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Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories is a picture book collection by Theodor Geisel, published under his more commonly-known pseudonym of Dr. Seuss. It was first released by Random House Books on April 12, 1958, and is written in Seuss's trademark style, using a type of meter called anapestic tetrameter. Though it contains three short stories, it is mostly known for its first story, "Yertle the Turtle", in which the eponymous Yertle, king of the pond, stands on his subjects in an attempt to reach higher than the moon—until the bottom turtle burps and he falls into the mud, ending his rule.

Though the book included "burp", a word then considered to be vulgar, it was a success upon publication, and has since sold over a million copies. In 2001, it was listed at 125 on the Publishers Weekly list of the best-selling children's books of all time.

Plot overview

“Yertle the Turtle”

The titular story revolves around a Yertle the Turtle, the king of the pond. Unsatisfied with the stone that serves as his throne, he commands the other turtles to stack themselves beneath him so that he can see further and expand his kingdom. However, the stacked turtles are in pain and Mack, the turtle at the very bottom of the pile, is suffering the most. Mack asks Yertle for a respite, but Yertle just tells him to shut up. Then Yertle decides to expand his kingdom and commands more and more turtles to add to his throne. Mack makes a second request for a respite because the increased weight is now causing extreme pain to the turtles at the bottom of the pile. Again Yertle yells at Mack to shut up. Then Yertle notices the moon rising above him as the night approaches. Furious that something "dares to be higher than Yertle the King", he decides to call for even more turtles in an attempt to rise above it. However, before he can give the command, Mack decides he has had enough. He burps, shaking the stack of turtles and tossing Yertle off into the mud, leaving him "King of the Mud" and freeing the others.[1]

“Gertrude McFuzz”

The second story recounts the tale of the"girl-bird" Gertrude McFuzz, who has a small, plain tail and envies Lolla Lee Lou, who has two feathers. She goes to her uncle, Doctor Dake and he tells her where she can find berries that will make her tail grow, and she eats the entire vine, causing her tail to grow to an enormous size. However, the added weight prevents her from flying, and she is forced to pluck out her tail feathers. Though she has only one feather left—as before—she now has "enough, because now she is smarter."[1]

“The Big Brag”

The third and final story tells of a rabbit and a bear, who both boast that they are the "best of the beasts", because of the range of their hearing and smelling abilities, respectively. However, they are humbled by a worm who claims he can see all around the world—right back to his own hill, where he sees the rabbit and bear, whom he calls "the two biggest fools that have ever been seen".[1]

File:Dr. Seuss, political cartoon, 1942-03-20.png

Publication history

A stack of turtles drawn similarly to those featured in "Yertle the Turtle" first appeared on March 20, 1942, in a cartoon for the New York newspaper PM, where Seuss worked as an editorial cartoonist. The illustration shows two stacks of turtles forming the letter "V" on top of a large turtle labelled "Dawdling Producers", with a caption reading "You Can't Build A Substantial V Out of Turtles!"[2]

Seuss has stated that the titular character Yertle represented Adolf Hitler, with Yertle's despotic rule of the pond and takeover of the surrounding area parallel to Hitler's regime in Germany and invasion of various parts of Europe.[3][4] In 2003, reporter John J. Miller also compared Yertle to the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, saying that "[i]ts final lines apply as much to Saddam Hussein as they once did to the European fascists".[5]

Though Seuss made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind, stating that "kids can see a moral coming a mile off", he was not against writing about issues; he said "there's an inherent moral in any story" and remarked that he was "subversive as hell".[6][7] "Yertle the Turtle" has variously been described as "autocratic rule overturned",[8] "a reaction against the fascism of World War II",[9] and "subversive of authoritarian rule".[10]

The last lines of "Yertle the Turtle" read: "And turtles, of course ... all the turtles are free / As turtles, and maybe, all creatures should be."[1] When questioned about why he wrote "maybe" rather than "surely", Seuss replied that he didn't want to sound "didactic or like a preacher on a platform", and that he wanted the reader "to say 'surely' in their minds instead of my having to say it."[7]

