Kage Baker felt the second day of March was rather unfairly overshadowed by its one-day-elder sibling. March 1st is the traditional founding day of Rome; St. David’s Day, if you are into Welsh saints and leeks; and National Pancake Day, as well. So she occasionally declared celebrations for March 2nd.
She didn’t do it for the most common reason I am seeing on the Web today – the birthday of Theodore Geisel – but because it also happens to the anniversary of the births of Kurt Weill, and Thomas Bodley. Those were two gentlemen whose accomplishments she much admired. Weill wrote the music for The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany, two of Kage’s favourite operas. And Thomas Bodley founded the Bodleian Library, which is a wonder of the historian’s world and was on Kage’s “Must See” list.
But most folks today are commemorating Mr. Geisel: or, as he is better known, Dr. Seuss. Kage never celebrated that. Despite his being adored by millions of children, parents and primary school teachers, and Kage being herself part of his target generation, she detested most of his work. It had offended her when she was very small, with what she regarded as condescending silliness and suspect morality; she felt that The Cat In The Hat, especially, was a degenerate and a bad influence. The only thing of his she liked was The Grinch – and that was because it was eventually animated by Chuck Jones and voiced by Boris Karloff, two other men she adored.
Kage also disliked Mr. Geisel’s propaganda work during WWII – not because she disapproved (he was doing his duty, after all) but because she didn’t like the way he drew things … few things drew Kage’s least rational ire as much as bad cartooning, and she just didn’t like Mr. Geisel’s. And she liked Dr. Seuss even less when her own literary creation – Dr. Zeus, Inc. – began to be confused by various critics with Geisel’s nom de plume. He hadn’t been in her mind at all when she came up with the Company and its bronze avatar.
I can’t pretend to entirely understand Kage’s dislike of the Seuss oeuvre, though it never meant a great deal to me. I learned to read from books of cartoons, all right, but they were the exquisitely drawn work of Walt Kelly. That man could draw moss-draped oaks and herons that were as lovely as a haiku …
So, Pogo Possum and Albert the Alligator were my tutors, which has undoubtedly contributed to my lifelong inability to spell: Walt Kelly wrote dialogue in a creatively-spelled Okefenokee patois. Kage had taught herself to read a couple of years earlier than I did, from Andrew Lang’s fairy tale books and Illustrated Classics comics; and her spelling, and her taste in good illustrations, were therefore well set by the time we both encountered On Beyond Zebra or that villainous Cat.
And so was her aversion to silliness. (She didn’t much like Lewis Carroll, either.) That foundation solemnity is certainly present in Mendoza, who abhors whimsy; and even the most outrageous of Kage’s Trickster figures, like Joseph and Ermenwyr, owe a lot more to the sinister charms of Mack the Knife and Albert the Alligator than they do to any ingenuous Seussian character.
So: because Kage felt any day was enriched by a holiday, and no excuse for a party was too small, we’d celebrate Weill and Bodley on the 2nd of March. We’d listen to Threepenny Opera (Kage could sing it in German); we’d read books over a dinner of cold pancakes and jam – because we certainly celebrated Pancake Day on the 1st! And Kage would excoriate the Cat In The Hat a little, for old time’s sake.
Good times. Good times.