Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, is one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time. Not only because of his ability to turn an oddball jumble of simple words, basic rhyme and primary-coloured characters into inimitable, cockamamie genius — but also because he could accurately capture, and magically distil, the real-world experience of childhood – its woes, joys, and wonderment – into that very same, wacky, untethered Seussian universe.
Nearly 80 years since his first book, the ‘doctor’s’ stories still speak to kids; they remain distinctly relatable, and thoroughly bananas as ever. And now, more than two decades after the author’s death, ‘What Pet Should I Get?’ – a bonafide buried treasure and one last bonkers trip into Seussville – is being published.
Discovered in 2013, in a box that Audrey Geisel, Seuss’s wife, had set aside after his passing, the story was in the final stages of preparation. The iconic artwork, anapestic style, and signature silliness was all there, yet for some reason that only the creator will ever know, it never saw completion – until now.
For those familiar with Seuss’s works, ‘What Pet Should I Get?’ bears a striking resemblance to 1960’s ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’. A brother and sister pair, identical to the one that jaunts through One Fish’s parade of fantastically ridiculous creatures, goes on a trip to the pet store, encountering a tad more than the average fare of for-sale critters.
There’s little doubt concerning the presumed date of its writing (set around the late 1950s); the storyline springs right out of the Eisenhower Administration – when consumerism was at an all-time high and everyone was spoiled rotten for choice. The sibling characters, not content with the usual cat, dog (or fish) purchase, conjure and debate all manner of zany zoological possibilities: the brother imagines, “a fast kind of thing / who would fly round my head / in a ring on a string!” But mum, of course averse to the chaos a flying thing on a string would bring, “would not like that at all.” She’d probably prefer – according to the children – “a tall pet that fits in a space that is small”, this preferred ‘pet’ apparently being a spindly, spiralling ostrich-legged biped, with big hairy paws and extravagant head plume.
For all the fun they’re having, the children soon realise that time is running out, and, “If we do not choose, / we will end up with NONE”. In the end, a pet is decided upon, but the reader is not made privy to its identity – it’s left, befittingly, or ironically, up to our imaginings. Behind Seuss’s tricksy sense of humour in denying us full disclosure, the parting shot (a basket out of which just two round eyes are peeping) seems to send the message that the limitlessness of imagination trumps the tangible – and the purchase-able.
Geisel could have easily published this book in his lifetime; it was a virtually finished product. He could’ve canned it, too. But he chose neither. Why? We can only…imagine. Even posthumously, the artist/poet/author is cleverly inexplicit. What is certain, though, is that ‘What Pet Should I Get?’ is pure Dr. Seuss: crazy, brilliant, and timeless.