March 2nd

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.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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6 Responses to March 2nd

  1. Valerie says:

    Oh! Kurt Weill! I grew up with my Dad’s 78s of Lotte Lenya and the Threepenny Opera – used to be able to sing quite a bit of it in German. Why on earth are kids stuck with kids’ books, anyway? We could learn so much, back then…

  2. Kate says:

    Yep, the old wax 78’s and Lotte Lenya as Pirate Jenny! That was the first one Kage heard, too. Her favourite version in English was the Blitzstein from 1954 – which is also the one I remember the best. We grew up listening to hours and hours of musical theatre, memorizing the lyrics and learning to sing in harmony. Learned a lot more from the liner notes than Dick and Jane and Spot and Puff!

  3. Kathy Malloy says:

    I remember, as from a long distance, my daddy singing me to sleep with Night and You in Blue Hawaii. Didn’t know Hawaii or why it was blue, but it had to be good. There was one about the Night I Spent with Minnie the Mermaid, down in her Seaweed Bungalow, but I usually crashed toward the end of that one…I was taught to read by my 10 years older sister, who decided one summer, to discover if the method of the book Why Johny Can’t Read could be applied to a handy 4 year old. Many weeks later, armed with knowledge of digraphs and long e rules, I happily read my way through the Wizard of Oz on the day before kindergarten. I liked real children’s books with witches and things. No thank you for Spot or Puff.

  4. Jan Foley says:

    Awww… I LOVED Dr Seuss’s books, although I was rather older when they were popular, and used to read them out loud to my sister. I think the appeal came with the fun he had with words …”The Star-Bellied Sneeches had bellies with stars; while the Plain-Bellied Sneeches had NONE upon THARS…” still makes me smile. I’m just re-reading Kage’s The Anvil of the World, so little Meli’s remark that “We do not change our natures with our robes,” is fresh in my mind. And it’s more or less the same theme as The Star-Bellied Sneeches. Kage Baker might hate me saying that!

    But I also LOVED Walt Kelly, and agree that he was one of the most adept cartoonists around, as well as one of the most ascerbic philosophers of his day. I have compendiums of both authors’ books in my bookshelves today, and I’m 63 years old!

    I also like most of Calvin and Hobbes, by the way. Again, a very good cartoonist at work, and captures a certain kind of childhood very well. If I could be born again and learn a new craft, it might well be strip cartooning. I do love the good ones!

  5. Kate says:

    Kage never minded *how* a reader connected to her work, Valerie – as long as she had succeeded in making that connection, Kage felt she had done her job. “The contract with the reader” was very important to her; she felt it as a genuine obligation, as real and workmanly as proper spelling and grammar. Anyway, most people DO love Dr. Seuss. We were weird kids.

  6. Jan Foley says:

    Thank goodness you were both ‘weird kids’. Look at the magnificent writing you’ve both produced/are producing! And I meant to say I’m re-reading the Anvil of the World SERIES …backwards. I’m in the middle of The House of the Stag just now, where little Meli is a minor character. And I’m constantly mourning the fact that there will be no more of these fantastic stories from Kage Baker, set in that world. Such a huge HUGE shame.

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