Saturday, 17 June 2017

Morbid Truth

I’ve always found Horton the Elephant, by Dr. Seuss problematic. I like the notion of saying what you mean and meaning what you say, and staying faithful to one’s word—one hundred per cent.  A good many of us could do with a bit more of it.  But the ending—spoiler alter!—where the baby bird hatches as a hybrid elephant-bird, and the narrator claims, “It should be, it should be; it should be like that,” is ludicrous. Because, while it might be nice to think it should be like that, well…it isn’t.

I realize that in these fantastical fictional worlds anything goes—an elephant sits on an egg through trials and tribulations; doubt and bad weather, but like socially minded Science Fiction, the meaning of the allegory is aimed at the reader. The story deliberately removes an idea or issue from context in order to examine, or discuss it; and since there’s a larger context, authorial proclamations regarding what should be or should not be need to be rigorous.

Dr Suess can be a realist. The vanity, hubris and stupidity of Yurtle the Turtle are pretty stark. But when Dr. Drake in Gertrude McFuzz gives in to the whining protestations of a vain, teenager bird (the titular character) who wants her tail feathers to be as grand as Lalla-Lee-Lou’s, Suess misses a huge point: a Doctor tells the distraught young bird where to find the quick fix pill-berry bush that will make her tail feathers grow.
In essence he writes here a scrip with unlimited refills because she threw a tantrum in his office! Sure, Gertrude is made to look and feel silly at the end, sore, but wiser; but how, I ask you, how does Dr. Drake keep his license? Where’s the “should be?” Where’s the inquest? Does Dr. Drake end up making millions running one of those opioid prescription mills in Florida, still benefitting from misery rather than easing suffering?

Perhaps a hundred years too early (1915), the Irish writer, Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, published a morbid version of The Tortoise and the Hare, discussed here by Atlas Obscura. Dunsany’s version has an interesting moral. In the end, this version of the tale is more about the animal spectators than about the contestants; and, I would hazard, a warning about enshrining in "truth" things you only wish were true; like, say, a shady businessman with no experience running even a publicly traded company, four bankruptices, and no governmental experience could become the president American needs.

In Dunsany’s story, the hare was vain and arrogant, and the spectators enjoyed watching him lose, but then there’s a forest fire at one edge of the woods, and the task of warning the other animals to flee the fire is given to the fastest animal—the tortoise who won the race—and all the woodland creatures perish because the warning doesn’t reach them in time.

 James McCrone is the author of Faithless Elector, a suspense-thriller, Publishers Weekly calls a “fast-moving topical thriller.”  Its “surprising twists add up to a highly suspenseful read.” The sequel, Dark Network, is coming soon. Consent of the Governed will be available next year.

Faithless Elector, by James McCrone is available through Amazon.
If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center

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