24 March 2009

Book of the Week (6): “The Lorax” by Dr Seuss

The Lorax was written close to 40 years ago, but you wouldn’t know it. Not only is the eco-message depressingly well suited to our time, but the story that conveys it feels as fresh as it possibly could – bright, alive, bouncing with energy and weirdness and all the things Dr Seuss always does so well. It’s one of the best eco-stories for young children – the best of all, perhaps – and to celebrate its don’t-waste-trees message HarperCollins have re-released it this week in a special, stunning edition printed on 100% recycled paper.

The tale is told by a Once-ler, whose face we never see (but his teeth sound grey when he talks). This unsavoury character describes the time he selfishly chopped down all the beautiful Truffula trees (which are softer than silk, and they have the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk…) in order to make utterly useless thneeds in the hope of getting rich. And even the impassioned and importunate Lorax – who speaks for the trees – can’t stop him.

This is both a lovely tribute to the beautiful natural things in the world, and a clear warning-call: we exploit it thoughtlessly at our peril. It’s pretty dark for a Dr Seuss story (and it’s pretty long for a Dr Seuss story, too – it’s for slightly older readers than his usual output); but the dark message is embodied in that same old Seuss world that is brightly, exhilaratingly mad and impossible, and yet will also feel completely accessible and familiar to so many readers. The snergelly hose and the gruvvulous glove, the Truffula tufts and the thneeds and the Snuvv – the Lorax, the Once-lers, the Brown Bar-ba-loots, the Humming-fish, crummies and Bar-ba-loot suits… These are all profoundly important things and they will all make sense to you when you read The Lorax; and they will matter to you a great deal. After all, it’s up to you now…

Recommended by Daniel Hahn

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