The King's Stilts
by Dr. Seuss
The King's Stilts Illustrations
How It All Goes Down
Seuss is, without a doubt, a true cartoonist. And in all the ways that count, The King's Stilts is no exception to his trademark style of illustrating—big lines, big faces, big pizazz. We get the same delightful cartoony characters, though this time there are many more people than there are fantastical creatures. But in many ways, the illustrations in The King's Stilts also diverge from his usual, later style, too.
The pictures in this book tell a very real story—the story of King Birtram, his stilts, and how he loses and eventually regains them. In this way, the images are character-focused, much more so than the typical Seuss line drawings, and especially when it comes to the three main characters: King Birtram, Lord Droon and Eric. We see quite a bit of these guys.
But the main difference between The King's Stilts and much of Seuss's other work lies in the sheer level of detail. The events of the story all take place in front of a lush backdrop, and the scenes are always depicted with all kinds of kooky stuff going down.
Seuss truly creates a full story, along with fully developed characters and a setting, using both his words and his artwork. And really, how could you not be impressed by a two-page spread of a thousand cats charging into battle?
The Good Stuff
The King's Stilts is another one of Seuss's books (like How the Grinch Stole Christmas) in which he uses a primarily black and white palette—with just a splotch of red thrown in here and there.
What's that about? Well, we could go all Freudian on you and say that Seuss is angry… but you know that just ain't true. In this case, the red is used to highlight important things or good characters. It's like a signal to the reader—put your attention here!
And where is that, precisely? On the King's stilts, for one thing. They're always always always red. Plus, there's the red of his cloak. Different parts of Eric's outfit are red, too, as are the badges that the Patrol Cats wear. On the flipside, there is absolutely no part of Lord Droon that is red. His outfit is just plain old black—just like his cold, coal heart.
All that red is not to say that there isn't subtle variety going on in the black and white portions of the illustrations, too. In The King's Stilts, Seuss uses a lot of shading to bring richness and depth. You might find this surprising, and you wouldn't be wrong, seeing as many of his later works rely heavily on line work with almost no shading at all.
In this book, though, the shading adds dimension to the images and also brings out the foreground and background of the setting, which is important when allowing the reader to really see the Kingdom of Binn. Which brings us to our next point…
A Place Called Binn
It's all about the setting, folks.
When describing the Kingdom of Binn in the text, Seuss makes sure to include an accompanying image of the Dike Trees that surround the entire realm, protecting it from the sea. When Eric is running toward the castle, Seuss depicts the winding streets, giving the reader a sense of what the town and houses look like. We get the panoramic view.
We like to think that's because the setting is the key to the plot (after all, King Birtram is focused on keeping the kingdom safe). So it would be a big old bummer for the reader if we didn't get to see the layout of the kingdom and its surrounding geography. Plus the lushness of the setting fits with the lushness of the writing.
The book's written in prose, which means Seuss has tons of roomy sentences to fill with descriptions. It only makes sense that those details would spill out into the images as well. We know exactly how Binn is laid out in the text, and then the illustrations help us to further visualize the setting.
The King's Stilts is a story about people with very different motivations. On one hand, we have King Birtram who simply wants to do his job well. And then we have Lord Droon, who wants to ruin everyone's fun because he thinks that everyone needs to wander around in black robes and look creepy, just like him.
With a story so focused on its human characters, it only makes sense that Seuss would take advantage and portray the full range of human emotions, from devious, to determined, to worried, to ecstatic with his savvy pen.
For example, when Lord Droon is stealing the stilts and hears footsteps coming, his expression is panicked. When he's successfully gotten rid of them, he grins like a satisfied cat. Even King Birtram's facial expressions are pretty easy to read. We don't know if we've ever seen a more depressed face than Birtram's after he's lost his beloved stilts. If that isn't the dictionary definition of a long face, then we don't know what is.