Thursday, September 21, 2006

So How Did Our House Get Here Again?

Now in heavy rotation from the library: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.

Whoa, Nelly, we are not in Whoville anymore! I have to admit that we had mostly kept close to the simple Dr. Seuss books -- Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, Marvin K. Mooney, Fox in Sox.

Now that the kids have longer attention spans and can handle more complex books, we've been dipping into the socially conscious Seuss canon: The Sneetches, Horton Hatches the Egg, and now The Lorax.

The Lorax was published in 1971. It's a delightfully unsubtle fable about the destruction of the environment solely for the purpose of personal gain:

I meant no harm, I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads
Of the Thneeds I shipped out. I was shipping them forth
To the South! To the East! To the West! To the North!
I went right on biggering … selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.

Delightful but demoralizing, since of course its lesson has been largely ignored in the 35 years since publication.

Sean is entranced by this book (in fact, he was hovering over me as I typed the preceding quote, growing increasingly impatient as he waited for me to return his book). He's been asking countless questions about the plot and the characters, both while we're reading and throughout the day. I can't recall the last time he found a book this intriguing.

It's a perfect opportunity for us to talk about the environment and trees and animal habitats and how all that can be tossed aside in the name of greed. Sean doesn't understand the Once-ler's impulses: "But why does he cut down the trees? Why did he cut down the last tree? Why is the sky so dirty? Where did the Lorax go?"

I refrained from talking about the irony of the publication and distribution of this book: how many trees were cut down for its pages, how much pollution the chemicals that bleached the paper and the ink used for printing caused.

My smugness over this unvoiced observation dissipated quickly, however, as our conversations continued. I was pointing out all the things in our house that are made of wood, that once were trees: the tables, the chairs, the floor, the frame of the house, the newspaper. . .

Phooey. So much for environmental self-righteousness. Instead, perhaps I should address another fascinating subject: hypocrisy on the homefront. I'm pretty familiar with that one.