The Lorax, the classic pro-environmentalist and rather strongly anti-capitalist Dr. Seuss book from 1971 had a big influence on me when I was a kid. That is to say, that it really bothered and upset me.
The book has a simple and powerful lesson at its core: “We’re killing the planet for often frivolous reasons. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Someone has to stand up for the trees. Someone like you.” The finger is pointed right at Seuss’s young readers. He means YOU, that’s right, you there reading this—YES YOU—and there is no escaping this fact.
The animated version that came out the following year spooked me ever more, although I loved it. When The Lorax (or any Seuss cartoon) was on TV, this was like a holiday to me. I don’t think its influence on my generations and the ones that came after can be overestimated. It’s one of the most subversive and powerful things ever written for grade school children. Both the book and the cartoon are veritable counter-culture classics. You simply cannot unlearn the message of The Lorax. It’s like Who Moved My Cheese?, but written by Karl Marx in verse. For me, it’s THE Dr. Seuss book, a stone classic.
In the story, a boy visits a sad old man known as “The Once-ler” who lives in a ruined wasteland in a remote area of town “where the Grickle grass grows.” We never actually see the Once-ler, who lurks in the shadows, only his hands You could argue that he represents not one specific person, but voracious capitalism itself. He tells the boy about his days as a wealthy man, running a factory to make a fad item of clothing (a “Thneed”!) woven from the colorful, woolly Truffula trees. The Truffula trees are not only beautiful, they support a vibrant and exotic ecosystem of happy and content forest-dwelling animals.
A Wilford Brimley-esque creature called “The Lorax” protests the destruction of Truffula tree forest, but is continuously rebuffed by the Once-ler and the red tape of “the system.” After the Once-ler has chopped down the very last Truffula tree he FINALLY gets what the Lorax was trying to tell him, but by then it is too late. The Lorax lifts himself up by the seat of his pants and disappears. The animals are all gone. What is left looks like a lunar landscape. The haunted old man, full of regret over his life, explains to the boy how greed will destroy us all UNLESS we—ALL of us—stand up to the corporations raping and pillaginging the Earth. He gives the boy the very last Trufulla seed and tells him to nurture it and to regrow the Trufulla tree forest so that the Lorax and his friends might one day return.