Lindemann Has Pulled a Ruse: He Wrote a Book on Dr. Seuss


Story posted November 09, 2005

It all began with oobleck. Something about it captivated then three-year-old Richard Lindemann, Bowdoin's director of Special Collections and Archives.

"I can remember my mother reading Bartholomew and the Oobleck to me - it's one of my first memories," says Lindemann, chuckling. "I thought it was particularly cool that there was so much green in the book. It's very personal; there's no way to explain it."

Most fans would agree there is something inexplicably personal about the appeal of Dr. Seuss classics, such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Oh! The Places You'll Go. His fanciful stories have inspired millions of readers to read, writers to write, illustrators to illustrate, and marketers to bang out all manner of Seussified merchandise.

The works of Dr. Seuss ( Theodor Seuss Geisel ) also inspired Lindemann to do one of the things he does best: research.

Richard Lindemann
"It just occurred to me it would be a useful bibliography to compile," says Bowdoin Director of Special Collections and Archives Richard Lindemann.

Lindemann recently published The Dr. Seuss Catalog (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), an annotated guide to Geisel's works. The reference book charts Geisel's achievements from his earliest book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (Vanguard Press, 1937), to the completion of 75 books, more than 100 magazine stories, screenplays, tapes, and a musical.

It also cites selected writings about Dr. Seuss. "A lot has been written about violence and sexism in Dr. Seuss," notes Lindemann, who included roughly 200 citations of literary criticism and biography. "As critical trends develop people seem to continue to draw on Dr. Seuss to develop their arguments."

Lindemann's interest in the materials was aided by access. Before coming to Bowdoin in 1999, he was associate director of Special Collections at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), which is a repository for the Dr. Seuss Collection. In fact, the library was renamed the Geisel Library in honor of the university's famous patrons.

"We found in serving that collection that it was a complicated process because there were so many works and they appear in so many manifestations," says Lindemann. "It just occurred to me it would be a useful bibliography to compile. Opportunity and necessity married together well."

He spent four years poring over Geisel's books, drawings and articles. "I read everything," he says. His research took him to Dartmouth College - Geisel's alma mater - and also to nearby La Jolla, where Geisel's widow, Audrey, "lives up on a high bluff."

"She runs her corporation - Dr. Seuss Enterprises - out of her house," notes Lindemann. "It's a gorgeous place with lots of Seuss art in it. They've insinuated Seuss characters into their furniture as well," he adds, "it's actually quite subtle, which makes it delicious."

Lindemann's undertaking resembles a hysterical version of Fictionary.

The Dr. Seuss Catalog is its own treasure trove of odd details, which is befitting this master of idiosyncratic minutiae. We learn, for instance, that Fox on Sox was first published in New York in 1965, and later appeared in Braille, minibook, audio cassette, Chinese, Dutch, and Hebrew. It was dedicated to Mitzi Long and Audrey Dimond - the latter being his future wife.

In the final section - an iconography of the nearly 900 invented creatures, places, and things contained in his books - Lindemann's undertaking resembles a hysterical version of Fictionary. He develops a style guide to terms, such as "grooz" and "schnack," replete with multiple meanings and literary references throughout the Seuss canon.

Grinch [see also Beagle-Beaked-Bald-Headed Grinch]
Creature, personifying the spoiler and eventually established as being green, who:
* Personifies the huckster in: "The Hoobub and the Grinch"
* Lives just north of Who-ville and attempts to ruin the Whos' Christmas in: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
* Plagues the people of Whoville in: Halloween is Grinch Night
* Tries to get even with the Cat in the Hat in: The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat

"There are two things wrong with doing something that straddles academic and popular culture," Lindemann says, smiling. "The academics think you're frivolous and the people in popular culture think you're far too serious. I don't mind straddling the two. I had fun trying to describe the characters and contraptions and places. It was a fun literary exercise."

Early Seuss drawingA 1943 illustration Geisel did for the U.S. Army, depicting the friendly, malaria-carrying mosquito Ann. The piece was intended to encourage GIs serving in the tropics to use their mosquito netting at night. Photo: Geisel Library, UCSD.

Other aspects of Geisel's writing - and commercial - life are not covered in Lindemann's treatment, including his advertising artwork, political cartoons, and realia, an archival term for products.

"The Seuss Enterprise is a real marketing machine," says Lindemann. "It's a hugely complicated challenge to archive because there are so many spinoff products. From books you get movies. Then from movies you get adaptations that are turned back into books. I found some books from movies that would inspire other books. It is a bizarre and confusing manifestation."

Marketing notwithstanding, Lindemann says the popularity of Dr. Seuss books - with estimated sales of over 400 million copies worldwide and reprints and translations into over 30 languages - isn't likely to lag anytime soon.

For his part, however, he's had enough. "I'm pretty much over him," he says. "I've got all the Seuss ties I need, thank you very much. I don't want anymore."

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