I never liked Dr. Seuss as a kid. When I was a kid I loved violence and danger and jokes; my favorite thing was Tom and Jerry--I loved it every time Tom suffered some horrendous injury. There was no violence or danger or jokes in Dr. Seuss, at least none I could discern as a child. Dr. Seuss was also so often preachy, telling you to not fight or not chop down a tree or whatever--besides being boring, this seemed ridiculous to me as a kid; sometimes you gotta fight some jerk and sometimes you gotta chop down some tree. Now, "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" could also be a little preachy, but they had lots of fun characters and skits, funny jokes, and an undertone of danger and violence, what with Oscar the Grouch and the Count and Letterman and Spiderman and so forth. I also didn't like Dr. Seuss's drawing style, with its characters that all look dumpy, or sleepy, or "cute" in a cloying, irritating way. Seuss's drawings have no dynamism and convey little emotion, and when they try to elicit emotion from the viewer they come across as manipulative and insincere.
|Screenshot from CNN.com|
The exception of course is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in which a guy demonstrates some emotional intensity and goes on a risky mission, driven to exasperation by the holidays, which I agree are an excruciating hassle. In the end, the Grinch, like Winston Smith, learns to love Big Brother, and like King Kong, is laid low by society, a horrible lesson to us all. To me, Dr. Seuss is a one-hit wonder.
Anyway, recently Dr. Seuss has been in the news because the publisher of his books has decided to cease producing six of his titles. These titles, allegedly, "portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong." When I heard this I thought maybe Dr. Seuss deserved a second look.
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1934)
I had this book as a kid and I found it intolerably boring and impossible to read; it is like "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in book form, the same boring thing page after page with some slight addition which is supposed to be amusing, I guess. Anyway, a kid, Marco, has been enjoined by his father to be alert and take in the sights while walking home from school, but the only sight he sees is a horse pulling a cart. He considers embroidering the account he will offer his father upon returning home (I guess Dad is telecommuting), saying the cart was drawn by an elephant and was accompanied by a magician and so forth, but in the end little Marco pussies out and tells Dad the truth. "He had won the victory over himself," you might say. Boring.
Nothing actually happens in this story except that Marco toys with rebellion, with doing the wrong thing (lying) and then just does the right thing; there is no real conflict or journey. It's like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" with all the drama taken out of it.
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street is apparently "hurtful and wrong" because, along with the aforementioned magician, Marco imagines seeing a Chinese man accompanying the cart, carrying along with him a pair of chopsticks. The story also mentions an Irish cop, and that the elephant is ridden by a "Rajah." These characters don't do anything interesting, like throwing Muslims in a concentration camp or getting blind drunk or throwing a widow on a bonfire, so I don't know how offensive they could really be, but that is probably just because no character in this story does anything interesting.
If I Ran the Zoo (1950)
I don't think we had this one; at least I don't remember it. In fact, of the six discontinued books, I don't think I've ever looked into five of them until today.
If I Ran the Zoo is a lot like And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street--just some brat's flight of fancy--but with even less of a plot, because the brat in this one, McGrew, doesn't even have to resist the temptation to lie. The whole book is a list of the fictional creatures McGrew would, should he be put in charge of the zoo, catch and put on display after setting free the customary lions and tigers. Most of these fictional animals look essentially the same and express the same limited emotions; the mammals all have the same skull and same big dumb grin: