Book Of A Lifetime: Horton Hatches the Egg, By Dr Seuss
Friday 04 September 2009
I like things big. I adore Palladian villas, monumental Mark Rothkos, vases of gladioli, eagles, 16-ounce T-bone steaks. I can grasp the attractiveness of cottages, Indian miniatures, lilies of the valley, guinea pigs, and roast quail. But it seems to me that, with a little more effort, any of these might make more of itself.
This predisposition to the outsized is typically American, but in me it is also caused by early exposure to that admirable pachyderm, Dr Seuss's Horton the Elephant. At four, I adored Horton Hatches the Egg, one of the lesser known Seuss books, but my favourite by far. I wonder, all these years later, whether I didn't have, at that time, some obscure recognition that this particular story applied to me? The poem concerns a charming but flighty bird called Mayzie who, bored by the longueurs of egg-sitting, wishes instead to go on an extended holiday to Palm Beach. She flirtatiously prevails upon the kindly elephant Horton to take her place up in the tiny tree, in spite of his considerable misgivings. "Why of all silly things!/ I haven't got feathers and I haven't wings./ ME on your egg? Why, that doesn't make sense.../ Your egg is so small, ma'am, and I'm so immense!"
Horton was the perfect embodiment of my father – loving, totally dependable - while my mother was a Mayzie through and through, loved a fag and a drink, was the life of any party. I loved both of them, differently. Just as I loved Horton and Mayzie. Seuss's characters are wonderfully crazy, embodiments of the lawlessness and egotism of childhood. His world is always in danger of falling apart: he is children's laureate of entropy.
Like my Mom, he didn't much like kids, because both knew you couldn't trust them. That doesn't bother me at all. Many of the greatest writers about children were like that: not only Dr Seuss, but Beatrix Potter, Charles M. Schulz and Lewis Carroll (unless they were half-naked little girls). But from such child-phobic writers we get many abiding images that shape our sense of ourselves. Yet I never thought of myself as one of Dr Seuss's child figures.
Though I flew to Horton like his newly-hatched chick, it was the estimable elephant with whom I identified. His heroism made me swoon: "he sat and he sat!" From which, I believe, I derive both a life-time preference for sitting rather than doing, and a tendency to present myself as bigger and more important than I actually am.
I am grateful for my inner Horton, who has otherwise guided me truly and well, though if I regret anything from our association it lies in my apparent need to emulate his waistline. I try to lose weight but unconsciously I just don't feel comfortable at an everyday size. It's better to be big.
Rick Gekoski's 'Outside of a Dog: a Bibliomemoir' is published by Constable & Robinson
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