Monday, November 20, 2017

The Cat in the Hat (1957) & The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (1958) by Dr. Seuss

The Cat in the Hat
Bruce Handy wrote this rad as fuck book about children's literature which I adored (see here).  There was this entire chapter on Dr. Seuss, particularly The Cat in the Hat, and how revolutionary it was.  I'm not going to go into a whole bunch of detail on this - just go read his book.  If you are reading this right now, you will like it.  If you don't, let me know.  I will lose respect for you though. I may have to compare you to that bitch kangaroo from Horton Hears A Who.  She's the worst Dr. Seuss character.  She's one of the worst characters in children's literature.  She terrified me as a kid.  Not liking Bruce Handy's book is not as bad as that.  So you, hater, will not be a bitch kangaroo.  Just stupid.

My mom didn't like Dr. Seuss.  She's said so more than once.  She hated reading the books aloud.  I have to agree:  they are horrible read-alouds.  Kids may love them, and there may be some children's librarians who love them too.  I was not one of those librarians.  The sing-songy pattern of Dr. Seuss makes for some excruciating reading aloud.  

I don't remember the last time I actually sat down and read either The Cat in the Hat or The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.   I think as a kid, I liked the sequel better; there was something about all of those little cats, and the pink snow, that appealed to me.  I don't think I ever liked The Cat in the Hat part I as well as part II.  The entire book is sort of terrifying.  Part II takes place mostly outside; Part I is inside their home - essentially, it's the story of home invasion. Also, the cat doesn't really look like a cat.  Garfield looks like a cat.  Heathcliff looks like a cat.  My pet cat looked like a cat.  The Cat in the Hat looks like a monster.  He's creepy looking, sort of like something from the island of Dr. Moreau.  

Plus, he's a crazy maker. I took a class called The Artist's Way, and we learned all about crazymakers.  I'm not sure I buy everything Julia Cameron wrote about in the artist's way, but I definitely bought into the concept of the crazy maker. I hope to fuck I'm not one.  Here is part of a blog post she wrote on crazy makers:

-Crazymakers spend your time and money

-Crazymakers break deals and destroy schedules-Crazymakers expect special treatment-Crazymakers discount your reality-Crazymakers triangulate those they deal with (So, your crazymaker might say “Everyone really hates you at the office” so that you’re thinking “Who hates me at the office?” instead of “Who is this horrible person saying this to me?”)-Crazymakers are expert blamers-Crazymakers create drama, but seldom where it belongs-Crazymakers hate schedules-- except their own. (Your deadline becomes an excuse for them to ask you for something time consuming.)-Crazymakers hate order (You clear a place in the house so you can work, and your crazymaker comes along and messes it up before you can begin.)-Crazymakers deny that they are Crazymakers

All of these things describe the cat in the hat.  He comes in, disrupts these kids' lives, destroys their schedules (and their house), spends their time, triangulates (makes them lie to their mom), creates drama, hates order.    He's fucking crazy.  He's a chaos god; he's not good natured, he's not a coyote or Pan figure.  He's fucking crazy, and he's out to destroy.  "I know some new tricks" he says, one of which is gotterdammerung.

I think what Dr. Seuss wrote was sort of a bit of genius (again, read Handy's book) but in pondering the cat in the hat, now I know what disturbed me about him as a child.  I'm even more scared now.

The Cat in the HatThe Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do stars even mean for a book? The Cat in the Hat is beloved. It was published long before I was born, and will be in print long after I die. I'm going to give it 5 stars for its genius (the story of Dr. Seuss and the writing of this book is pretty cool) and its longevity. I can remember being disturbed by this book, but it's been 40 years and I couldn't remember why. Now I know. This book is essentially the story of a home invasion by a cousin of Gremlins. Let's face it: he's not a cat. Garfield is a cat. Heathcliff is a cat. He looks like some sort of half-bred monkey creature from The Island of Dr. Moreau. He's a chaos god, who invades the home of two kids, and wreaks monumental havoc on their home and their psyches before cleaning up his mess and leaving - but not before he gets them to lie to their mom about it. So really, he leaves an even bigger mess behind emotionally speaking (plus PTSD). "I know some new tricks" he says, one of which is gotterdammerung. Every kid should read this.

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The Cat in the Hat Comes Back
The Cat in the Hat was a scary book.  A stranger who looks more like a monster than a cat essentially breaks into the home of little boy and girl while their mother is out, and wreaks the kind of havoc that could get them into deep shit when she returns.  Unlike this time of modern helicopter parenting, in my day (when we walked to school barefoot in the snow), we were left alone to fend for ourselves pretty frequently (plus I had a baby sister). The chances of a monster breaking into our house were slim (the chances of our neighborhood friends coming over and wreaking havoc were much greater.  Still, the idea of this was scary.  I don’t remember this being one of my favorite books, although I, like everyone else, was aware that it existed and had read it as least once.  

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, however, I remember liking much more, at least as a child.  It was far less scary, and I think that’s because the action mostly moved outside.  Having a stranger invade your house and fuck everything up while your mother was out was frightening shit; having something show up in your front yard and turn the snow another color was loose dogs. When I re-read the book, I could remember being fascinated by the Little Cats.  I remember particularly liking how they kept taking off their hat to reveal another, even smaller, cat hidden underneath; and even though I knew it ended with Z, it made me wonder what was under Z’s hat (maybe the first concept of infinity).  I also loved playing in the ice and snow.

A snowy day never feels as cold, does it?  A windy, brisk day was always miserable.  A windy, snowy day was a new playground.  Those Little Cats understood exactly those sentiments.  (Shoveling walks never seemed like work; it seemed satisfying.  Mowing lawns seemed like work).  In the first book, it may have SEEMED like playing, but no one was having any fun.  They were just being bullies to that poor fish, scaring the crap out of the two kids, and just being assholes (I am especially talking about you, Thing One and Thing Two).  In the second book, at least in the outside scenes, I think all the Little Cats looked like a helluva lot of fun.

(I realize the cat did break into their house, but he was lured outside and didn’t really wreck their house at all, not like in the first book.  He’s still creepy).

The Cat in the Hat Comes BackThe Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always get the impression that no one likes The Cat in the Hat Comes Back as much as they like The Cat in the Hat. But as a kid I always liked the second book much better than the first one. In the first book, this monstrous "cat" invades and terrorizes the two kids - and their poor bullied fish - in their own home. Their place of safety was breached. I think that is what i always found so off putting as a little beginning reader forty years ago. But in the second book, tmost of the book takes place outside their home. The cat does do some fuckery inside the house - he makes a mess in the bathrub, almost ruins their mother's dress - but then all the action moves outside - and looks a helluva lot more fun than balancing a cake on a rake (or whatever). Thing One and Thing Two are demons; all of those Little Cats, while not exactly angels, look like they'd be fun to play with - who didn't like the play in the snow when they were seven years old, and with a bunch of little cats that have all sorts of snow related toys. Who gives a shit if the snow turns pink - dogs turned the snow yellow all the time, and that's much more disgusting (unless the pink had some sort of odd odor; I'm assuming not, but you never know).

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