Published 1971, Random House Books for Young Readers
While catching up on my current events lately, I came across a CNN story about myths and histories of Dr. Seuess books. One of them caught my eye, so I took a closer look at The Lorax, written in 1971 by Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel. It is a witty and colorful tale of a creature, the Once-ler, who discovers a new land and takes over, spreading industry and building highways, driving out all the animals, and filling the skies with smoke. (What else is new?)
Seuss reinforces this concept by making the characters kid-friendly. Our cute and furry protagonist is The Lorax, who makes his home inside of the colorful Truffula Trees. He is an insightful pain-in-the-ass for the Once-ler and, throughout the book, attempts to warn him of the damage his Thneed factories are doing to the land.
“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees,” he announces. “They say I’m old fashioned, and live in the past. But sometimes the progress progresses too fast,” he laments as the Once-ler builds more highways and factories and tears down more Truffula Trees.
The greedy Oce-ler ignores the pleas of the Lorax, and continues to build more factories and tear down more Truffula Trees. As the trees come down, the animals of the area are forced to flee and live elsewhere.
“Aren’t you ashamed?” Asks the Lorax. “The things you are doing are completely ungood”
“But if I didn’t do it, then someone else would,” says the Once-ler.
Throughout the story, the Thneed industry continues to clear “the land where the grackle-grass grows” of all the Truffula Trees and pollute the waters and fill the skies with smoke.
At the conclusion of the book, when all the native animals have left and the Truffula Trees are all gone and the Thneed industry dries up, the Once-ler looks around and realizes what he has done. Once-ler is left with nothing except one final seed left from the last standing Truffula Trees…
It’s hard to imagine that the same guy who came up with “Hop on Pop” also created a masterpiece that plainly illustrates our environmental situation for both kids and adults.
The children’s book is widely considered propaganda by Seuss, specifically a satire on our species ability to invade and conquer. However many considered it a pointed commentary on the expansion of the logging industry in the early 70s. The Lorax is believed to be a representation of the great northern owl of the Pacific Northwest, which makes its home in the coastal redwoods and Douglas fir trees. See the resemblance?
The Lorax, Dr. Seuss 1971
Great northern owl, photo from Flickr
About 20 years after the book was first published, spokespeople for the loggers protested the story and considered it biased propaganda targeted at the industry. In 1989 the Laytonville California School District tried to ban the book from public libraries, but failed.
The controversies did, however, prompt some minor changes to the story. In 1991 the author decided to take out one line from the original version. As a humming fish leaves the pollution-infested waters he says “I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie”. That line was removed from future publications of the book but kept in the short film based on the book produced by PBS. (As a native Ohioan, the Lake Erie reference offends me a little, however the metaphor also rhymes with dreary so we won’t look into it too deeply for now…)
Page from The Truax, by Terri Berkett 1991
The controversy also prompted the logging industry to write its own side of the story called the “Truax” by Terri Birkett, who works in the hardwood flooring industry in Virginia and was sponsored by the national Oak Flooring Manufactures Association. This version of the story follows the same idea, but the voice of reason is a logger who convinces the woodland creatures that the loggers are doing good things for the forest because they replant seedlings and set up nature preserves. It’s an interesting portrayal of the other side of the debate; however it is a little too goofy to take seriously. I applaud the logging industry for defending its livelihood, and no one more than I will support their freedom of speech. However I still consider the industry to be detrimental to the dying ecosystem which continues to decimate thousands of acres of forests worldwide. The Lorax just reiterates what we already know, cutting down trees = bad for the planet.
Dr. Seuss is known for hit wit, his insightfulness and, of course, his sense of humor. But he should also be known for capitalizing on the importance of teaching children a tangible lesson on protecting our environment.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.”
-Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel
Related links: The Lorax Project A conservation website endorsed with the Dr. Seuss name, sponsored by Conservation International.
All pictures and photos taken from flickr.com