Children’s Library: ‘The Lorax’

February 24, 2011, Epoch Times

Seussical wisdom that rings true today

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Characterizing The Lorax as an “environmental tale” (as it is often called) paints only a partial picture of this rich and still relevant work of Dr. Seuss. First published in 1971, The Lorax, through the familiar rhymes and made-up words of its acclaimed author, tackles themes of compassion, enterprise, responsibility, balance, greed, morality, redemption, and hope.

The story is seen through the eyes of a curious young boy who ventures to the “Street of the Lifted Lorax” at the dark and desolate “far end of town” to question the area’s only inhabitant—”the old Once-ler” about the legendary character. “What was the Lorax? And why was it there? And why was it lifted and taken somewhere?”

The Once-ler relates a tale to the boy (and the reader) that began long ago, “when the grass was still green and the pond was still wet and the clouds were still clean …” when the Once-ler happened upon “this glorious place” and the beautiful, colorfully-tufted Truffula Trees that grew all around.

Immediately an opportunity seemed obvious to the Once-ler, as he explains, “In no time at all, I had built a small shop. Then I chopped down a Truffula Tree with one chop.” He knits the colorful tufts of the trees to make a product he insists “everyone needs,” a Thneed.

Upon finishing his prototype, a hard-to-describe creature appears from the stump of the chopped Truffula. “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish. And mossy. And he spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy.” The Lorax introduces himself and explains that he “speaks for the trees” and expresses his distaste for the Once-ler’s Thneed.

His first sale is made “the very next minute” however and the Once-ler’s business soon takes off. While Truffula Trees fall and Thneed production increases, The Lorax watches and reveals the plight of all of the creatures (for he speaks for them, too) that depended on the Truffula Trees to the Once-ler. He worriedly sends off each creature to find a new habitat. With each tale of woe the Once-ler grows ever more irritated until he finally snaps, “I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you I intend to go on doing just what I do!”

Just as he snapped, they heard “a loud whack” and a “tree fall. The very last Truffula Tree of them all.” Business comes to a hault, employees leave, and the Once-ler explains, “Now all that was left ‘neath the bad-smelling sky was my big empty factory … the Lorax … and I.”

Finally, the legend of the “Lifted Lorax” is explained: “he lifted himself by the seat of his pants. And I’ll never forget the grim look on his face when he heisted himself and took leave of this place, through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.”

The Once-ler reveals his deep remorse over the years while living in solitude and finally gives the boy the very last Truffula Seed to plant and develop into a forest once more so “the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.”

Rather than simply a story about the environment, at the heart of The Lorax is the theme of compassion. The Once-ler goes about business hastily—with a myopic view of opportunity. He never considers the impact on the living things around him. What’s more he doesn’t even consider the impact on the future of his own business. In his mad dash to make a fast profit, he loses sight of the simple fact that there are a finite number of Truffula Trees.

The Lorax, on the other hand, imbues compassion, explaining again and again the impact of the Once-ler’s actions to him. He leaves saddened only when all hope is exhausted. Of course, the seed given to the boy, is a symbol of renewed hope and redemption for the Once-ler after all.

The Lorax delights on a number of levels. Dr. Seuss’s recognizable illustrations and language lend themselves perfectly to a read-aloud setting or otherwise. Young and older children, alike, will find much to enjoy in this work. More than “an environmental tale,” The Lorax belongs on The Top Shelf.

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