Rethinking the Lorax, with facial analysis and some linguistic musing

Theodor ‘Dr Seuss’ Geisel’s environmental book, The Lorax (Wikipedia; the text of The Lorax ; preview in Google Books), he once explained, “came out of my being angry. The ecology books I’d read were dull. . . . In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might.” It came to him in an afternoon, written in a burst after he suffered from writer’s block. New research suggests that he was inspired by a trip to the exclusive Mount Kenya Safari Club, where he may have been inspired by the patas monkeys and whistling thorn acacia, which co-exist in commensalism.

Study: The Lorax Was a Forest Creature, Not an Eco-CopTwo professors find a new way to interpret the famous book by Dr. Seuss

In the book, as the landscape becomes dotted with Truffula tree stumps, the Lorax explains:

“NOW … thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground,

there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go ’round…”

But what exactly did the Lorax mean by “my”? Did he consider himself the owner of the forest, as some critics have claimed? A Dartmouth-led study proposes a new theory that the Lorax viewed himself as a part of the Truffula forest and was speaking as the personification of nature rather than as some sort of eco-policeman. The study is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Excerpt from the study:

Geisel was on the Laikipia plateau of Kenya when he exclaimed, “Look at that tree. They have stolen my trees”. Biographers have argued that these Seussian trees shaped the appearance of The Lorax’s silk-tufted Truffula trees, but the taxonomic identity of the tree is unknown. Looking at the book’s illustrations, a clue may lie in the barren habitat surrounding the Once-ler’s home. There stands a spindly tree – an untufted Truffula tree or early successional species – that resembles the whistling thorn acacia (Vachellia drepanolobium; syn. Acacia drepanolobium), a common tree in Laikipia. If Geisel was referring to these trees, it is likely that he also observed patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas), which depend on A. drepanolobium for about 83% of their diet16. Acacia gum makes up about half of this consumption, in an ecological interaction that benefits patas monkeys without harming the acacia tree – a commensalism.

If this natural commensalism informs The Lorax, it challenges traditional interpretations of the Lorax as an ecopoliceman asserting his authority. If the Lorax is based on the patas monkey, he can be seen as a sustainable consumer dispossessed of his commensal partner and an equal victim of environmental degradation.

And then the article gets into the matter of perceptual face space (Fig. 3).

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