Dr. Seuss is known the world over for his fun-filled books and lovable characters such the Grinch, the Cat in the Hat, and who doesn’t love Zyyzer Zazzer Zuz? What is less known is how he came up with all his unique characters. Was it hallucinogenics? Did he lick toads as a fraternity hazing ritual at Dartmouth? Was it brain damage brought on by too much bathtub gin during Prohibition? A recent discovery will hopefully shed some light on the creative genius that was Dr. Seuss.
At a swap meet in San Diego, a trunk was discovered that held a treasure trove of Seussian proportions. The trunk contained miscellaneous drafts, letters, and sketches of the books from Seuss canon. The most exciting discovery was never-before-seen manuscripts topped with numerous rejection letters from publishers. This written work represents Geisel’s early attempts at a more serious literary career. It appears he jumped from genre to genre–much like the manic Cat in the Hat–with each rejection letter and never tried to master specific genres.
What historians and scholars find most interesting is that these failures actually planted the seeds in Geisel’s fertile mind for the books that generations of children have grown up with. Titles and stories were re-worked and unique drawings were added. In 1937 And To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street was published, and the world of Dr. Seuss was born.
While more detailed analyses of the earlier texts are underway at several major universities, the research team has released a summary of some of the unpublished works written between 1926 and 1936 that were in the trunk. It will be clear from reading the material below that we are all better off in the Seussian world we know than that of the early Geisel.
Popped on Hops (Temperance Pamphlet) – This is a Prohibition-era tract penned by a college-aged Geisel. In it he extols the virtues of a life of abstinence from alcohol and the dangers of being “popped on hops” — a euphemism for being drunk in common use at the time. He wrote this in an attempt to persuade Dartmouth to reinstate him after he was expelled from the university for throwing a party at which the hops freely flowed. What can you expect from a guy whose father at one time ran a brewery? This was later reworked as Hop on Pop.
Star-Bellied Snitches (Police Procedural) – This story is set in Franklin County, Virginia, during the final years of Prohibition and follows Sheriff Lyndon Spufford’s investigation into the deaths of a number of people who had snitched on the county’s most notorious moonshiner, Edmond “Red” Hurley.
Each body bore multiple star-shaped wounds on the chest and stomach. Later, the eponymous snitches became Sneetches and the moonshine expurgated for a story that was collected in The Sneetches and Other Stories.
Horton Hacks a Ho (Psychological Thriller) – Geisel was intrigued by the story of Jack the Ripper, one of history’s most famous serial killers and wanted to detail the story in a novel. In this attempt, Geisel tells the story from the viewpoint of the killer, whose name he changed to Hamilton C. Horton, an upper-class medical school student, gentleman, and all-around psychopath. The story of Horton’s murder of prostitutes is told in gruesome detail that rivals any episode of today’s CSI programs or Patricia Cornwall novels. Unfortunately, this manuscript was way ahead of its time. With World War I still fresh in people’s minds, the reading public was not ready for a work of such gore, depravity, and brutality. This story was later modified to Horton Hears a Who! and the violence was toned down considerably .
There’s a Wocket in My Pocket (Erotic Historical Fiction [?!!]) – This was one of Geisel’s most ill-guided attempts at “serious” fiction. The story centers on the forbidden love between the son of the owner of Acme Wockets and one of the female factory workers during the height of the Industrial Revolution. The post-production function of the wocket is never adequately explained, though it is large, shiny and phallic-shaped. Censors of time would not have been able to get past the first chapter without having their eyes melt from the steamy scenes the pages. Later the title was kept for a children’s book, but the turned into one about a boy and the strange and apparently sexless creatures that live in his house, such as the yeps on the steps, the nooth grush on his toothbrush, the yottle in the bottle, and the jertain in the curtain.
Green Eggs and Ham Croissants & Other Adventures in Breakfasting (Cookbook) – Attempting to leverage the knowledge and experience gained from working summers in his maternal grandparents’ bakery, Geisel tried his hand at a cookbook. The last draft of this manuscript is dated Monday, October 28, 1929. The next day, October 29 — Black Tuesday — the stock market crashed, bringing the Roaring Twenties to an end and starting the Great Depression. No one would want to read this while standing in line at a soup kitchen or boiling the soles of their shoes and rocks for dinner. Later, this was shortened to the beloved Green Eggs and Ham. Baked goods were dropped entirely from the story.
How the Goldsteins Stole Christmas (Pamphlet) – As the rejection letters piled up, Geisel became bitter and angry, perhaps irrationally so, but perhaps not. Fueled by Prohibition-era booze, Geisel wrote a screed against New York publishing houses in general and a Jewish editor named Henry Goldstein in particular. The date of this pamphlet is the fall of 1936 when Geisel was at the lowest point of his life–rejections piling up, living with a double sense of failure (especially since his father wanted him to be a real doctor, like Dr. Spock), and broke. All this combined with the prospect of another Christmas not being able to buy any Christmas presents looming over him. Later, as you all know, Christmas was stolen by the Grinch, but Henry Goldstein’s rejections haunted Geisel until his death. The Grinch’s religious affiliation has never been divulged.
Along with the above manuscripts, there was a list and rough outlines of other projects he had planned to write but never got around to. Evidently, he was heartened by the success of Mulberry Street, and thereafter focused his energies on children’s books.
Hats on Cats (Fashion Trends) – Here, we have images of Jazz Age women dressed stylishly in flapper dresses with bobbed haircuts and men with Brilliantine-slicked hair nattily attired in well-cut suits and boaters. Given the fashions and excesses of the time, it was appropriate, if not socially mandatory, for a wealthy, well-dressed couple to have a well-dressed pet. So the fad of dressing up one’s pet began. Geisel tried to cash in on this by creating a catalogue of hats for cats. This title was inverted, and the new story became of one of the most beloved in the world.
McElligott’s Pool (Fiction) – With the outline of this novel, Geisel tried to ride the coattails of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s success with The Great Gatsby. In it this story, he imagines the death of Jay Gatsby from the point of view of Gatsby’s pool cleaner, Ralph McElligott. The story examines the aftereffects Gatsby’s murder had on the nouveau riche of West Egg and the related decline in the use of pools, especially in the New York winter. The ensuing lack of pool-cleaning jobs slowly drives McElligott mad, and he ironically drowns in a pool while he believes he is being chased by a Lorax, a mossy, bossy, man-like creature who speaks to trees. Later the title, McElligott’s Pool, was kept, but the story was changed to depict a boy who fishes in a small, polluted pool. It won a Caldecott Honor in 1947. In 1971, Dr. Seuss gave the Lorax a starring role in a children’s book that chronicled the plight of the environment. The contaminated fish the boy catches, coincidentally, became the impetus for one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.
If I Ran the Women’s Prison (Pulp) – There is no other information about this book other than the title and one extant line: “The first time I saw her in stripes, cripes!” This beginning is thought to represent the first confirmation of the Seussian rhyme system. However, it is not clear if this was a true idea for a book or just a scribbled fantasy. This title was later recycled as If I Ran the Zoo.
The Shape of Me and Other Things (Wellness) – A diet & exercise manual combining Gandhi’s eating methods with the exercise regimen of Charles Atlas. The concept itself was doomed to failure and abandoned.
The Foot Book (Self-Help) – Foot illustrations for foot fetishists and reflexologists