Bartholomew and the Oobleck
by Dr. Seuss
Bartholomew and the Oobleck Writing Style
We broke out the tissues when we found out that Bartholomew and the Oobleck was written in prose. But we quickly recovered, because Dr. Seuss knows how to compensate. How? He relies on the tried and true tenets of folklore. We can see this in every aspect of the story's craft, from the plot structure to the word choice.
Check it out.
Magic Number Three
Bartholomew visits three people—the bell ringer, the royal trumpeter and the Captain of the Guards—before he rushes off to try to fix things on his own. And that's just the way folklore rolls. Ever heard of The Three Little Pigs or Goldilocks and the Three Bears?
In fact, the number three is pretty magical in most folklore, because it's just enough. We have one to bring us in, two to explore the problem, and three to escalate to the point of no return (or resolve the story). Now that we think about it, fairy tales are pretty magically constructed. What do you think… fairy dust in writers' rooms?
Repetition of Full Names
Do us a favor for a second. Think of the last adult book you read. Now think of the main character's full name—that's first and last. How often was that character was called by their full name throughout the course of the novel? Not often, right? Once during an introduction, then maybe once or twice more for an admonishment or during an official presentation.
Not Bartholomew Cubbins. He's referred to as Bartholomew Cubbins over a dozen times, and this is a short little picture book. That's because—you guessed it—this is a common trope in children's folklore.
Folklore even trickles down into some of Seuss's syntactical choices. Check out this line, for example:
Out of the room and down the stairs raced Bartholomew Cubbins.
See how it's, "raced Bartholomew Cubbins" and not "Bartholomew Cubbins raced"? That's because the first version is much more in keeping with the style of traditional folklore. Don't ask us why or when verbs and subjects made their switch. (We know the answer, we just don't want you to ask.)
Seuss is Still Seuss
Still, no matter how many classical traditions the narrative evokes, this is all Seuss. Just look to the magicians' chants if you need any evidence:
"Shuffle, duffle, muzzle, muff.
Fista, wista, mista-cuff." (22)
If that's not Dr. Seuss, we don't know what is.