“Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.”
– The Lorax, Dr. Seuss
The last few minutes before bedtime are among the most precious moments of childhood. Contained between the busy hurtle of the day and the slow drift into sleep, the bedtime story is the last relic of a day lived, a final gasp that fuels the imagination for the strange colours and shapes of the night-time, and dreams that swell big in the darkness. As much as I loved bedtime stories in my youth, bouncing between The Berenstain Bears and the books of Robert Munsch, it wasn’t until my niece picked The Lorax from the shelf many years later that I finally read Dr. Seuss’s opus.
I must say that I wasn’t too pleased with the choice of The Lorax right off the bat. As much as I love reading to my niece, the book was noticeably thick between my fingers and I couldn’t quite fathom all the fake, pitchy voices I would have to concoct in order to get through its 45 pages. Unfortunately, as I started to read, showing off the illustrations and flipping the pages, I quickly became very uncomfortable with the premise – more uncomfortable than any children’s book I can recall reading. In that oddly unsettling moment, it was disheartening to realize I had, in some way, become the beast I was warned about as a child; the simple, youthful coordinates of black and white had been watered down, and drastically changed.
There is a strange sadness that permeates reading The Lorax as an adult, one of recognition and guilt. Characterized as a fable, the book tells the tale of a creature named the Lorax “that speaks for the trees”, which are being cut down by the Once-ler to make something called thneeds. As demand increases, more and more of the Truffula trees disappear, and forest creatures like the Brown Bar-ba-loots and the Swomee-Swans go with them. At the end of the story, we are implored to plant a Truffula tree so the Lorax and all of the creatures of the forest will come back.
My stifled sense of horror was two-fold, comprised of my own disgust at seeing the world as it is – much of nature left in tatters without accountability or limitation – and thinking of how my niece would interpret the book. It’s likely that the idea of squirrels and bears and sea creatures having their habitats slowly destroyed, of animal species going extinct due to our short-sightedness, would seem ridiculous to her; and that such devastation should be caused by these mistaken, woeful adult versions of children! How silly we look in Dr. Seuss’s book, and how silly we must sometimes look to ourselves. How many thneeds does one really need? And is a thneed really, truly a need?
The gulf that exists between a child’s imagined world and adulthood is a vast one, full of treacherous moral questions that are often unanswerable, but we must derive some measure of fact from them. As the world’s population continues to increase and the space for natural habitat is further encroached upon, it’s not surprising that we are turning to other places for solutions, to Mars and its possibilities as a way out of a world we have sullied.
But Mars is just a future problem, and no likely solution to what truly threatens us: ourselves, more or less. In dreaming of Mars, we dream of a history that cannot break us, a broken thing that cannot taunt us with its disrepair, but never would we tell a child to run from their mistakes or to retreat into blindness and mask their flaws in newness. Left with a planet that has lost its resilience, we may have to look at what we’ve all become in needing our thneeds, no Lorax to be found anywhere.
From birth to death, the world changes a lot, but air is air and it cannot be bought! We make fine excuses each and every day so it’s for our own fate that we ought to pray. Instead of a thingamajig or a thneed, perhaps we should plant a Truffula seed.