What’s Up With the Ending?
We don't often say this when it comes to Seuss, but the ending of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins really is business as usual.
The 500 Hats draws heavily from traditional fairy tales like those passed down by the brothers Grimm. The tone, setting, and, yes, even the ending are an homage to these tales of extraordinary happenings helping an ordinary person along. In other words, Bartholomew Cubbins is a Seussian take on "Cinderella," and the ending follows suit.
After Bartholomew's hat spawns its 500th iteration, it becomes an extravagant bit of headwear decked out with a "ruby larger than any the King himself has ever owned" and "ostrich plumes, and cockatoo plumes, and mockingbird plumes, and paradise plumes" (134). The King then offers to buy the hat for 500 gold pieces. Bartholomew agrees and "[s]lowly, slowly, [he] felt the weight of the great hat lifting from his head" and "[t]he head of Bartholomew Cubbins [is] bare" (144). The King finally takes notice of Bartholomew, and walking "[a]rm in arm" they go to count some coinage (147).
Is that not totally Cinderella's glass slipper? Okay, it's not exactly the same since Cinderella had to put the slipper on and Bartholomew has to take his hat off, but you get our point. In both cases, an article of clothing gets royalty to finally take notice of a lower class member of society and reward them in some way.
Bartholomew takes his gold home to his parents, and the King erects a great crystal case to house all 500 hats. Although the words are never written, the phrase "and they lived happily ever after" warm these final pages like a sunny day.
But the ending has one more task it must perform before wrapping things up. How exactly did this whole hat ordeal happen? The answer:
But neither Bartholomew Cubbins, nor King Derwin himself, nor anyone else in the Kingdom of Didd could ever explain how the strange thing happened. They could only say it just "happened to happen" and was not very likely to happen again. (149)
Now this is a Seuss move through and through. In a regular ol' fairy tale, we usually get an explanation for how the extraordinary happenings happened about, whether it's a fairy godmother or magical potion or some such literary device. But The 500 Hats ends by saying, "Hey, it just happened. Don't worry about why it occurred; just enjoy the fact that it did."
And you know what? We think we will.