I try not to write here very much about Dr. Seuss because a) you have probably heard of him already, and b) it’s like staring at the sun when there are billions of other celestial bodies which have yet to be explored. Everything tends to disappear when he’s around. Horton, The Lorax, The Grinch... don’t get me started. If it weren’t for Dr. Seuss, we’d all still be reading about princesses living in castles, and fixing their ruffles, and guys setting out to perform extraordinary feats of daring and trickery so they can live there too.
Wait, we’re still reading those stories?
Still, something about the current political debate makes me wonder if it isn’t we grown-ups who need to more regularly examine our rationalizations rather than worrying very much about the lessons we teach our children. Are we born with an instinct for fairness, or do we develop one by variously winning and losing, and making millions and losing our shirts, and going to the principal’s office and reading mindful little fables like Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle?
Oh, I’d guess even a two-year-old immediately recognizes Yertle as the surpassing megalomaniac that he is, and probably doesn’t need all of the turtles beneath him to add up to five thousand six hundred and seven before realizing the old Turtle King is not going to remain one for long. It is our shared, unbalanced and indivisible outrage at Yertle’s soaring entitlement that continues to make this worthwhile, even when we are at an age when we think we’ve outgrown such trifling reductions. Okay, and Seuss’s rhyming: even sixty years later everything else still sounds like sleepy academic exercises by comparison. Try daydreaming through this:
“All mine!” Yertle cried. “Oh, the things I now rule!
I’m king of a cow! I’m king of a mule!
I’m king of a house! And what’s more, beyond that,
I’m king of a blueberry bush and a cat!”
This, basically, from flipping the pages at random. The book is full of righteous exuberance that way, like a marching band playing in the background, and also includes the story of Gertrude McFuzz, an erstwhile wallflower who cannot decide when to stop adding to her plumage, and a bear and a cat whose gloating one-upmanship finally comes back to embarrass them through the lowliest of mediators. Whether you are a worm, or a plain little turtle named Mack, or an out-of-work teacher, or a student who cannot pay back his loans, or a union employee in Wisconsin who has lost her collective bargaining rights, it feels good to once in a while count a master among our impertinent masses.