annual reading motivation and awareness program that calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss. NEA’s Read Across America also provides NEA members, parents, caregivers, and children the resources and activities they need to keep reading on the calendar 365 days a year.

Most of us would agree this is a commendable mission. Literacy is the foundation of a good education. Without the ability to read and write a child simply cannot understand texts dealing with any subject.

I thoroughly understand why Dr. Seuss’s books are popular with school children. Anyone that ever had to read the old Dick and Jane primers remember the pure tedium they were. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. See Jane run. Run, Jane, run. It’s no surprise literacy rates began to fall drastically in the 1960’s. Dick and Jane suffocated children’s interest in reading.

Then Dr. Seuss was introduced to schools and it was See Dick go. Good riddance, Dick, good riddance! Dr. Seuss used witty rhymes to tell his stories, and his books were filled with humorous illustrations. Reading had suddenly become INTERESTING!

I will always think fondly of Dr. Seuss. All the same, I am surprised by the over-the-top glorification of Seuss some people expound. You may have heard the kind of stuff I’m talking about, claims such as Seuss was a pacifist, an anti-capitalist and a “distinguished college professor”. Then there’s the one about Seuss being a committed defender of the ecology. This particular claim is regularly espoused to children, along with the allusion Seuss was a “real-life” Lorax. I don’t know if these claims are the product of hero-worship, propaganda or simple ignorance. What I do know is that they contradict reality.

Theodor Seuss Geisel’s initial success as a professional illustrator came with his newspaper circulated pro-war cartoons created prior to the United States’ entry into WWII. At the time, Seuss was a harsh critic of what he perceived as U.S. Isolationism. This sentiment inspired one of his most famous cartoons of the era, in which he mocked pacifist Unitarian minister John Haynes Holmes for urging Americans to stay out of war. Some of these cartoons depicted Nazis and the Japanese in very unflattering caricature, so much so, some modern interpreters have construed (or rather misconstrued) them as racist.

As to the notion that Seuss was the living embodiment of the Lorax: ok, yes he wrote “The Lorax”, with its dire warnings about how runaway consumerism and indifferent greed can ravage the ecology. Seuss may have longed to “speak for the trees” like his fictional prophet. But this is real life, and he was an author and illustrator. It is impracticable to imagine he typed his manuscripts on sheets of wax or drew his illustrations on dry leaves. His greatest fame came from his published books, with pages made of paper produced from tree pulp.

After his death, the book was adapted into a major motion picture. People that took their kids to the theaters to see this movie bought theater tickets. Tickets are made from cardboard, another paper product. Out of the film emerged a small empire of merchandising tie-ins. Some of these are paper products, and while these may boast the Recycled label, remember that some tree, somewhere, had to be sacrificed before this recycling took place.

The historical revenue from Seuss merchandising also discredits the notion that he opposed capitalism. Even before his death there was plenty of book tie-in merchandise to be had: costumes, talking toys, tee shirts, party supplies, lunch boxes, figurines, etc. For anyone to believe Seuss spurned consumerism with a zealot passion, they must first blind themselves to the fact he made some very lucrative entrepreneur-minded choices.

It is certainly a total fantasy to assume Seuss was a distinguished college professor. Seuss did enter the University of Oxford. But he grew bored, quit his studies and departed for a tour of Europe instead. He went on to become a professional cartoonist, and from there a published author and illustrator. He was never a professor (or a real doctor for that matter!). And once his career took off, he never returned to campus life.

The real Theodor Seuss Geisel was very different than the popular myths surrounding him. It is evident from his legacy that he genuinely cared about ecological matters; but he was not a fanatic. He loved the human race but he knew when good had to take up arms against wrong. He was repulsed by exploitation of the holidays; yet he didn’t begrudge children enjoying the toys and other products inspired by his stories. Seuss understood the dangers of unrestrained industrialism. However, he did not advocate the dismantling of healthy capitalism. He encouraged children to pursue learning and to have fun in that pursuit. He also set an example of how an individual can achieve success in their chosen field through mere ambition, labor and the faith in their abilities.

It is right to honor Seuss for his literary creations and impact he made on motivating young minds. But to perpetuate myths about the man distracts from what his life accomplishments can teach us. And anyone who sets out to rob children of the facts is just downright Grinchy.

beth perry editBeth Perry is a fiscally conservative Libertarian and a follower of Norse Traditionalism. She is known as a writer of children’s stories and as a contributor to Hubpages. Under her pen name, Anya Howard, she has authored several Romance novels and stories. Happily married and mother of four, Beth lives in the Smokey Mountains region of Tennessee where she has never made moonshine – though she has been known to dance under it. See: http://bethperry.hubpages.com/ http://anyahoward.com

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