Dr. Seuss’s Lorax Found?

I’ve been moving and Internet access has been hit and miss. So when I opened up my stashed links and rediscovered this little gem, you can imagine my delight. An anthropologist and an english professor (walk into a bar... I’ll see myself out, thank you) teamed up to look deeper into the possible inspiration for Dr. Seuss’s apocryphal tale.

Their conclusion: The Lorax was inspired by the patas monkeys that live in West and East Africa. These creatures share the Lorax’s general facial characteristics, particularly his distinctive mustache. The monkeys’ vocalizations sound like the Lorax’s “sawdusty sneeze.” And the monkeys depend, for 80 percent of their diet, on the Seussian-looking whistling thorn acacia trees of the Laikipia plateau.

If you stop there, I’m sure that’d be enough for most of you, but let the weight this little nugget sink in:

That may seem like a set of curious but inconsequential similarities, but these authors argue that how we think of the Lorax determines how we think about his plight. Regarding the Lorax as an animal indigenous to the land of the Truffula trees “challenges traditional interpretations of the Lorax as an ecopoliceman asserting his authority.” In other words, the Lorax isn’t some tiresome scold, some shrill environmentalist who makes us want to throw up our hands and sigh, “Good-by, Thing. You sing too long.” No, the Lorax is a creature intimately dependent on the land that the Once-ler is destroying. That, the authors suggest, makes his story much more sympathetic.

Moving back to a country whose history can be ultimately defined by colonisation and the subjugation of an entire people (a people who have ultimately had their history largely erased from the contributions to Canadian society, mind you), I connected deeply with this slight shift of perspective. I’m not sure I ever gave the story much thought, but reconsidering it now, perhaps the Lorax is more relevant to me now, as a grown person-thing, than as a child person-thing.

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