“Desk clerk says ‘It happens every day’…” Black Diamond Bay, by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy
I’ve had the opportunity to read that literary classic, Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss. By “read” I mean I touch on bits of the story while my audience, who is not quite two years old, flips pages randomly. But the course of seeing the story backward and forward reminded me of one thing: Dr. Seuss’s world is not ours.
Okay, this is obvious, in that there are talking cats, green foods that are not ordinarily green, and animals not found in real-life nature. Green Eggs and Ham is populated by Seussian creatures, including the unnamed narrator and the provocateur, Sam-I-Am, and its oddness extends to the world around them. Have a look at the image below:
Here is where things are – literally, as well as figuratively – going off the rails. But is this a disaster in the making, or some traumatic turning point? No, and you can tell by watching the supporting characters. Everyone is calm, smiling. The train, with the car riding atop it, has just flown off the train tracks – which just end in mid-air – hurling the train down onto the boat. But the train engineer, the passengers, and boat’s helmsman are relaxed, eyes closed, their body language expressing nothing out of the ordinary. The engineer and his passengers might even be asleep. The ensuing scenes, with everyone blithely bobbing in the water, maintain that ordinary-day atmosphere. Trains always fly onto a boat here; where else would they go, as the tracks stop there?
Dr. Seuss built a safe world in which the extraordinary could happen without becoming upsetting. Surrealism presents this same atmosphere, though fine-art surrealism embraces the bad dreams along with the good. Dr. Seuss is not wholly outside conflict – Horton Hears a Who, for example – but even there you see a lot more smiles are seen that you would expect. As an introduction to surrealism, children’s books are a good place to start, and Dr. Seuss is one of the very best starting points. From there children can move on to Edward Lear, Edward Gorey, and many surrealists who are not bearded men named Edward.
Above all, read to your children.