Here’s the introduction to a project I’ve been working on for the past five years or so, still searching through Seuss books to discover new characters and trying to get through the impenetrable wall that is Random House to get necessary permissions (so don’t spread this post too far) before trying to nail down an agent. It’s a bit of a departure from the poetry I typically post here and I welcome any suggestions/criticism. Enjoy-
“If you should ask Ted Geisel how he ever thought up an animal called a Bippo-no-Bungus from the wilds of Hippo-no-Hungus or a tizzle-topped Tufted Mazurka from the African island of Yerka, his answer would be disarmingly to the point: ‘Why, I’ve been to most of these places myself so the names are from memory. As for the animals, I have a special dictionary which gives most of them, and I just look up the spellings.”
–Peter Bunzel. “The Wacky World of Dr. Seuss Delights the Child-and Adult-Readers of His Books”. Life Magazine. 4.6.59
The Lands Beyond Z:
The Special Dictionary (Field Guide)
The authoritative field guide to the allusive, tongue-twisting,
species-splicing wildlife found in the worlds of Dr. Seuss.
“I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Ubert Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock repaired. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them.”–Glenn Edward Sadler. “Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss: A Conversation.” The Horn Book, 1989.
I suppose an introduction will help you to better understand how this project began, how it morphed and bucked and leapt like a Scraggle foot Mulligatawny from the pages of If I Ran the Zoo through my mind and onto coffee and ink stained pages where the first entries were recorded.
Let me say that this project required moving myself and my beast hounds to the end of the road and then some, to Alaska, which as far as states go, is as far beyond Z as you can go. Once settled in the misty mountains of this shrouded sky and mountain land, which evoked memories of Uber Gletch, Switzerland, I became aware how every walk into the mossy rain forests brought me closer and closer to understanding Dr. Seuss and his worlds. Each hike through the forest, to jagged skyscapes beyond the clouds was preparing me for what would come next.
This Field Guide grew out of what came next. Out of a moment of thin air bliss high in the mountains of to the west of Juneau Alaska, where I was climbing through the thick white-wash of coastal fog to the brightening ridge line and clear sky above. The light up above the clouds, so intense, such blue-unending horizon and the clouds beneath, so white and solid and sea-like that for a moment I believed I could step off the ridge and walk out across the sky that hid the sea far below. With all those clouds beneath my feet and nothing but blue sky and one solitary, snowy peak above me, I found it odd that it began to rain. Not the torrential sort, but the fine mist I’ve grown well acquainted with while living in this soggy corner of Alaska. Except that this sort of rain usually fell when the sky was gray, and up here on the mountain the sky was blue, yet it was raining.
And that’s when I saw it, a whale; a whale on top of a mountain blowing its spout and winking its huge, long-lashed eye as if it knew something I didn’t. I remember thinking, those guys at NOAA better have an answer for this. So I took out my notebook and jotted down a few lines of description. Orange flesh, legs with joints at the knee, two feet without toes and a tiny, oddly proportioned button of a nose. Blowing clouds from its blowhole, still there even after rubbing my eyes. I then did my best to sketch the mountain whale for if no one believed me it might at least be included in some collection of UFO, Bigfoot and Mountain Whale sightings which I imagined would put me in a league of some of the world’s most delusional people, but that was a risk I was willing to take. As I completed my entry, the rain began to fall harder, splattering the page and smearing ink as my hand moved rapidly trying to capture with words that which I could not capture with my eyes. The clouds beneath my feet were rising, climbing the mountain.
I finished my entry and took another good long look at the wale up there on the mountain above me. The clouds rose to my knees, then to my chest, and at last filled the blue sky between me and the whale. I packed away my notebook and sat down, afraid to go anywhere in this thick fog, I decided to wait it out. Sitting there, blinded by the clouds, pelted by fat rain drops, I weighed the possibility of what I had just seen. I knew that every ounce of my sensibility was screaming, “You’re seeing things! The elevation is making you light headed and your observations questionable!” I let sensibility scream, let the sound of these accusations wash over me like clouds and rain. Just then, I heard myself say something that made sense, “You’re dreaming.” And the clouds rose up and up and burned off in the sun that hung low in the sky just behind the peak where only moments ago the mountain whale had been perched, blowing a fine mist into the air and onto the heathery ridge. Sunlight glittered like a thousand fish eyes in the dew along the ridge all the way down to the sea at the base of the mountain. Then there came the bellow of a whale exhaling rising out of the sea followed by the gasp of mighty lungs filling before the black back arched and disappeared into the sea, just as the mountain whale had become cloud. At that moment I decided that further investigation could not be avoided.
