The Once-ler and Redemption

One of my favorite little people in the world is a girl named Eden.  If you ask anybody who knows her well what one thing Eden carries with her almost all the time, you would get a very quick response:  the Lorax.  I don’t know how well she knows the story, but every time I see Eden and her Lorax, it makes me smile.

A little history.  Dr. Seuss published The Lorax in 1971.  It’s a parable about corporate greed and its effect on the environment.  If you haven’t read it, go to the library right now and read it.  You don’t even have to check it out; just read it right there.  It’ll take 15 minutes, max.  The book has won many awards and is widely recognized as one of the best children’s books ever written.  In 1972 The Lorax was turned into an animated TV special.  It sticks fairly close to the book, drawing most of the dialogue straight from the text.  It adds an interesting conversation the Once-ler has with himself about the ramifications of his actions.  In 2012 The Lorax was turned into an animated feature film.  This version transforms the Once-ler into a more complicated character with a more human facet than is portrayed in the book.

The Lorax has been my favorite Dr. Seuss book for several years now.  I never understood why until I watched the 2012 movie.  In the book, and in the 1972 TV special, the story is fairly glum with only a glimmer of hope.  But the hope is there.  The 2012 version takes that hope and runs with it.  It is easy to see the story of The Lorax as a warning about corporate greed, pollution and environmental stewardship.  That’s a great message, and I’m all about heeding that warning.  But I feel pretty powerless to stop corporations from “biggering and biggering and biggering.”  It’s the hope at the end that speaks so deeply to me.  And it’s not even the hope that the boy will plant the seed and return the environment to a better state.  The hope that speaks to me is the Once-ler.

The Once-ler arrives at this beautiful paradise with an idea for a product called the Thneed, which everyone needs.  He proceeds to destroy the environment around him while chasing his dreams of fame and fortune.  He invents faster and more destructive ways to destroy the beauty around him.  He forces the things that belong there out with his pollution.  He consumes everything he can in order to achieve his personal, greedy goals.  True, it sounds like a lot of corporations today.  Sadly, it also sounds a lot like me in my natural state.

The Once-ler destroys everything to chase his greed.  But he is forced to the end of himself.  He eventually chops down every last Truffula Tree.  That’s it.  He’s done.  His family abandons him.  His customers disperse.  He is left with his big empty factory, the Lorax and himself.  The Lorax leaves.  The buildings crumble.  He’s left with himself.  He’s at rock bottom.  Where’s the hope in that?  To me, the hope lies in the fact that he owns his story, and he doesn’t let it own him.  He acknowledges what he’s done, and he decides to become part of the solution.  He tells his story to this boy.  He tells him everything.  He tells him about his honest ambition and the fact that he really meant no harm.  He tells him about how that ambition destroyed everything.  He tells the next generation about what he has experienced, and he offers advice about how to avoid his fate and try to make things better.

That’s where the book ends.  The 1972 movie ends at just about the same place.  Not a ton of hope there, but there’s some.  The 2012 movie takes it a step further to see the boy plant the first seed.  We are then fast-forwarded to a time when there are many Truffula Trees growing around the Once-ler’s house, and he steps outside to see a Swomee-Swan and the Lorax come back.  This scene hit me because I’ve experienced that.  I’ve experienced that redemption.  The thing that makes it freakin’ awesome is that I didn’t do it for myself.  God has done it in me.

The most recent time I watched the movie, I realized the Once-ler was obeying Psalm 78.  He was uttering “dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.”  But, that’s really all the Once-ler had:  the dark sayings and some personal encouragement.  We have Psalm 78:4.  “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might and the wonders that He has done.”  We have our dark stories.  We have our parents’ dark stories.  We have the Church’s dark stories.  We have society’s dark stories.  However, we also have the glorious deeds of the Lord!  What a story we have to tell the coming generation!  I don’t have to be ashamed of my story.  God has redeemed and is redeeming it.  I can tell my kids my dark stories and then tell them how God has worked in those stories.  I don’t just have a tale of woe and a warning.  I have an experience of God’s goodness and faithful lovingkindness.  That’s a story worth telling.


7 thoughts on “The Once-ler and Redemption

  1. This is good stuff, Gene. It’s a vivid reminder that the story of God and his relation to his people is a beautiful combination of both: (A) what God has done (good); and (B) what we have done (both good and wicked). We can certainly take the one without the other, but we shouldn’t. The richness and beauty of the former is greatly magnified when we realize the bare truth of the latter – and the latter by itself is without hope, absent for former. Ezra, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, and the Lorax. Never thought about the Lorax as a prophet, but there it is. Same story throughout.

    • I love it when the world tells God’s story without really meaning to. The more time passes, the more I see that since God is the source of all things, every story is going to reflect His story.

  2. Here’s a creative Psalm 78ing in my mind, specifically when he talks about what his dad days to him.

  3. Gene, for whatever reason I missed reading this post until just now. Like you, I love a certain little girl named Eden, and I couldn’t have been happier when she chose the Lorax as her special toy to be dragged around. I grew up watching the 1972 tv edition of The Lorax, but it has only been in the last few years (since Eden’s fascination with the fine yellow fellow), that we have sat down and read the book. It is by far my favorite Dr. Seuss book, and that is really saying something, going up against the likes of Horton Hears a Who. As many times as I’ve ingested that story, though, I never once thought of the Once-ler in terms of his redemption. I am so appreciative of your new perspective on this old beloved story and the connection to Psalm 78. Thank you!

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