Dr Seuss: The Lorax
Random House 1971
Among the handful of books one of our granddaughters habitually chooses for me to read to her is this, reportedly the author’s favourite. Whether it’s the pictures, the words, the message or a mixture of some or all of these I haven’t asked, but it obviously appeals strongly to her. For the moment I’m happy that it clearly holds some magic for her, even at the age of six, and that now may not be the time to analyse how or why, only to recognise that it does.
The Lorax is an uncomfortable parable about the despoilation of our planet. It’s depressing that, half a century on, the moral of the tale has no more been learnt than it was by the Once-lers of our world back when it was first published:
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
As with the tale of Pandora’s box, there is a soupçon of hope at the end, an indication that youngsters, if they’ve learnt from the mistakes made by their pig-headed elders, may be able to begin repairing at least some of the damage done.
The tale is told with Dr Seuss’ customary verve, wit and insight. A young lad is walking “at the far end of town | where the Grickle-grass grows” along to the Street of the Lifted Lorax. Who or what is the Lorax and how and why was he lifted? Only the Once-ler knows, and he lives closeted in his multi-storeyed Lerkim. For a measly payment he will tell you his multi-layered story.
The land was once pristine with colourful Truffula Trees, in among which flew Swomee-Swans, where Brown Bar-ba-loots frisked and Humming-Fish splashed. But the Once-ler began a production line knitting thneeds made from the soft tufts of the Truffula Trees.
What is a Thneed? It’s
It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat…
(I’m not entirely sure it could function as a snood though who knows…)
But, like so much that’s manufactured in bulk, it’s not something that’s really needed—it’s frivolous, a fashion item, a passing fad. And, while the forest is rapidly being chopped down, the Lorax, guardian of the trees, warns of the imminent departure of the creatures. But does the Once-ler care?
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
of the Thneeds I shipped out.
And of course the inevitable happens: all resources are finite; a polluted grey landscape is the result, denuded of trees and devoid of animal life.
The author sugars this otherwise bitter pill in his own inimitable style. The Once-ler is never fully revealed—he could be anybody, he could even be me or you. The Lorax is of a type with the figures of Yoda, Mr Miyagi or E Nesbit’s grumpy It. The buildings and machines have a Heath-Robinson look about them, the technicolor landscapes a more natural version of a Big Rock Candy Mountain. Simultaneously, the delight with words and rhymes is everywhere, not just the Lerkim and Thneed but also phrases like “smoke-smuggled stars” and “cruffulous croak”.
The Lorax’s repeated cry of I speak for the trees! has been very appropriately borrowed by environmentalists. Judging from the ill-advised trailer I suggest you skip the atrocious animated feature and read the original to yourself, to your offspring and to anyone who has ears but who so far seems to lack both common sense and a moral compass.
August 2021 note: published fifty years ago and still relevant after the recent UN report of the climate crisis