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10 Facts About Horton Hears A Who!

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In Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears A Who!, Horton is the only one who can hear Whoville, a minuscule town on a speck of dust. Horton vows to protect the speck, declaring, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” In this way, this popular children’s book promotes a lesson of equality—one that Dr. Seuss himself had to learn.

1. During World War II, Dr. Seuss drew racist anti-Japanese cartoons.

From 1941-1943, Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, drew over 400 political cartoons for the newspaper PM. Among them were racist portrayals of Japanese people with slant-eyes, pig-noses, and coke-bottle glasses. When readers complained about these depictions, Dr. Seuss wrote back saying, “But right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: 'Brothers!' It is a rather flabby battlecry. If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs...We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left.” 

You can view Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons here. 

2. ‘Horton Hears A Who!’ reflects his change of heart about the Japanese.

In 1953, Seuss visited Japan to research an article for Life magazine. He wanted to write about the effects of the war and post-war efforts on Japanese children. With the help of Mitsugi Nakamura, dean of Doshisha University in Kyoto, Seuss went to schools all over Japan and asked kids to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. What Seuss saw made a deep impression, and when he returned to America, he started work on Horton Hears A Who! The book is dedicated Nakamura. He said in an interview, “Japan was just emerging, the people were voting for the first time, running their own lives—and the theme was obvious: ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small,’ though I don’t know how I ended up using elephants.” 

3. The book references World War II.

For example, the black eagle dropping Whoville into a field of clover evokes a plane releasing a bomb when the mayor says, “the black bottomed birdie let go and we dropped / We landed so hard that our clocks have all stopped.” As the book continues, the Wickersham Brothers put Horton in a cage and threaten to dump Whoville into Beezle-Nut juice. Horton and the Mayor urge the town to action in language similar to World War II propaganda: 

“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!

The time for all Whos who have blood that is red

To come to the aid of their country!” he said.

We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!

So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!” 

4. ‘Horton Hears A Who!’ is a sequel, of sorts.

Horton first appeared in Seuss's 1940 book Horton Hatches the Egg. In it, a bird named Mayzie talks Horton into sitting on her egg while she flies off for a vacation in Palm Beach. For 51 weeks, Horton sits on the egg, repeating, "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent!" In the end, the egg hatches to reveal an elephant bird, who ditches its deadbeat mom and goes to live with Horton in the jungle. Here’s the ending of the 1942 Merrie Melodies cartoon of the story:

5. Dr. Seuss came up with Horton by accident.

As the story goes, one day Seuss took a break from working and went for a walk, leaving the window of his studio open. When he came back, he saw that the wind had moved two pieces of transparent paper on top of each other. One paper was a drawing of an elephant and the other was a drawing of a tree. The wind had moved them so that it looked like the elephant was sitting in the tree. Seuss’s imagination was sparked. What was an elephant doing in a tree? Soon after, Horton was born.

6. Horton was named after a college friend.

Seuss considered the names Osmer, Bosco, and Humphrey before settling on Horton for the elephant, after Horton Conrad, a friend from Dartmouth College. Both men had worked on the college humor magazine, The Dartmouth Jack-o-Lantern.

7. ‘Horton Hears A Who!’ was written in anapestic tetrameter.

In fact, most of Dr. Seuss’s books are in this meter. Each line repeats a pattern of unstressed/unstressed/stressed syllables four times, for a total of 12 syllables. Another example of a poem that uses anapestic tetrameter is "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

8. The working title for the book was ‘Horton Hears ‘Em'’.

At first Seuss called the book ‘Horton Hears ‘Em’ before changing it. The new title suggests the importance of the Whos in the story. Whoville appeared again three years later in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and then a third time in the 1977 TV special Halloween is Grinch Night.

9. Dr. Seuss worked through Christmas to finish the book.

Since he was behind schedule, Seuss had to cancel plans to go to Yosemite over the holidays and worked straight through Christmas. In January, the book was done. According to his biographers, Dr. Seuss sat down in the offices of Random House in New York and read Horton Hears A Who! aloud to his editors. It was met with enthusiastic applause.

10. There was also a ‘Horton Hears A Who!’ TV special.

The 1966 cartoon of How The Grinch Stole Christmas was so popular that director Chuck Jones followed up with Horton Hears A Who! It aired in 1970 on CBS.

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P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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The Internet Archive is Making 62 Obscure, Out-of-Print Books Available Online
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Dozens of of obscure, out-of-print books are about to become much more accessible thanks to the Internet Archive, the digital archive of public domain media. But to do it, they’ll have to exploit a loophole in a controversial copyright law, as Ars Technica reports.

The Internet Archive is releasing the Sonny Bono Memorial Collection, a group of books from the 1920s and 1930s that are out of print, but still technically under copyright—meaning they’re extremely difficult to get a hold of.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was a copyright extension law passed in 1998 to extend copyright protections to works published after 1923 (which would otherwise have already entered the public domain) by 20 years. Unfortunately, while Disney may be happy that Mickey Mouse still falls under copyright protections, that also means that less-famous books that are now out of print can’t be made available to the public. But a provision of the law provides for public access for research, allowing nonprofit libraries to distribute the works if they cannot be found elsewhere for a reasonable price.

A screenshot of an online collection of books from the Internet Archive
Screenshot, Internet Archive

The Internet Archive explains:

We believe the works in this collection are eligible for free public access under 17 U.S.C. Section 108(h) which allows for non-profit libraries and archives to reproduce, distribute, display, and publicly perform a work if it meets the criteria of: a published work in the last 20 years of copyright, and after conducting a reasonable investigation, no commercial exploitation or copy at a reasonable price could be found.

Libraries don’t tend to take advantage of the law because it takes considerable resources to track down which works are eligible. However, the Internet Archive collaborated with Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a Tulane copyright expert, and a pair of interns to find books that could be scanned and uploaded online legally. Gard has released guidelines for libraries based on this work to help other archives do the same.

The Internet Archive is starting out with 62 books published between 1923 and 1941 (meaning they’re within 20 years of their copyright expiring) and plan to release up to 10,000 more in the near future to be downloaded and read by online users. And the collection will grow each January as more books enter that 20-year window.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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