With The Lorax movie coming out, I thought about the original book, which I read as a child, and shared with my children. I didn’t realize it had such a controversial history.
For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it is the story of a young boy who lives in a polluted, ugly world. He asks a character (who is never seen, except for his arms) called the “Once-ler”, what happened to make his world the way it is. The Once-ler tells the story of how the world was once beautiful, with lush forests and plentiful fauna. The Once-ler, however, had an invention he was convinced was a necessity for everyone to own. And this invention could only be made from the truffula tree. So he began cutting down truffulas, to make his invention. A creature called the “Lorax” (which looks kind of like an orange walrus) tried to warn Once-ler of dire consequences to the world, if he continued cutting down so many truffula trees. The Once-ler ignored the Lorax, and continued chopping down the truffula trees, until there were no more left. The animals left, the land was out of balance, and the Once-ler went bankrupt. At the end of the story, the Once-ler gives the boy the very last truffula seed, and instructs him to nurture it. The implication is that there is a chance to restore the world to its former beauty.
This is not exactly a subtle allegory, a story of the danger of destroying nature until the world is ruined. A story to teach children about the environment. There are many stories like this, but I’m not sure how many created as much controversy, perhaps because, for one reason or another, Dr. Seuss books tend to stay with you, and perhaps this one would leave a legacy.
In California, in 1989, some parents requested that the book not be part of the second grade curriculum, as it was unfairly critical of the logging industry. One of the parents was employed by logging-equipment company.
There was a book published by Terri Birkett, whose family owned a hardwood-floor manufacturing compnay, called “The Truax”, which offered a more logging-friendly storyline (see the book at http://www.myteacherpages.com/webpages/NDow/files/TRUAX1.pdf ). The book was published by NOFMA, the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers’ Association.
A critique written in the journal Nature, written on the occasion of the book’s 40th anniversary, criticized the character of the Lorax as being a “parody of a misanthropic ecologist”. She called the book “gloomy”, and perhaps unsuitable for young children. She did praise the book, however, for its understanding of “the limits of gloom and doom” environmentalism.
Apparently the story was also amended to remove a reference to Lake Erie, after the lake was cleaned up.
It speaks to Dr. Seuss’ influence, how threatened some very big companies were, by a short tale for children.
Me, I thought it was a good story to teach children about the consequences of our actions, the perils of ignoring other points of view, and the importance of not taking our world for granted.