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The Story Behind The Newly Discovered Dr. Seuss Book

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, Theodor Seuss Geisel—who was already beloved for his many Dr. Seuss books—penned a draft for What Pet Should I Get? Although the book made it through many rounds of Seuss' laborious self-editing to the final stage of preparation—which features words typed on small squares of paper and taped in place on the artwork—it was never published. Now, almost 25 years after Seuss died in 1991, you'll be able to find What Pet Should I Get? on bookstore shelves starting July 28.

After Seuss died, his widow, Audrey Geisel, and an assistant cleaned out his old office. Most of the valuable illustrations and early drafts were donated to the University of California, San Diego; but some loose pages and project folders ended up in a box that went unnoticed for many years. In 2013, Audrey finally decided to sort through the contents of that box and get the last of Seuss' original works appraised. It was then that she found What Pet Should I Get? and two other unpublished stories.

To turn the file labeled "The Pet Shop" into the first 21st century addition to the Seussian catalog, the family called up his former editor at Random House, Cathy Goldsmith—"our lasting link to Dr. Seuss," as Susan Brandt, president of licensing and marketing for Dr. Seuss Enterprises, described her. Goldsmith was nervous to impose her vision on this unfinished work, but she relied on her years of experience with Seuss—which included hand-coloring for him under his direction at the end of his life—to try and posthumously interpret his wishes. She carefully selected which hand-scrawled edits he might have implemented, creating storyboards on the wall just as the late author had, and studied the colors of other similar-era Seuss books for the illustrations, ultimately hand-coloring four or five different versions before selecting the final shades.

The finished product tells the tale of two siblings who Seuss fans might recognize. The narrator and his sister, Kay, are the same kids who appear in One Fish Two Fish, which came out in 1960. The increasingly imaginative characters and boisterous rhymes are classic Seuss. But the story is not quite as fantastical or freewheeling as One Fish Two Fish. The brother and sister arrive at the pet store determined to pick a pet but find their growing list of (occasionally fictional) options overwhelming. The perfectly proportioned moral being that one should learn to make up one's mind lest one risk, "If we do not choose, / we will end up with NONE."

In the Sunday Book Review in The New York Times, Maria Russo posits that this slight concession to convention is what caused Seuss to set What Pet Should I Get? aside. Audrey has said that she suspects her late husband simply forgot about that project as his fame and laundry list of story ideas grew. But Russo speculates that the decision to pass over What Pet Should I Get? was more intentional, suggesting that:

He looked over the book, and he talked it over with [his first wife] Helen; he thought about how much fun he had had with all its crazy creatures, and he started playing around with another book that would let the sister and brother off the hook—let them forget about their pressing pet store errand and instead hang out all day long in the commerce-free, parent-free world of “One Fish.”

With Theodor Geisel gone we can never really know why he made the choices he did regarding this or any other story. But for fans of the author, What Pet Should I Get? will offer a chance to revisit the rollicking world of Seuss.

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12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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