From author Lydia Millet in a short but powerful essay for the Atlantic Wire on why she believes Dr. Seuss’s brilliant parable The Lorax [the children’s book, not the treacly film version] is a seminal work of literature extremely relevant for our times with its warning of the dangers of rampant human greed:
Isn’t that a subject worthy of novels? Shouldn’t the cascades of extinction and rapid planetary warming register in our literature? And yet, despite the fact that most Americans support the work of saving species from winking out, and increasingly support strong action to curb climate change, the highly rational push for the preservation of nature and life-support systems often appears in the media—and certainly appears in most current fiction—as a boutique agenda. Climate change is shifting that marginalization, but not fast enough.
What makes The Lorax such a powerful fable is partly its shamelessness. It pulls no punches; it wears its teacher heart on its sleeve. This is commonplace and accepted in children’s stories, but considered largely undesirable in literary fiction. In fact snarkiness and even snobbishness can be brought to bear by some critics if they believe they’ve sniffed out a whiff of idea-mongering in fiction. When it comes to philosophy—just say no! Politics? Heaven forfend! If adults wish to put themselves in the path of notions about right and wrong, the theory seems to go, they can darn well seek out a house of worship or a counselor. Maybe even an AA meeting. They shouldn’t go to a book, unless it’s holy scripture or a self-help manual. Fiction should be an ethically safe space, free of fancy ideas. It should be dedicated modestly to relationships or escapism or the needs of luscious voyeurs.
But I happen to believe in the urgency of now. I don’t accept the proposition that ours is a historical moment like any other, that we can handily shrug off our duty to the future by placing ourselves in an endless, linear continuum of progress that makes its share of errors but is finally, comfortingly self-correcting. Rather I follow the strong evidence for the singularity of this human era, its unique power to make or break that future, directly linked to tipping points associated with climate catastrophe and the irreversibility of extinction. I cleave to science and the need to communicate science, or at least the products of science. Beyond and within science, love: not the love we have for ourselves, but that greater love we forget or take for granted in daily life, the love of otherness. The desperate need for otherness. And I suspect there’s no place, in art or journalism or politics, that isn’t ripe for that discussion.