One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish Setting
Where It All Goes Down
You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Fish
At the book's beginning, Mother Nature is front and center. First, there are the fish, who rule the sea with some crazy variation and improbable physical abilities. We mean, did you see that fish rolling a stroller at the bottom of the ocean floor? Or the one driving the little car? Impressive, no?
Then, the book veers from the ocean to a place that seems positively desert-like:
They run for fun
in the hot, hot sun. (33-34)
From totally watery to downright arid, this book runs the gamut of natural settings. We readers see the two kids in natural places watching the supposedly wild (or just independent) creatures gallivant across the plains or desert.
Yet as insane as all the creatures and their antics can be—walking with ten cats on your head is just plain nuts—the descriptions of the setting are remarkably familiar. We recognize the hot, hot sun and the wide blue ocean. We understand where they are, which makes it easier for us to accept the hootenanny that's taking place there.
When the children ride their bike, they even describe the way that their Mike helps them navigate the terrain.
Mike does all the work
when the hills get high. (102-103)
See? Everybody's had to go up a big hill a time or two in life (and we're betting everybody wishes they had a Mike around, too). As fantastical as the pets and the situations are in the story, the setting helps to ground it and give it a relatable context for the reader. The reader can ogle at all of the crazy and interesting things that happen in the natural world—or at least in Seuss's version of the natural world—without having to invent an entirely new one in their heads.
How would you describe Ned's home? Well it ain't the Ritz, that's for sure.
Humble might be a good word. We know that Ned's home has a bed, and that bed is the pits. And other than that, we know he's got a phone line, which he makes great use off when he wants to complain telephonically.
That is, until a mouse comes along and chews right through the line. Which becomes yet another thing for Negative Ned to complain about:
A mouse has cut the wire.
Ned huffs and puffs all day, acting as though his house is what keeps him from the rest of the world. The cutting of the telephone line makes him exclaim "Good-by!" as though he can't walk out his front door and have a chat with, well, anyone he wants. Does he do so? Of course not. In fact, we barely ever see the guy emerge from his uncomfy bed.
And really, if he can't get out of his bed—even though he hates the piece of furniture with a fiery passion—then the reader will never be privy to the rest of Ned's abode. We're missing out, just as he is.
Home Is Where the Zans Is
Here's a question: where in the world are these kids' parents?
And here's another: why are these young'uns allowed to bring home so many pets?
The answer is... who cares? Without these parents around, entering the world of the boy and girl's home is like barreling straight into an Olympic size pool when you're used to a doughboy; it's surprising and a little bit scary. But it's mostly just fun.
The children's house looks like any other family home, except with the addition of some extra members. In the perfectly normal kitchen with a perfectly normal pot on the counter and some perfectly normal cans to the side, we also see the children climbing a very tall ladder to open those cans on the antlers of their pet Zans (181-190). Bet you didn't see that coming.
More surprises abound in the abode. Along with the image of a typical living room with a rolled up rug and a vase of flowers stands a Gox with boxing gloves on, ready to box with the boy (191-198). In the girl's beribboned bedroom, she brushes the plumed hair of a teensy-tiny pet (239-249). And in the final scene of the book, the children fall asleep in a cozy room on a big rolled-out rug with their pet Zeep (328-332). Sweet dreams.
The use of an all-too normal suburban home to house all of these magical creatures and host their adventures reminds us of one very important, very Seussian notion: anything is possible, even in a place that we deem normal.