Among the many ethereal works of Dr. Seuss, The Lorax stands out as one of the most well-known and profound. The book itself has sold over 200 million copies and has been widely used in classrooms as a teaching aid to impart the message of environmentalism to young students.
In 2012, the book was adapted to the silver screen as a 3D computer-animated musical comedy that was intended to spread the very same feel-good message. Indeed, it seems that Dr. Seuss’s contribution to the field of environmentalism with The Lorax deserves to be placed among the ranks of works by great names like John Muir and Aldo Leopold in terms of how much awareness it has spread about deforestation and other environmental issues.
Environmentalism aside, The Lorax was also just a great story with some fantastic illustrations in the colorful and surreal style that only Dr. Seuss could produce. I remember sitting in bed and having my mother read me The Lorax and show me the illustrations as I peacefully drifted off to sleep. One of the distinct features of the story, the iconic truffula trees, stuck with me in such a way that I would walk around imagining all of the maple and oak trees in my neighborhood as truffulas.
Dr. Seuss had a special way of inspiring the imagination and helping us see the world in a more vibrant and fantastical way. However, it seems that his concept for the truffula trees did not come entirely from his imagination but largely from the real world.
Of course, there are no real trees that have striped yellow and black trunks and multicolored tufts of cotton candy at the tops. However, you might be surprised by how much this real-life tree actually resembles the fictional truffulas from The Lorax.
The truffula trees aren’t the only facet of the book that seems to be based on real life. In fact, the Lorax himself may be a reflection of a creature in the real world as well. Let’s take a look at the things in the real world that inspired Dr. Seuss and got filtered through his imagination to create the story of The Lorax.
Dr. Seuss and La Jolla
If you’re a fan of Dr. Seuss and you ever plan on taking a trip to the area around San Diego, California, make your way over to La Jolla to see the house that Dr. Seuss actually lived in from 1948 until his death in 1991. The house sits high atop Mount Soledad and can be easily seen from the street thanks to the fact that it’s a massive $75 million mansion. The home was occupied by Dr. Seuss’s widow Audrey Geisel until her death in 2018.
Despite the fact that Dr. Seuss constructed a massive home in the forest, he was notoriously outspoken about his disdain for all of the construction going on around La Jolla. It seems that the inspiration for The Lorax may have actually come from Dr. Seuss’s dissatisfaction with the number of trees getting cut down around his La Jolla home. Dr. Seuss once said that The Lorax was “one of the few things I ever set out to do that was straight propaganda.”
While the logging industry is most directly referenced in The Lorax, the forests of La Jolla are actually coming under threat from other anthropomorphic causes. Due in part to the negative effects of climate change, the San Diego area has experienced extremely intense fires in quick succession that have wiped out a large portion of these forests.
Other issues, such as borer insects, climate extremes, and drought, have only served to worsen the problem. It seems that the issue addressed in The Lorax, sadly, might be a more urgent concern than Dr. Seuss himself even realized.
The Real Truffula Tree
Among the many trees that lived in the area around Dr. Seuss’s home, there is one tree that locals often claim is the inspiration for the beautiful truffula trees in The Lorax. The Monterey cypress tree, which stands alone in the valley, has been dubbed the “Lorax tree” by locals.
No, it’s not located in a place called Truffula Valley, but rather in Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Dr. Seuss would have had a perfect view of the park from his La Jolla mansion through the clearing. Because this particular tree stands so alone, it would have been a major focal point of the landscape.
The “Lorax tree” stood tall by itself until 2019, when it sadly fell down. No, the tree was not chopped down by loggers, as Dr. Seuss prophesied it might be. It simply fell down due to its old age.
The tree in question was believed to be as old as 100 years when it hit the ground, which means it would have been around 50 years old at the time The Lorax was published in 1971. Since the tree has fallen, the city has claimed that they may plant a replacement tree in its place. That’s a nice thought, but as nature takes its course, the new tree may not end up looking like a truffula.
With that being said, to the dismay of San Diego locals, Audrey Geisel once said in an interview that the trees were inspired by a trip that the couple took to Africa. Whether or not that’s true, it seems that that trip to Africa definitely had some serious influence on The Lorax.
Inspiration for the Lorax
Another main feature of The Lorax seems to have been drawn from real-world inspiration: the Lorax himself. As the story goes, Dr. Seuss had been planning to write an environmentally conscious book for children. However, he found that most of the attempts by other authors had come out dry and preachy. To try to shake him out of his funk, his wife Audrey convinced him to take a trip to Kenya in 1970.
The couple embarked for the Mount Kenya Safari Club and went on a tour of the country. Reportedly, after seeing the breathtaking landscapes of Kenya, Dr. Seuss went back to his accommodation and wrote 90% of The Lorax in a single afternoon.
The stars of the show were the patas monkeys, who are thought to be the inspiration for the character of the Lorax. Looking at photos of these monkeys, this certainly seems to be a plausible theory. Their orange-tinted coats and long white bears are certainly reminiscent of the cartoon features of the Lorax.
Many aspects of The Lorax are pure fiction. The world is not being threatened by a fictional character called the Once-ler, and there are no such things as real truffula trees. However, seeing that some of the characters and features of The Lorax were based on real-world things shows that the story is embedded with real issues.
The forests truly are in danger from a number of threatening global effects. The Earth’s forests are being depleted at an astounding rate, and the ripple effects that deforestation is having on the other members of these ecosystems are devastating.
If you’re interested in rejuvenating your passion for environmental preservation, give The Lorax another read-through and remember that many of the features of the book are based on real plants and animals that actually need saving. And keep reading The Lorax to your children. It’s an important introduction to environmentalism that people of any age can understand.