I could tell you that. Sounds like as good a story as any and far more interesting than the other possible beginning. I mean do you really want to hear about a pre-school teacher awestruck by an alphabet book he’d never seen before. That would be hard to believe, I mean who’s ever heard of a pre-school teacher who hasn’t read every alphabet picture book ever written, let alone who hasn’t read every last Dr. Seuss book? But if I were to tell you this story of an inspired pre-school teacher how would I explain away this scrap of paper discovered in his notebook on a page stained with inky water marks…
A.K.A. the Mountain Whale. The one-and-only known hill dwelling, high-spouting whale species. This unique terrestrial version of a pygmy sperm whale sports short legs with which it holds its perch atop the pointed peaks in the highland interior of the Lands Beyond Z. Rumors abound that the Wumbus “never come(s) down ‘til it’s time to refill”. Annually contributing five inches of precipitation to the local forecast it is believed the Wumbus feeds off microscopic lichen that thrive around in these moist, microclimates . Marine Biologists have thus far refused to comment on the existence of the Wumbus, responding to speculative questions with a roll of the eyes and a sound not unlike the letter HUMPF. For accurate spelling, see Appendix 1: List of Letters for People who Don’t stop at Z. On Beyond Zebra
…….and a few more entries (without images to slow down the page)…..
A sharp-dressed showman
brought to the Circus McGurkus
cause boy can he shoot.
A Blindfolded Bowman
must see with his nose,
for wherever he points it
his arrow it goes,
“Through the holes in four doughnuts!
Two hairs on a worm!
And the knees of three birds
Without making them squirm!
And, then, on through a crab apple up on the head
Of Sneelock, who likes to help out, as I’ve said.”
He wears one red glove, one yellow,
a red silk blindfold
and a necklace of gold,
the show of the Bowman
is the show of all shows
despite his awfully bold colored clothes.
If I Ran the Circus.
This upright walking member of the bear family (Ursa lootsa) has not been seen since the Once-ler and his greedy family came to town and cut down all the Truffula trees on whose fruits the Brown Bar-ba-loots rely on for their sole food source. The playful Bar-ba-loots found “there’s not enough Truffula Fruit to go ‘round” and they all got a very
serious gastrointestinal disorder known as the crummies, indicated by gas and groggy, sunken eyes. Despite the advocacy of the Lorax, all the Truffula trees in the land fell to the Once-ler’s axe and the Brown Bar-ba-loots fled to greener pastures full of Someotha kinda fruits. The Lorax.
“Keen-shooter, mean-shooter, bean-shooter bugs” the Chuggs are a distant cousin of the blood sucking Sneedle who ironically are hunted and shot at by men on elephant back armed with slingshots shooting kerosene soaked navy beans. Though the beans shot by Chuggs are not navy beans but rather more like lentils which they use to pelt any unwanted thing wandering near its home in the hills. Evolutionary biologists speculate that the Chugg actually represents an adaptation of the Sneedle. The theory revolves around the discovery of several sneedle fossils discovered in which the blood sucking appendages (probiscus) of the deceased Sneedles were lodged with navy beans. Local residents shared with the team of scientists a story to accompany the fossils and the story goes that there was a large group of hunters on their elephants that went out on a particularly buggy spring day hoping to eradicate the fields beyond the village of all blood sucking Sneedles. But only one hunter returned to the village that night and not a single elephant. The lone hunter told those that gathered of a Sneedle swarm that would not fall at the hands of the slingshot shooting hunters but rather took up the kerosene soaked navy beans shot at them, drew the beans up into their blood sucking parts and held them there long enough for the hunters to gasp before shooting the beans in a rapid volley of bean bombardment. All but one hunter perished with the blows of the beans as did the many mighty elephants that carried them. If I Ran the Zoo.