I am about to speak ill of the dead, and to recount from my faulty memory scandalous things. God forgive me. But let’s have a little talk about tweetle beetles…
My favorite Dr. Seuss book is Fox in Socks. It is the delightful tale of a mischievous fox tormenting a knox with tongue twisters until the knox gets fed up and stuffs the fox into a bottle of tweetle beetles. I legitimately learned to read with this book, and to this day have large portions of it memorized.
The dedication reads, “For Mitzi Long and Audrey Dimond of the Mt. Soledad Lingual Laboratories.”
This is the first mention of Audrey Dimond in Seuss’s works. She would go on to become his second wife, running away with him to Vegas to get divorced from Seuss’s (up until then, I presume) best friend and married to Seuss approximately five minutes after Seuss’s first wife committed suicide.
Dr. Seuss’s first wife, Helen, had met a German American boy going to Oxford in a vain attempt to become a proper member of academia. But Seuss was a goof off. Clever, ingenious, but unable to put up with stuffy intellectuals like one of his professors, J.R.R. Tolkien. Rather than learn English at the feet of such a master, or something pragmatic rather than English, Seuss would blow off classes to go motorcycling around France and to lurk in venues of adult entertainment. In this class clown wasting his parents’ money, and in his illustrations, Helen saw genius. She encouraged him to abandon the English classes he wasn’t attending anyway, and focus his attention on the pictures. She kept the bills paid and the lights on with her own work as (if I recall correctly) an English teacher. She supported him during the Great Depression as he trotted his drawings around looking for someone, anyone, willing to maybe pay him to draw pictures.
Seuss had, of course, no proper training as an artist. Nor did he want any. His work was entirely the result of his whimsy, and actual technical skill would have muddied his distinctive style.
Years later, Seuss hit upon making children’s books. He didn’t like the idea at first. He called ’em “brat books.” Later, after the failure of his adult book, “The Seven Lady Godivas,” all about naked women, he reversed his opinion, stating that adults are “obsolete children.”
Anyway, Seuss made children’s books for a solid decade without making enough money for it to matter. Through all this, Helen was his biggest fan, rock solid in her certainty his work was some sort of genius.
Then, the release of the Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas flipped the switch. Seuss went from a starving artist who didn’t starve thanks to bug spray ads and the more stable labors of his wife to a millionaire celebrity.
Then Helen got cancer. Helen with cancer was a lot of work, and no fun in bed. So Dr. Seuss started sleeping with his best friend’s wife. And Helen, who was a Dr. Seuss groupie before even Dr. Seuss believed in Dr. Seuss, took her own life.
This didn’t make the news. After all, Dr. Seuss was on the Correct Side of History. He was a nasty vindictive leftie. He bragged about canceling Ronald Reagan. He personally rewrote Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now to be about Richard Nixon. But if a Pro Life organization so much as thought about using the catchphrase from Horton Hears a Who, “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” Seuss would be on their doorstep with an army of lawyers in a heartbeat.
No. The press could not let scandalous rumors about a beloved children’s book author get out! Of course, I’m convinced that they told themselves it was because he was an icon of literacy and a champion of children, but I’m equally convinced that if he had been an ardent right-winger instead, they wouldn’t so much as hesitate. He was Their Guy.
Until he wasn’t. Five minutes ago, the narrative turned against the doctor. The current holders of his copyright have decided not to print certain of his book. Uncle Joe decided to remove Seuss’s books from the U.S. Government’s official list of recommendations.
I like Seuss’s work. I regard him as a rival to be surpassed. His whimsy and style, while they have an arrogance that annoys me — there is a magic to them, but it isn’t all that and a bag of chips! — are real. And I still love Fox in Socks, despite the dedication in the front cover which is the first glint of the man breaking his deepest promise to his biggest fan.
I don’t think the current holders of the copyright should have the power they do. I think the books ought to be in the public domain by now, where nobody could cancel them. I think Amazon and Ebay and the great tech cabals that have conspired together to prevent the distribution of the ‘cancelled’ books ought to have whole managerial hierarchies jailed for anti-competitive practices.
At the same time, I think the conservative establishment who are squawking and preening and posturing about saving Seuss is embarrassing. They consistently defend the wholesomeness of a man who, were he alive, quietly endorse their disemployment and disenfranchisement. Seuss is on the side of the men who have cancelled him!
And yet, which character is on which side is not the whole story. Random House and Seuss took the explosion that was Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas and used them to launch the careers of many other children’s book authors. Thus we got Go Dog, Go by P.D. Eastmen. Thus we got the Berenstain Bears.
I have mixed feelings about the Berenstain Bears. On the one hand, Papa Bear is one of the first arrows in the attack on fatherhood that has characterized American Media my entire life. On the other hand, to this very day, the Berenstains are confessing that Christ is Lord and God has Raised Him From the Dead on the shelves of Walmart. An increasingly ballsy move as the ashes of the West cool.
Dr. Seuss hails from an era when the American left and right were closer together. Seuss himself would tell you that Nazis and Communists were the subspecies of the same murderous ideology. Such a position is heretical on the left these days! To dare to suggest that the National Socialist German Worker’s Party might be, well, socialistic, is unthinkable. I have hinted that Seuss is on the side of his own cancellers? Well perhaps not entirely. I suspect if he still lived, he would be on the same page as John Cleese of Monty Python fame: utterly appalled at the censorious excesses of the modern left, while refusing to repent of the sowing the seeds that grew into it.
Love him or hate him, join him or oppose him, Dr. Seuss is an important part of the history of children’s literature in the U.S. And that means his first children’s book, To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, is an important part of the history of children’s literature in the U.S. And of course, that’s one of the books that has been banned. Which means if I want to own that piece of history for my professional collection (I am, after all, a children’s book author in the U.S.), I will need to spend thousands of dollars on the black market.
And this is the bit that enrages me. I am conflicted about Dr. Seuss. I regard him as much a foe as a predecessor. As much an enemy as a founding stone. I see a spark of genius in his work, but I consider that spark overblown by a considerable amount. But overblown or underblown, the simple fact remains that his books are part of the history of my chosen craft, and the current ‘legal’ rightstholders, along with our big tech overlords, have conspired to delete that chapter of the history.
I’m not sure whether Dr. Seuss belongs in my child’s library, but he sure as hell belongs in mine. And thanks to Disney magically keeping Micky Mouse out of the Public Domain, some commie schoolmarms have found themselves with the legal power to erase history.
To put it as gently as I may, in the most child-friendly language I can summon that nevertheless expresses the full gravity of the situation:
Fuck them. Fuck them with a cactus made of magma.
I’ve seen a lot of toothless challenges on Boomerbook. People posting pictures of the Cat’s Hat with the text, “Come and Take it.” As if you can stop them. What are you going to do, create an underground children’s book publisher that violates international copyright law in the name of preserving history? All for a whimsical bit of poetry whose chief value is not any virtue of its own, but merely the place it occupies in the timeline of the craft?
I’m going to make children’s books that the wokies want to cancel because they are Objectively Good, True, and Beautiful. And I’m certainly interested in any underground publishers because of that. My religion spends as much time illegal as legal. Pirate Radio is, therefore, best radio.
But I sincerely doubt any man is going to step up to that plate for To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.