Dr. Seuss: Genius and Ham

“If I were invited to a dinner party with my characters, I wouldn’t show up.” – Dr. Seuss

The incomparable cartoonist, author and inspiration to children — and adults — everywhere died this week (Sept, 24) in 1991, having written 46 children’s books that sold more than 200 million copies.  Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel — Seuss was his middle name — had wanted to be a college professor, but his talent for “doodling” quirky characters and his gift for tongue-twisting rhymes and inventive wordplay convinced him that he should become a writer and illustrator, and he loved writing for children most of all.  And children, most of whom were bored to tears by the so-called educational benefits of Fun With Dick and Jane and See Spot Run, loved him in return.

His first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected by 27 publishers before Vanguard Press took a chance.  It became an instant success, and Bennett Cerf, president of Vanguard’s parent company, Random House, later said, “I’ve published any number of great writers, from William Faulkner to John O’Hara, but there’s only one genius on my author’s list.  Ted Geisel.”

His other famous books include Green Eggs and Ham, which he wrote after betting an editor he could write a book using only 50 words, The Cat in the Hat, Yertle the Turtle, and arguably his most famous, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which became an award-winning television Christmas special seen by tens of millions through the years.

Perhaps his most famous character, however, was the elephant Horton, who first starred in Horton Hatches an Egg, in which Horton is duped into sitting on a bird’s egg until it hatches, which he doggedly does through bad weather and other inconveniences — “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.” Horton explains, “An elephant’s faithful 100 percent.”  Sure enough, his persistence pays off when (a typical Seuss twist) the hatched bird turns out to be part elephant.

Horton reappears in Horton Hears a Who, which caused some controversy because Horton’s recurring line, “A person’s a person no matter how small!”, was adopted by pro-life groups to signal Seuss’s anti-abortion leanings. However, Seuss disavowed the claim, stating he was merely writing to entertain.

And entertain he did, not only children, but also adults.  His book You’re Only Old Once! dealt with the challenges of aging, while his last book before he died, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!¸ was a whimsical look at life’s journey and the roadblocks one must face.

Seuss once aptly described his writing style.  “I may doodle a couple of animals,” he explained, “and if they bite each other, it’s going to be a good book.”