Return To The Wonder Of Dr. Seuss In ‘Horton And The Kwuggerbug’ [Advance Review]
Theodore Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, is one of the world's most beloved children's authors and illustrators, a man who, over the course of six decades, worked as a cartoonist, screenwriter, and commercial artist, but whose claim to immortality rests on his role as creator of some of the world's most beloved picture books. From The Lorax to Bartholomew Cubbins to Thidwick The Moose to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, his characters have become part of the language and landscape of American culture, and his knack for metered rhyme and invented language has influenced generations of creators.
And though Geisel passed away in 1991, next week, Random House Children's Books releases a brand-new Dr. Seuss book entitled Horton And The Kwuggerbug, which collects a quartet of long-lost Seuss short stories that originally saw print in the early 1950s in Redbook magazine. This is actually Random House's second "lost Seuss stories" release in recent years, following 2011's The Bippolo Seed, and like the first volume, it's been compiled by Seussian scholar Charles D. Cohen (who also pens an exhaustive introduction placing each story in historical context).
Each of the four pieces adds depth to the Seuss oeuvre in its own fashion – the title tale is a heretofore forgotten episode starring the ever-dutiful Horton the elephant; 'Marco Comes Late' features the young boy from And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street and McElligot's Pool; 'How Officer Pat Saved The Whole Town' is another flight of fancy set on Mulberry Street; and the final story features a slender sourpuss known as a Grinch (not the one who went on to steal Christmas, but most likely one of his not-far-removed relations).
The stories are admittedly minor additions to the Seuss canon: you can see early takes on themes that would resurface in later work, and sketches of characters and names that Geisel would either hone or forget and move on from.
But even minor Seuss works are pretty essential for anyone who appreciates inventive use of language, giggle-inducing logical leaps, and an overall sense of fanciful mischief. The ten-page 'Marco Comes Late' is especially delightful, as it builds an increasingly elaborate excuse for why the title character ran late for class, then ends with a marvelously understated punchline.
I especially appreciate that these works each fit into one of the two Seuss story styles: 'Horton' and 'The Hoobub And The Grinch' take place in fantastically realized realities, while the strange events of 'Marco' and 'Officer Pat' merely occur in their protagonists' hyperactive imaginations. (The Lorax and The Sneetches would be famous examples of the first type, while If I Ran The Zoo, On Beyond Zebra, and McElligot's Pool fall firmly into the second category.)
And while I'm sure there are Seuss aficionados out there who will argue over how these vignettes fit into their respective characters' histories, I find that attempting to parse Seussian continuity is a fool's errand. A tangle of exotic animals and imaginary words works best when you simply enjoy without dissecting; there's no place for pedantry in a world built on skewed physics, alliteration and imagination.
In short, this is a book to be savored and appreciated, to read to kids, or to read to yourself under the covers after lights-out. (Taking care, of course, to stifle any involuntary giggles.) It's greatly appreciated parcel of nonsense, and a welcome work of cultural archeology. It's a new Dr. Seuss book, and no matter how you look at it, that's a wonderful thing.
Horton And The Kwuggerbug will be available in bookstores on September 9, 2014.