How It All Goes Down
The magical world of The Lorax was created entirely by Dr. Seuss—that means he's responsible for the words and the pictures. The guy was an illustrator all his life, producing everything from political cartoons to advertising campaigns, but he's most famous for the fanciful (and plentiful) art in his children's books.
The Lorax was particularly important in terms of Dr. Seuss's development as an artist. Why? One word: colors.
Field Trip to Childhood
If you haven't already, now would be the time to spring for the 64-pack of crayons. It will help your kids' color-thirsty mind put names to the juicy colors they find in Seuss—everything from atomic tangerine and Caribbean green to jazzberry jam and manatee. If you really want to go to town, get them The Lorax Doodle Book, complete with stickers. Ah, to be a kid again.
The primary colors that work so well in The Cat and the Hat just wouldn't cut it for The Lorax. In order to contrast the post-demise town with its pre-Thneed factory days, Dr. Seuss needed to broaden his color palate, big time.
The Lorax is a whole universe of lush colors. Almost every page is illustrated, and some scenes actually stretch across two pages (with the words thrown right on top!). Even when the Truffula forest is barren and polluted, it's still beautiful and surprising. And it's not just nature that needed the color. We also get to see lots of wacky inventions, like the Whisper-ma-Phone and the Super-Axe-Hacker, in all the splendid, full color they deserve.
The pictures and the words are intricately connected in The Lorax. Taken separately, they do both tell the same basic story. Together, they fit together like ice cream and cones, bringing out all kinds of details, clues, and neat little touches. For example, the pictures show us that the Brown Bar-ba-loots are sick (see our discussion below), but the words fill us in on exactly what's wrong with them (gas) and why they're sick (no food).
On a less dreary note, how about the Once-ler's Snuvv? The illustration shows us that the Snuvv is a little hole at the tip of one of the glove's fingertips, and it's entertaining to watch the Once-ler drop the boy's fee right down in there. But let's face it: half the fun is knowing that there's a name for that little hole—and even better, that name is Snuvv.
Horror Show Moments
Dr. Seuss maintains a gentle touch, making sure the illustrations never quite cross the line into scary. Although they do kind of cross that line into sickening once in a while. You know the ones we mean: when the sick forest creatures are forced to flee the now unlivable forest home.
The worst of all are the single-page illustration facing lines 150-56 and the double-page illustration that follows:
(1) First we see the Brown Bar-ba-loots transformed from cuddly, fuzzy critters to emaciated, scraggly little guys with bloated tummies. Not only are their ears drooping, but now only the whites of their eyes are showing. Kids that have come to love the Bar-ba-loots might need a little help here—it might be disturbing to see them so sick.
(2) The double-page illustration that follows is another major downer: the Bar-ba-loots, sick and weak, have to leave town. The line of fleeing Bar-ba-loots stretches from just beneath the Once-ler's office (far left) to deep into the almost treeless forest (far right). Cue Charlie Brown's sad song.
These drawings, and the others featuring sick, migrating critters definitely add some major seriousness to the book. But at the same time, some little ones could get freaked out. This is Shmoop giving you the heads-up, just in case.
One of our absolute favorite illustrations is the two-page image of the Lorax squeezing himself out of the Truffula Tree trunk while the Once-ler watches. The Lorax is a somewhat unlikely super-hero, but boy can he make an entrance. The spikes of color erupting around the Lorax as he squeezes out help give him that super-heroey feel, and the look on the Lorax's face adds to the playful irony.
The Once-ler is so surprised about all this that he drops his knitting needles! The words sure don't tell us that part.
Boy's Eye View
The illustrations are all from the point of view of the young boy we see at the beginning and end of the story. That's one reason everything seems so large and looming, as if we are looking up. It seems like the Once-ler's perspective is delivered through the words, and the boy's is delivered through the illustrations. Pretty neat, right? (Check out our discussion of the "Gruvvulous Gloves" in "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory" for more on this.)
A Boy Not Made of Words
Did you notice that the boy is never actually mentioned in the text of the story? If it weren't for the pictures, we wouldn't even know he existed. But wait, does he exist?
The Once-ler speaks directly to someone at the end of the story:
"But now […],
Now that you're here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better.
It's not." (245-51)
If we didn't see the pictures, it would feel like the Once-ler was talking directly to us. Actually, it feels like that anyway, especially when somebody is reading to us out loud.
This is pretty smart stuff. Seuss obviously wanted us to feel like the Once-ler's words were meant for the readers (because, well, they are meant for the readers). At the same time, what's a kid's book with no kids in it? Having a real boy in the illustrations helps make this kid-friendly and provides a nifty foil for the Once-ler.