Dr. Seuss Essay

Joe Kowalski

            The Sneeches and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s [or Philosopher’s ] Stone ...how often have those books been compared to each other? Have they ever been compared to each other? They appear to be so radically different. Yet, upon critical examination, both of these books partially exemplify what their respective authors did to help change the landscape of children’s literature as we know it. Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss don’t just share an area of theme park in Universal Studios; they share the same triumphant and exuberant aura that made them explosively different from their predecessors. This led to their stardom by presenting strong world-applicable messages in child-friendly packages, challenging the publishing norms of their time, and getting kids widespreadly, and enthusiastically, to read.

            Both J. K. Rowling’s (Harry Potter) and Dr. Seuss’ (Sneeches) success stories were comprised slightly of that elusive property known as being in the right place at the right time, but both sprang more primarily from pure ambition and vision. Both were hardworking and brilliantly creative individuals who only rose to the top of their game through great perseverance and daring risks. Seuss (AKA Theodore Geisel) dropped out of Oxford after spending years training to become an English professor to scramble his way about different magazines and newspapers to pitch his cartoons and stories. (Cott) Rowling was a single mother who wrote out the first chapter of the Harry Potter books on napkins at the café she frequented as well as the entire first book on a typewriter. (Farr) Neither were living in what one might call ideal circumstances to survive on but their years of strife paid off much more than sufficiently.

            One of the greatest strengths of both Geisel and Rowling that was significant to their success was world-building. Rowling’s famed imagination is so detailed and vast that every miniscule sentence seems entwined with another entirely different one and to the “Wizarding World” at large. Everything seems to explain something else and the reader quickly catches on that she has a mental encyclopedia for every character, place, and prop. Seuss books on the other hand, are just as imaginative but more cleverly characterized by lack of explanation through playful and brilliant surrealism. Every page is so zany and explicit in its inexplicability and that is part of the charm. However, what both authors share that is even stronger is an innate ability to weave real-world messages behind their fantasy.

            Geisel never thought that flat-out planning a children's book to be used as a moral was a very good way to engage them and opted, in his words, to be “subversive as hell.” (Pace) The topics included in his books might not even normally be taught to children, but he had a way of making them applicable and allegorically entertaining because he truly believed that the best way to teach children was through humor and fun. For instance, Yertle the Turtle is often seen as an allusion to World War II and what Hitler was trying to do in it. The Lorax is about consumerism, the detrimental rise of big business, and the benefits of being environmentally savvy. However, when the story is seen from a child’s perspective they see lessons in not taking advantage of other people to get what you want and how it’s good to go ‘green’. It’s all still the same messages but they’re boiled down to their basic concepts for the little ones to understand. Similarly, Seuss accomplished a similar feat in The Sneeches. He took the concept of prejudice and bigotry and made it applicable to kids by showing how shallow it is to judge someone by how they appear and how awful it is to try and justify mocking them because of it. As it says at the end of the book: “The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches/And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches./That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars/And whether they had one, or no, upon thars.” (Seuss 26)

            Rowling, who openly embraces the idea that adults love her “children’s” books too, is even more front-forward about the dark undertones of the universe she created. She doesn’t just present symbolism for hatred, corruption, and war...she goes right ahead and shows it. In an interview she mentions “I wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the wizarding world. So you have the intent to impose a hierarchy, you have bigotry, and this notion of purity, which is this great fallacy, but it crops up all over the world.” (Farr) Take, for instance how Sorcerer’s Stone starts out with the news of the end of a great war that the series’ reader later finds out was ended through pure love. That is a very big and powerful message presented in a very understandable way. As the series progresses, one observes heroes who turn out to have villainous pasts, villains who turn out to have heroic pasts, people who look down upon other species to stress their supposed superiority, and exactly how the ‘Ministry of Magic’ is in complete shambles. It never feels forced and makes sense in alignment with how everyone knows the world (unfortunately) works. Both authors pulls this off fantastically.

            This wasn’t the only concept that showed these authors emphatically steering away from what was typically achieved in the average kids book. Take, for instance, the length of their books. Picture books, typically 32 pages or less, now were up to 56 (The King’s Stilts) and 69 (How the Grinch Stole Christmas!) and even 72 pages (Horton Hears a Who!) under Seuss’ pen. Even playing within limited boundaries, Seuss excelled. There’s a famous anecdote that he wrote Green Eggs and Ham after his publisher challenged him to make a book with only fifty words or less. (Pace)

Rowling, of course, took things even further by starting with a 223 page novel, working her way up to 766 pages by the fifth installment. This was pretty unheard of for an audience so young, and especially for a popular kids series. Rowling brought fantasy to a generation of kids who supposedly would not respond well to such ‘geeky’ stuff and Suess brought whimsy to a generation of kids who were “supposed” to have much more serious, utilitarian fare. Part of their brilliance is that both authors actually took children’s literature seriously but not to the point where they weren’t having fun with it themselves. Geisel even once famous joked “Adults are obsolete children, and the hell with them.” (Cott) Both challenged the norms and created the new ones, ready to be broken once more.

            But perhaps the most magical feat of all is that they got kids to read. Kids love the idea of journeying off to a magical school where they can learn how to make things float and go on exciting adventures. Kids love the idea of a feline guest surprising them out of nowhere to make a rainy day a heck of a lot of fun. Both authors provide clever and thrilling fun, memorable characters, great morals and themes...what’s not to like? They didn’t pander. Their work was filled with wordplay and allegory and great humor. (As Dumbledore says: “Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank you.” [Rowling 91]) Rowling and Suess provided for children what they had been craving and the results are shown in their sales, critical acclaim, and firm position in pop culture.

There’s no denying the expansive impact those authors’ respective works have molded. The characters are impressioned into our memories and we still yearn to visit or even inhabit the fantastic places they live on in. What these authors (and many others such as Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, and Judy Blume) achieved is immortality. By carving a niche of their own into the undervalued and misunderstood realm of children’s literature, they probably more firmly cemented themselves into the public consciousness than if they had solely written for adults. Many children first picked up a book because of their storytelling ingenuity and for that we should be eternally grateful. Mischief managed!

Works Cited

Cott, Jonathan. "The Good Dr. Seuss". Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's  asdfahsfLiterature (Reprinted.). New York City:Random House, 1984. Print.

Farr, Emma-Victoria. “J. K. Rowling: 10 Facts about the writer.” The Telegraph. 27 September, asdfahsf2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk>.

Pace, Eric. “Dr. Seuss, Modern Mother Goose, Dies at 87.” The New York Times. 26 September, asdfahsf1991. Web. 24 April, 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com>.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 1997. asdfahsfPrint.

Seuss, Dr. The Sneetches and Other Stories. New York : Random House, 1961. Print.

Smith, David. “Dumbledore Was Gay, JK Tells Amazed Fans.” The Guardian. 20 October, 2007. asdfahsfWeb. 23 April, 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com>.