Zooks Archives | Sheryl Steines

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Baby’s First Fantasy

the loraxI have a new cousin, he’s three months old. I might take the time to read to him, it might make him bold. Yeah. Dr. Seuss I’m not. Actually it’s been a long time since I’ve had a little one so it makes sense that it would have been a long time since I perused the stories of said Doctor.

So what brings me to Dr. Seuss? It occurred to me as I was researching different forms of fantasy, most of us grew up exposed to the very first type of fantasy story. I never really thought of it, until recently, even as my children in elementary school explored the man and his works, learning about his characters, celebrating his life. And even as I read The Cat and The Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, I never really thought it was more than charming rhythmic words and fantastic creatures. But now I understand there’s something lurking underneath.  

I always contend that stories based in fantasy and science fiction are better able to explore controversial or difficult subjects because in these newly created world, traditional rules, laws and values no longer exist. The author creates new ones. I hadn’t expected that from Dr. Seuss. In several of his stories he explored such topics as environmentalism and the escalating arms race. Who knew?

For instance, in The Lorax (1971), he explores the environment by telling the story of a young boy curious as to why a certain area of his town is so run down. He meets a character known as a Once-ler who for a price, explains to the boy how he cut down the Turffula Tree in order to make his factory bigger. But when he cut down the tree, he brought forth a Lorax, a creature who speaks for the trees because they have no tongues in which to speak for themselves. The moral of the story as the Once-ler discovers, that that unless someone cares, the situation won’t improve.

When reading The Butter Battle Book (1984), its hidden message is about the arms race; in which two hostile cultures named the Yooks and the Zooks, live on opposite sides of the wall, similar to that of the Berlin Wall. The two groups wear different colored clothes and battle each other because one eats their bread with the butter side up and the other with the butter side down. Their disagreement ends in an arms race, each building bigger and stronger weapons, ensuring their mutual destruction.

They aren’t just children’s stories, they explore moral dilemmas told in a in the fantasy setting, new worlds, with new rules. And you thought they were simply delightful children’s stories.

It makes me appreciate the Doctor that much more.

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