The little guy got a large hardcover book called Six By Seuss from his uncle a while back, although for a long time the little guy referred to the tome as “Muh-bey Steet” because the only story he wanted read to him from the collection was And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. (Given that the daydreamy plot focuses on a procession of vehicles, this is stunningly unsurprising.) Recently, he’s decided that the story he wants to hear the most is The Lorax.
Initially I greeted this news with much delight, because I love The Lorax. I have fond memories of both reading it and watching the animated film of it as a young biblionerd, hanging out at afterschool programs in the library. It’s simultaneously comforting and distressing that the blunt, unapologetic moral of the story is as resonant today as it was when Geisel first wrote it. (Which was before I was born, since the initial publication copyright is 1971. Which very much blows my mind.) It’s impressive how the artwork uses two simple but contrasting color palettes to differentiate the befouled present from the unspoiled past, and how the former slowly overtakes the latter. The Lorax is an ideal hero and the Once-ler is an exceptional villain. But neither of them, I would argue, is the main character of the book.
What the what? (And no, I’m not going to say the main character is “ecology”, either.) The thing I had forgotten about over the years, but couldn’t help but notice upon these recent re-readings, is that the framework of the story is written in the second person.
The main character is "you". But, it's not me. Not anymore. And guys, this is slaying me.
When exactly are we supposed to change the world? Is it in our early 20s? At the very least I think that’s when we’re forced to make a choice, whether we’re going to devote all our time and energy into really saving the planet/humanity/the glaciers/the rainforests/whales/orangutans/etc. OR we’re going to raise a family, which I now feel qualified to assert does in fact take a devotion of all one’s time and energy. I actually spent my early 20s doing neither of the above, instead choosing to make a bunch of dumb mistakes (which I at least had the sense to learn a little bit from) and now, mid-30s, I have a two-year-old son and another child on the way, and my world-changing chance does not seem to be where I left it. I don’t feel like I’m likely to find it, either, but I’m hopeful that my little guy can and will.
And The Lorax, specifically the end of The Lorax, really mercilessly hammers this home. Because I read it out loud, and because I read it to my son, every line from around “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” on out is a freakishly pointed dagger. It’s as though I’m just directly addressing the little tow-headed bundle of potential and possibility on my knee. I suppose I am: Screw the grown-ups, man. If anybody’s going to turn this crazy mixed-up world away from a collision with doom, it’s going to be you, little man. I feel terrible for not doing it ahead of time so that you wouldn’t have to, but I’d feel even worse denying that it needs to be done.
So, don’t get me wrong, I still love The Lorax, and I’m going to keep reading it to the little guy every time he requests it. (And I’ll probably buy the movie.) And I’m going to keep getting choked up every time during the closing exhortation, and my heart’s going to break a little each time too, and I guess that’s just the price we pay for growing up and handing down the world.