My favorite Dr. Seuss book from childhood would have to be the story about the star bellied sneeches and how discrimination and the strive to be popular can leave a person (or sneetch) penniless, which is captured in The Sneeches and Other Stories. Because of my love of the sneetches I was delighted to discover The Lorax as an adult. The Lorax, in Seuss’ typical poetic cadence and lyrical rhyming, tells the story of a brave young man who travels to where the Grickle-grass grows in order to hear the tale of the Once-ler. After paying the Once-ler (15 cents, a nail and the shell of a really old snail) the boy hears the sad tale that the Once-ler has to tell. The Once-ler tells of an ideal time:
Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean
The Once-ler, after traveling to this beautiful place, becomes obsessed with the colorful Truffula trees which exist in a huge forest filled with Brown Bar-ba-loots, Humming-fish and Swomee-Swans.
The Once-ler sets up shop and begins producing Thneeds, which are an all purpose garment as well as a trendy “Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need.” Out of the stump of the first fallen Truffula comes a creature:
He was shortish. And oldish.
And brownish. And mossy.
And he spoke with a voice
that was sharpish and bossy.
This is the Lorax who speaks for the trees, because as the story tells us “the tress have no tongues.” The Lorax chastises the Once-ler calling him greedy and stating that the Thneed is useless.
But of course someone does purchase the Thneed causing the Once-ler to invite his whole family into the production business. The one small shop amidst the Truffula trees turns in to a huge polluting tree-chopping factory. The Once-ler does not listen to all the warnings of the Lorax, leading our small brown Lorax to send all the animals away because their habitat and food (Truffula fruits) are being destroyed.
The Once-ler states well into the deforestation and pollution of the beautiful Truffula forest;
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…
I went right on biggering…selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.
Eventually the last Truffula tree is cut down. The Lorax is past the point of lecture; “The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance…just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance…as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.” The Lorax did leave behind the word “UNLESS” carved into stone at his departure. The Once-ler then spends the rest of his years alone, worrying. Until the boy came to hear the Once-ler’s story. The Once-ler then understands what the word means;
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful, lot
noting is going to get better.
The Once-ler gives the boy the last Truffula seed telling him to plant a tree and treat it with care and perhaps the Lorax and his friends will return.
The Lorax is the story of a beautiful world that gets corrupted by greed. The words of the prophet Lorax are despised and ignored. The Once-ler repents of his biggering. With the Lorax lifted away, we are left with a task and a story. Our task is to rebuild. Another prophet, Isaiah, who was more concerned with social justice than environmental justice put our task to rebuild this way:
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
In our rebuilding we hope for a larger restoration, the return of the Lorax and his friends. We cannot cause this return, but we can pray for it and faithfully fulfill the task of the Lorax. In addition, an implicit task from the Lorax is for us to curb our biggering. Can we really create a world where the Lorax would like to return if we are still obsessively focused on getting more rather than realizing when we have enough?
We too must tell the story as the Once-ler did. And like the Once-ler we should not minimize our part in hurting or helping the Truffula trees. In March of this year an animated version of The Lorax will be released to theaters. It is rumored that the story is going to be significantly changed from the original book. Lets hope The Lorax receives far better treatment than Horton Hears a Who! did in 2008. Regardless if you plan on seeing the movie, tell the Once-ler’s story of the prophet Lorax. Spend some extra time with your kids or heck borrow someone else’s kids. Alternatively just read the book aloud to someone your roommate, sibling or cat.