Sunday, June 01, 2008

Dr Seuss and the baptized imagination

Recently Ben Myers' blog mentioned a new book on Dr. Seuss' works as parables. This is not a review of that book, which I hope to read sometime; instead, here are my thoughts on how Dr. Seuss is easily distorted when people try to take a "deeper meaning" than joy and delight from his books.

Dr. Seuss' works definitely reflect his Christian faith. And he certainly wrote some books which were thinly-disguised morality works. Yertle the Turtle was one; Seuss' Lorax is probably the only environmentalist book that many people have ever read. How the Grinch Stole Christmas has a not-too-disguised look at how "Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." Grinch is probably the only of Seuss' moralistic books that is well-loved, and I suspect that is because the moralizing was less preachy.

It was a few months ago that I talked to a Very Earnest, Very Pious Christian woman on the subject of children's books; I brought up Dr. Seuss. When I told her about the Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, I could see her turning up her nose. Did Seuss, she asked, ever write anything substantial? The implication was plain: the sheer gladness of life reflected in his other books was considered less Christian (in her view) than moralizing. I submit to you that moralizing is not only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal in most peoples' ears, but that there is only one thing that can redeem moralizing from being just that: behind any true sense of good and evil is a much deeper kind of good: the good of the type found in Eden, not the good of rules but the good of existence and wonder, the delight in creation. This is what Seuss captured best of all. His odd creatures would have been at home in Eden. And any sense of right and wrong that is not to be a power-play must ultimately rest on the deeper and more profound type of good that is the goodness of life, the love of creation.

To Seuss, joy and delight are exactly what is substantial. Wonder and gladness are precisely the deeper meaning of those books, and those who look for Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots as deeper and more profound than joy have forgotten what Eden looked like.

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