The bossy little Lorax is as absurd and whimsical as any of Dr Suess’ characters. But what if it was real? What if it is real? What if Suess’ tale The Lorax was, as Nathaniel Dominy, a professor of anthropology and primate biology at Dartmouth University wondered, a case of life (possibly) imitating art (possibly) imitating life?
The Lorax was published in 1971. It is recognised as a foundational ecopolitical text. It is also arguably the most well-known and loved ecopolitical text ever written. And it’s fiction. Fiction of the most imaginative and wonderfully far-fetched kind.
But is it?
In 2018, the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal published a paper by Dominy and a group of fellow scientists. They had dug into records of Dr Suess’ personal life from around the time he penned The Lorax, and discovered a very interesting (possible) connection.
In 1970, Dr Suess was trying and failing to write a children's book with an ecological theme. After a long battle with writer’s block, his wife suggested they might need a holiday. It was on that holiday, at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, that Suess wrote The Lorax.
In Kenya, there lives a little Lorax-like monkey called the patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas pyrrhonotus). It is orange with a snuffly white moustache. It depends on the whistling thorn acacia tree (Vachellia drepanolobium) for survival, and according to the paper by Dominy et al, one of its calls is not dissimilar to the ‘sawdusty sneeze’ of the Lorax.
Did Suess see the patas monkey in Kenya? Did it inspire The Lorax?
How wonderful if it did. How wonderfully coincidental if it didn’t.
Composite image (left to right) :
Eastern patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas pyrrhonotus), Kenya. photo: Yvonne de Jong and Tom Butynski wildsolutions.nl
Dr. Seuss Enterprises
Eastern patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas pyrrhonotus), Uganda. photo: Ariadne Van Zandbergen
Followed by excerpts from :
The Lorax (Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Random House, 1971)