Very Serious Nonsense

by

We’ve been enjoying reading books to our now nearly 4-month old daughter Maeve. Maeve clearly doesn’t fully understand what we’re reading, but it does keep her attention most of the time. I hope it makes here comfortable with and interested in books. And I can only improvise, count and narrate so much, so having books to read out loud is good.

What I am enjoying reading most is Dr. Seuss, pen name of Ted Geisel Having a chance to go back and read and re-read stuff out loud has been fun. The incessant rhymes are great – my favorite lately: “a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle” – not quite Sondheim, but great rhyming that deserves to be said out loud over and over. What I am also enjoying is picking up on some of Seuss’ social commentary. 

I was aware that The Lorax was an environmental and anti-consumerist parable, but there are additional political strains that permeate Seuss’ books. There are plenty of messages along the lines of  “don’t be stuffy, have fun.” Sometimes this takes a sort of anti-authority bent, too.

The King's magician's and their cats chanting over Bartholomew Cubbins and his hats. From Dr. Seuss' The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins

The King’s magician’s and their cats chanting over Bartholomew Cubbins and his hats. From Dr. Seuss’ The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins

Below is a selection from The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, first published in 1938. The story features a king who gets angry because a peasant doesn’t take off his hat in the king’s presence. The peasant, Bartholomew Cubbins, does take off his hat, repeatedly, but each time a new hat magically appears upon his head. The king calls in his magicians, who remind me a bit of contemporary car-centric traffic engineers, full of high-sounding mumbo-jumbo justifications, but divorced from on-the-ground realities. (For more of my traffic engineer critiques, see my bike advocacy blog Bikas)

“Stop this useless muttering,” ordered the King. “I want a chant that will charm away this boy’s hat.”

The magicians huddles over Bartholomew and chanted.

“Winkibus

Tinkibus

Fotichee

Klay,

Hat on this demon’s head,

Fly far away!

[…]

“A mighty good chant,” said the King, looking very pleased “Are you sure it will work?”

All the magicians nodded together.

“But,” said the King, looking puzzled, “there still seems to be a hat upon his head. How long will it take for the charm to work?”

“Be calm, oh, Sire, and have no fears,” chanted the magicians. “Our charm will work in ten short years.”

“Ten years!? gasped the King. “Away fools!” he shouted.

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