It doesn’t take the literary genius of Dr. Seuss to see that there is more to “The Lorax” (currently playing in theaters) than singing fish and slapstick humor. So much more, in fact, that in 1989 Dr. Suess’ children’s book was banned after the protest of angry parents at a public school in Laytonville, California on the grounds that it “criminalized the foresting industry.”
The rhyming story is set in a highly polluted and treeless world and it follows the journey of a young boy attempting to find out why this happened. This leads him to hear the story of a strange creature called the “Once-ler” who explains how he cut down all the trees in the name of business and profit despite the warnings of the Lorax, the mythical guardian of the forest who “speaks for the trees.”
It’s no wonder that lumber companies would take offense at being so thoroughly demonized, or in some cases exposed to reality.
Many, if not all, of Dr. Suess’ books have strong moral or political undertones, which are potentially controversial seeing as they are designed for children. However, “The Lorax” is particularly relevant now due to its ironclad (and not so subtle) message of environmental protection and respect.
Independent of individual agreement with that message, it is a profoundly important for children to be educated on this topic. As such, the story of the Lorax, be it film or book, is an excellent educational source.
Anti-Environmental groups such as the Wise Use Movement (WUM) that have worked to ban the Lorax (and successfully removed it from the mandatory reading list in public schools) are attempting to restrict the public discourse of ideas.
Climate change is perhaps one of the greatest trials of our time and will become increasingly prevalent in the future. It would be socially irresponsible not to help children to understand that. In the vast majority of cases, kids will simply adopt the same views that their parents have, yet it would be a sign of a particularly mature culture if we simply exposed them to different views and allowed them to make their own judgements.
While “The Lorax” is certainly persuasive, it isn’t absolute. It isn’t going to magically infiltrate the minds of children and define every future thought they have. Nor does it explicitly command them to do anything, it only offers a warning. Instead, the story does an excellent job of presenting an incredibly complex issue in a form that children can understand.
Unfortunately, an enormous reason “The Lorax” has been so opposed since its creation has been greed. Timber and logging are some of the largest industries in California, so it’s no surprise that they sought to defend their interests by seeking to ban “The Lorax.” While it is reasonable for industry to defend itself in the face of what they perceive to be a threat, doing so through censorship is deeply unethical.
A far better approach was taken by Terri Berkett in her own children’s book “The Truax” which presents an alternative view in the same form that runs contrary to Seuss’s own. Again, independent of anyone’s personal views on the subject, this is a far more civilized way to handle a conflict in ideology than resorting to largely arbitrary and flagrantly corrupt legal barriers. Legislation should be used to restrict actions not ideas, no matter how scary they might be.
“The Lorax” isn’t some mystical brainwashing device, it’s a story, and like many stories it has a moral. Why should “The Lorax” be on the receiving end of any more indignation than “The Tortoise and the Hare?” Just as it is important for children, or anyone for that matter, to learn to take some things slow and steady, it is paramount, particularly now, that they be educated about the necessity of sustaining the natural world.
The fact that this story was not only turned into a film, but has been fantastically successful, offers more than a glimmer of hope for the future of both free speech and environmental responsibility.