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? Brain damage brought on 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 to hold of treasure trove of Seussian proportions. The trunk contained miscellaneous drafts, letters, and sketches of the books from Seuss cannon. The most exciting discovery was never before seen manuscripts topped with numerous rejections letters publishers. These manuscripts represent Geisel’s early attempts at a more serious literary career. It appears he jumped from genre to genre like the manic Cat in the Hat with each rejection letter and never tried to master specific genres.
What historian and scholars find most interesting is that the failures actually planted the seeds in Geisel’s 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 created.
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the earlier texts are underway at several major universities, the research team has released a summary of some of the unpublished works written between 1926 and 1936 that were in the trunk.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 below, we are all better off in the Seussian world than that of the early Geisel.
Popped on Hops (Temperance pamphlet) – This was a Prohibition-era tract penned by a college-aged Geisel. In it he extolled 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 kicked out of 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 into Hop on Pop.
Star-Bellied Snitches (police procedural) – This story was set in Franklin County, Virginia, during the final years of Prohibition and followed Sheriff Lyndon Spufford’s investigation into the deaths of a number of people who snitched on the county’s most notorious moonshiner, Edmond “Red” Hurley. Each of the snitches’ bodies bore multiple star-shaped wounds on the chest and stomach. Later the eponymous snitches were later changed to Sneetches and the moonshine excluded for a story 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 tell the story in a novel. In this attempt, Geisel told the story from the viewpoint of the killer, whose name he changed to Hamilton C. Horton, an upper-class medical school student, gentleman, and psychopath. The story was told in gruesome detail that rivals any episode of today’s CSI programs or Patricia Cornwall novels. Unfortunately with this manuscript he was way ahead of his time. With World War I still fresh in people’s minds, the reading public was not ready for a work of such gore and brutality. This story was later modified to Horton Hears a Who! and the violence was considerably toned down.
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 centered 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 was never adequately explained though it was 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 on the pages. Later this title was kept for a children’s book but the story was changed to 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 his knowledge and experience gained from working summers in his maternal grandparents’ bakery, Geisel tried his hand at a cook book. 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. Fueled by Prohibition-era hooch, 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 in 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 doctor) and broke with the prospect of another Christmas of not being able to afford any Christmas presents looming over him. Later, as you all know the Grinch stole Christmas. The religious affiliation of the Grinch was never 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 heartened by the success of Mulberry Street, and he thereafter focused his energies on children’s books.
Hats on Cats – We have images from the Jazz Age of women dressed stylishly in flapper dresses with bobbed haircuts and men with Brilliantine-slicked hair nattily dressed in well-cut suits and boaters. Given the fashions of the time it was only appropriate for a 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 catalog of hats for cats. Geisel inverted the title and the new story became of one of the most beloved books 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 of Gatsby’s murder on the nouveau riche of West Egg and the related decline in the use of pools. 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 be about 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.
If I Ran the Women’s Prison – There is no other information about this book other than the title. 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 – A diet & exercise manual
The Foot Book – Foot illustrations for foot fetishists