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ImageI saw The Lorax movie just before it left theaters a few weeks ago. If you haven’t seen it or read the book, it’s a story that straddles both spaces: sustainability and, subtly, spirituality.

The original story is about a young boy who goes on a little trip outside of his known world, and discovers the home of the Once-ler, all enclosed up in his tower. Eventually, with persistence on the part of the boy, the Once-ler tells the story about how once upon a time this whole region was covered in wondrous Truffula Trees, not to mention wildlife.

Way back in the days when the grass was still green
and the pond was still wet
and the clouds were still clean,
and the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space…
one morning, I came to this glorious place.
And I first saw the trees!
The Truffula Trees!

But due to the Once-ler’s own industriousness, he causes the destruction of the whole entire region’s ecological system, leaving a sad, deserted wasteland. After the Once-ler cuts down the very first tree, the Lorax magically appears to tell the Once-ler off.

…I heard a ga-Zump!
I looked.
I saw something pop out of the stump
of the tree I’d chopped down. It was sort of a man.
Describe him?…That’s hard. I don’t know if I can.

“Mister”! he said with a sawdusty sneeze,
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues…”

The Lorax returns to the Once-ler repeatedly, trying to get through his thick skull with example after example of various species becoming sick and eventually disappearing from the area. But repeatedly the Once-ler fails to listen, citing the necessity of providing his absurd product to everyone who wants to buy one, and his prerogative to grow and grow and keep growing his operation. Finally the Once-ler looses his patience, yelling at the Lorax that he has “rights,” and–in a telling moment–saying, “Now listen here, Dad!” And of course it’s just then…

And at that very moment, we heard a loud whack!
From outside in the fields came a sickening smack
of an axe on a tree. Then we heard the tree fall.
The very last Truffula Tree of them all!

With the main natural resource exhausted, the business shuts down, and the Lorax exits in a different magical way.

The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance…
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance…
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I’ll never forget the grim look on his face
when he heisted himself and took leave of this place,
through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.

With the ray of hope inspired by the transfer of the last Truffula seed from the old, depressed Once-ler to the curious little boy, the story ends with a clear plea for readers to–like the little boy–CARE.

Obviously the main point here in including this story on this blog is that The Lorax himself is a supernatural being who is urging this industrious but ignorant person to stop destroying the environment. We know The Lorax is supernatural primarily by his magical appearance and disappearance. I would suppose that Dr. Seuss himself was drawing from mythic and folktale precedents that tell of spiritual sources being the carriers of warnings for the human race. Not only that, but this Lorax cannot–or chooses to not–inhabit a landscape that has been rendered lifeless.

There is a lot more we could speculate about here, particularly with regard to the “Dad” reference relating to the traditional Judeo-Christian conception of God the Father, and the evolutionary path of a human from infancy to adulthood, as well as the evolution of humans as a species. (That path begins with being in awe of the parental figures, putting up with the parents, rebelling against the parents, and finally developing enough wisdom to see the wisdom of the parents.) But the most important factor is simply the inspiration the story has for those who do, actually, CARE.

We can only hope that more good than harm has been done in the wake of the release of this movie, considering the extreme marketing tactics: a multitude of corporations are touting their products as “Lorax Approved.” (I’d guess it’s about as close as they have yet come to “God Approved.”) As always, one has to rely on one’s own faculties–NOT labels–to discern what is a truly eco-friendly product, and what is just another “fool Thneed.” (Hint: 99.9998% of products are Thneeds.)

Source: Seuss. The Lorax. New York: Random House, 1971.

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