March 02, 2004,
While many of you will spend Tuesday eating green eggs and ham and wearing tall, striped hats this being the 100th birthday of the legendary Dr. Seuss I will not be joining in the merriment. The reason: I hate Dr. Seuss.
I realize this puts me in limited company. I can hold my Mothers Against Seuss annual meeting in Colin Farrell's bullet-riddled phone booth, along with another membership-challenged group, Republicans for Kucinich.
It's just not a popular stance. But really, you should join us, if you love the English language, read a thesaurus for fun, and believe the King James Version is beautiful as is and shouldn't be dumbed down in special editions for children.
My problem with Seuss (rest his soul) can be summed up in this sentence:
That mind of yours, I heard him say, Is frightfully ga-fluppted. Your mind is murky-mooshy!
Now, I have a pretty good dictionary by Webster, but ga-fluppted isn't in there. And I can't recommend that my 11-year-old son, upon hearing me read this story to his younger siblings, incorporate the term into his next essay on self-governance in Iraq. (Although frightfully ga-fluppted does seem to be an accurate description at this point in time.)
I always thought the point of reading to children was to teach them about language. How does Dr. Seuss help? Heck, he knew so few words that he had to make most of his up.
And so I sit on the couch, surrounded by trusting children whose brains (I fervently pray) are still developing, and try to be cheerful about the latest Seuss book that came home from the library. My audience of four only three of whom can speak has a question about every page.
"Mommy, what's a wocket?"
"What's a ziff?" "What's a zuff?" "What's a nerkle?"
I maintain a pleasant demeanor for a few pages, but when someone asks if we have a truffula tree, I lose it.
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT A TRUFFULA TREE IS!" I shriek. "I don't know what any of this stuff is! Just let me finish the stinkin' book!"
A few years into motherhood, I became increasingly suspicious about this Seuss fellow. A quick search of the Internet proved my dark hunch to be true: This exalted man, this icon of American childhood, had no children of his own!
So, of course, he could write phrases like "In my yellow socks, I box my Gox, I box in yellow, Gox box socks" and expect us to read it to our kids each night while he lounged about at the corner café. He didn't have to do it himself!
Oh, how he must have laughed at us.
I think I know why he did it. Seuss Theodor Geisel in reality was a failed novelist, and we failed novelists are a bitter lot. Geisel's first book, To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, was rejected 43 times (by some pretty smart editors, I would say) before a friend took pity on him and published it.
In high school, Geisel drew cartoons under the pen name "Pete the Pessimist."
Furthermore, Dr. Seuss was no doctor. To make a living during the Depression, he wrote jokes and drew cartoons. Once, he wrote a spoof on scientific developments, and as part of the joke, gave himself a doctorate using his middle name.
Oh, the deceit.
To be truthful (unlike Geisel), I must confess: I don't hate all of his work. I like the Grinch. I can pronounce Grinch.
And Green Eggs and Ham has some literary merit.
Unfortunately, he didn't stop there, inflicting 44 other books on us. And he wasn't particularly nice about it, either. Here is a quote: "Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them."
See? He hated us!
Dr. Seuss's real value, I believe, is in the realm of parody. Pick a topic, any topic, and you can find a Seuss-like parody of it on the web. (These courtesy of Seuss.org.)
If Dr. Seuss wrote computer training manuals:
If the address of the memory Makes your floppy disk abort, Then the socket packet pocket Has an error to abort!
If Dr. Seuss wrote E.R.:
Shep: This little boy has just been shot! His pulse is faint, his breath is weak, We did all we could to stop the leak! Riley: And this woman here, she has a broken hip.. Carol: How did she fall? How did she trip? Shep: This kid's mom was getting in my hair So I shoved her lightly down some stairs!
If Dr. Seuss knew Al Gore:
Can we change these numbers here? Can we change them, calm my fears? What do you mean, George Dubya won? This is not fair, this is not fun! Let's count them upside down this time! Let's count them until the state is mine! I will not let this vote count stand! I do not like it! Gore I am!There is Dr. Seuss on weddings. Dr. Seuss on Star Trek. Dr. Seuss on spam. There's even Dr. Seuss on the Crucifixion (the Passion narrative voted most unlikely to be made into a movie.)
It inspires me to write my own:
Hey, maybe, I can put up with this nonsensical trash, Maybe Dr. Seuss I should not bash! I'll stop the whining, I have avowed, Just please don't make me read aloud!
Jennifer Graham is a writer in Virginia. Complaints are welcome via Jennifergraham.com.