The use of the word "burp"—"plain little Mack did a plain little thing. He burped!"—was also an issue before publication. According to Seuss, the publishers at Random House, including the president, had to meet to decide whether or not they could use "burp" because "nobody had ever burped before on the pages of a children's book".[3][11] However, despite the publishers' initial worries, it eventually proved to be a hit—in 2001, Publishers Weekly reported that it had sold over a million copies in the United States and was 125th on the list of all-time best-selling children's books.[12]

"This Book is for
The Bartletts of Norwich, Vt.
and for
The Sagmasters of Cincinnati, Ohio"
—Dedication, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories[1]

The book is dedicated to the Sagmaster family as a tribute to Joseph Sagmaster, who had introduced Seuss to his first wife, Helen Palmer, when they were both attending Oxford University. Sagmaster is quoted as saying that bringing the two together was "the happiest inspiration I've ever had".[13]

Adaptations

Although Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories has not been directly adapted, several characters from the book have appeared in other media. Yertle is a character in the 1996–1997 television series The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, and in Stephen Flaherty's Broadway musical Seussical, Yertle serves as a judge and Gertrude McFuzz acts as Horton's love interest. The story was also turned into a dance number in the 1994 film In Search of Dr. Seuss.

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories is a 1992 animation directed by Ray Messecar and narrated by John Lithgow.[14]

The Red Hot Chili Peppers adapted the story in the song "Yertle the Turtle" on their second album, Freaky Styley, released in 1985.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Dr. Seuss (1958-04-12). Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. Random House. OCLC 255164. 
  2. Minear, Richard (1999). Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel. New York: The New Press. p. 244. ISBN 9781565845657. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Error on call to Template:Cite interview: Parameter subject (or last) must be specified Retrieved on 2005-05-12.
  4. Cynthia Gorney (1979-05-21). "Dr. Seuss at 75: Grinch, Cat in Hat, Wocket and Generations of Kids in His Pocket". The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.: Katharine Weymouth).  'I couldn't draw Hitler as a turtle ... So I drew him as King ... of the Pond ... He wanted to be king as far as he could see. So he kept piling them up. He conquered Central Europe and France, and there it was.'  
  5. Miller, John J. (2003-11-21). "The Good "Dr."". National Review. Jack Fowler. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  6. Peter Bunzel (1959-04-06). "The Wacky World of Dr. Seuss Delights the Child—and Adult—Readers of His Books". Life (Chicago: Time Inc.). ISSN 0024-3019. OCLC 1643958. Most of Geisel's books point a moral, though he insists he never starts with one. 'Kids,' he says, 'can see a moral coming a mile off and they gag at it. But there's an inherent moral in any story.'  
  7. 7.0 7.1 Jonathan Cott (1983). "The Good Dr. Seuss". Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's Literature (Reprint). New York: Random House. ISBN 9780394504643. OCLC 8728388.  'I qualified that,' Geisel explained, 'in order to avoid sounding too didactic or like a preacher on a platform. And I wanted other persons, like yourself, to say "surely" in their minds instead of my having to say it.'  
  8. Lurie, Alison (1990-12-20). "The Cabinet of Dr. Seuss" (Reprint). The New York Review of Books (New York: Rea S. Hederman) 37 (20). ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 2008-05-12. As in the classical folk tale, pride and prejudice are ridiculed, autocratic rule overturned. 
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  10. Selma G. Lanes (1971). "Seuss for the Goose Is Seuss for the Gander". Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature (Reprint). New York: Atheneum Publishers. OCLC 138227. Sometimes Seuss is simply subversive of authoritarian rule in general, whatever form it takes, as in Yertle the Turtle 
  11. Stefan Kanfer (1991-10-07). "The Doctor Beloved by All". Time. ISSN 0040-781X.  'I used the word burp, and nobody had ever burped before on the pages of a children's book. It took a decision from the president of the publishing house before my vulgar turtle was permitted to do so.'  
  12. Hochman, Debbie Turvey (2001-12-17). "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books". Publishers Weekly. Reed Business. Retrieved 2008-07-25. [dead link]
  13. E. J. Kahn (1960-12-17). "Children's Friend". The New Yorker (Advance Publications): 47. ISSN 0028-792X. In the judgement of Sagmaster ... to whose family Dr. Seuss's "Yertle the Turtle" has been appreciatively dedicated, bringing the Geisels together was 'the happiest inspiration I've ever had.'  
  14. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories at the Internet Movie Database

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