Stories and essays on food, travel, culture.
Horton is not a hen. Horton is an elephant.
He is the kindest, gentlest, wisest, most helpful elephant. So helpful in fact, that he agrees to sit on lazy bird Mayzie’s egg while she flies off to Palm Beach for her vacation.
What? How can an elephant sit on an egg, you ask? That’s exactly what Horton wonders as well. When Mazie begs Horton to sit on her egg because she needs a vacation,
The elephant laughed.
“Why, of all silly things!
I haven’t feathers and I haven’t wings.
ME on your egg? Why, that doesn’t make sense….
Your egg is so small, ma’am, and I’m so immense!”
But that conniving, lazy Mayzie turns on her charm and manipulates Horton’s big heart.
…I know you’re not small
But I’m sure you can do it. No trouble at all.
Just sit on it softly. You’re gentle and kind.
Come, be a good fellow,
I know you won’t mind.”
Poor Horton gives in. He promises to sit on her egg and try not to break it. He promises to stay and be faithful.
So Mayzie goes off on her vacation and Horton goes about doing all the things that need to be done to nurture and protect Mayzie’s egg. He first props up the tree so it can withstand his weight. He then carefully creeps up the trunk to the nest and gingerly sits on the egg. And sits and sits and sits.
He sits through days, he sits through nights, he sits through terrible storms, through snow and ice. He feels cold, he feels hot, he feels wet. He sits through the jeering taunts of all his friends. He hopes Mayzie doesn’t forget.
Well, Mayzie does forget. Worse, she decides that she’ll NEVER go back to her nest!
But does Horton give up? No.
He sits on that egg in the face of terrible odds. He sits even when he comes face to face with three hunters aiming their rifles straight at his heart.
And what is his mantra through all this?
I meant what I said
And I said what I meant….
An elephant’s faithful
One hundred per cent!
Then, a lot of crazy things happen to Horton. The three hunters pick him up along with the egg, nest and tree. They ship him off to New York and sell him to a circus. He is the star attraction, a freak show. The circus takes Horton all over the country, but he never once abandons the egg.
The circus also takes him to Palm Beach.
Fifty-one weeks after Horton agreed to help Mayzie, their paths cross again. Just as they are getting reaquainted, they hear
A thumping! A bumping! A wild alive scratching!
“My egg!” shouted Horton. “My EGG! WHY, IT’S HATCHING!”
For the faint-hearted, for those who cry in movies – please, steel your mind, harden your heart, and compose yourself to withstand what is about to follow.
“But it’s MINE!” screamed the bird, when she heard the egg crack.
(The work was all done. Now she wanted it back.)
“It’s MY egg!” she sputtered.
“You stole it from me!
Get off of my nest and get out of my tree!”
Poor Horton backed down
With a sad, heavy heart….
Oh! The injustice of it all! I could wring that Mayzie bird’s neck!
But wait! When the egg hatches, something strange happens. Something very, very strange.
From the egg that he’d sat on so long and so well,
Horton the Elephant saw something whizz!
IT HAD EARS AND A TAIL AND A TRUNK JUST LIKE HIS!
“My goodness! My gracious!” they shouted. “MY WORD!
It’s something brand new!
IT’S AN ELEPHANT-BIRD!!
Ah! Poetic justice. Just. So. Very. Satisfying.
And you just can’t help your tone getting gleeful, joyful, victorious, as you read the last few lines of this superb book by Dr. Seuss.
And it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that!
Because Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat!
He meant what he said
And he said what he meant….
And they sent him home
One hundred per cent!
Did I hear hooting, whistling and standing up and cheering?
I discovered Dr. Seuss when my son was born. Within the first week. I came home from the hospital to find mailers from children’s book clubs. Lots of them. They all wanted me to sign up to receive the first ten books for 1 cent each (yes!) and then continue to receive four books each week.
If I decided to keep any book after the first ten, I would pay their regular price, but if I did not want them, I could return them. Sounded completely harmless, and, to a hormone-crazed mother of a newborn with visions of her child flipping through books very, very soon, desirable even.
So I signed up.
Pretty soon, things went out of control. The books started arriving. They started piling up. I did not have time to take a shower, let alone keep track of the books, choose the ones I wanted, and make arrangements to return the rest. Soon I just found it easier to keep everything and pay. Which is exactly what those book clubs were counting on.
A couple of months later I caught on. So I called and cancelled every single de facto subscription.
But I will forever be grateful to those book clubs because in those rows of books accumulating on a tiny white bookcase in my son’s room, at least five were Dr. Seuss’ books.
I kept every single book that arrived in those first few months and as time went on, I read them to my son.
Of all of Dr. Seuss’ characters, I love Horton the best. My son’s loyalties keep changing, but me, I’m a die-hard Horton fan.
We have another Horton book, Horton Hears a Who, about this town called Whoville and its residents – the Whos – who are so, so tiny that they and their entire town can fit on a speck of dust.
Horton happens to hear their cries for help one day as the speck flies past his head (what with his big ears and all). He tries to help them and again he is the butt of all the jokes in the Jungle of Nool, this time because none of his friends can hear the Whos. In fact, they are very upset with him for harping on and on about a town on a speck of dust.
But Horton sticks to his guns. He grabs a hold of the dust speck, and worries,
“Should I put this speck down?…” Horton thought with alarm.
“If I do, these small persons may come to great harm.
I can’t put it down.
And I won’t!
Because, get this…
A person’s a person. No matter how small.”
And a little later, Horton begs his friends who are intent on destroying that speck of dust,
“Please don’t harm all my little folks, who
Have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!”
And still later,
“Of course,” Horton answered. “Of course I will stick.
I’ll stick by you small folks through thin and through thick!”
The most enjoyable part of reading these stories was when we arrived at their central ideas, so cleverly written into the narrative as a sort of chorus, and my son would chime in with that adorable diction of a toddler, “I meant wot I shed, I shed wot I meant, von hunded pershent,” and “A purshun is a purshun no matta how shmall.”
Sticking by your word. Sticking up for the small guy. Healthy seeds to plant in young, fertile minds. And what a way to do it!
Horton Hatches the Egg and Horton Hears a Who are both published by Random House.
A version of this article has appeared in Deccan Herald.