It may not have the cultural impact of a Cat in the Hat, or the loopy narrative line of I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew, but What Was I Scared Of is my favourite Dr Seuss book, and here’s why: it cured my viridistrouserophobia, or the fear of disembodied green pants that had plagued me since childhood.
OK, not exactly, but in this Who-sized mini-book (it was originally published as part of The Sneetches and Other Stories) What Was I Scared Of encompasses all that I love about Dr Seuss: the guileless, not quite human beasties, plants that seem strangely alert to their surroundings, whiskery black outlines, and of course, the utterly delicious Seussian wordplay. Also, the self-propelling green pants (but just in this book.)
What Was I Scared Of concerns a small yellow lad who is being chased by a pair of green pants. They follow him everywhere, on errands to Grin-itch to buy Grin-itch Spinach, fishing for Doubt-trout, picking pecks of Snide from a Snide-field…routine activities in anyone’s life, unless you are an unfortunate young yellow person (a person is a person no matter how small) and your every move is fraught with a serious case of trouser-terror. The hunched trees and dim turquoise backdrop convey the slightly claustrophobic atmosphere of the story. As with most Seuss books, the palette is restricted to just a few colours, but the typical Seuss illustration is not a feast, it is a cupcake. With blue icing. And sprinkles. And antennae.
As the boy (or Who, or whatever he is), continues on his journey, he valiantly tries to convince himself that he is not afraid of what he is afraid of, a very familiar condition to those of us who, as children, slept with the lights on.
I said, “I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them.”
I said, and said, and said those words.
I said them. But I lied them.
How beautiful, how human, is that? I’ve lied many words in my time, but none quite so plaintively.
The story ends as the boy (or Who, or whatever he is), and the pants realize they share a mutual, and unfounded fear of one another (or for all you existentialists, the other), and resolve to become friends.
Interesting fact: The original title for Fear the Fear and Do it Anyway, was Feel the Fear and Make Friends with the Disembodied Green Pants that are Stalking You. The author balked at the last moment, fearing backlash from the green pants stalking her.
What Was I Scared of? by Dr Seuss Random House, 1961 (this edition-1989)
Other Seussian treats reviewed in this blog: I Had Trouble Getting To Solla Sollew and The Boy On Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr Seuss
For an additional visual treat, I highly recommend a browse through The Secret Art of Dr Seuss (Random House, 1995.) I know what you’re thinking and it is not a previously unpublished collection of Who-porn. Rather, it’s the art he produced outside the realm of children’s book publishing. Of particular note are the sculptures he built using ‘found art.’ It’s clear that Theodor Geisel, or Dr Seuss, was a deeply talented, and extraordinarily strange man.