Oak and Ash and Thorn author Peter Fiennes discusses the poems that inspired his new book:

 

2. 'The Lorax' by Dr Seuss

 

Has Dr Seuss done more for the trees and the woods than any other writer? He wrote ‘The Lorax’ in a rage in 1971 and since then it must have been heard and read (and seen – it’s also a film, a stage play, a musical…) by countless millions of children. Who knows how many of them grew up to cherish the trees? It tells the story of a man (well, a Seussian thing called a Once-ler) who finds a forest of the most beautiful Truffula Trees, and

 

‘The touch of their tufts

was much softer than silk.

And they had the sweet smell

of fresh butterfly milk.’

 

So of course he chops one down to make a ‘Thneed’ – a pointless thing; a cross between a shirt and a hat and a carpet – and in no time at all he is engaged in a frenzy of chopping and Thneed-making. This brings out The Lorax, who demands that he leave the Truffulas alone, shouting:

 

‘I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues’.

 

But of course the Once-ler won’t – can’t – stop.

 

In one chapter of my book (in a bout of reckless anthropomorphism), I tried to imagine what it would be like if the trees did have tongues. How would they tell their own story? The only way I could think to do this without imposing my own human perspective was to start with the moment Britain became an island (about 7,000 years ago), and to make every word correspond to the passing of two years, regardless of what we (as humans) might think of as important. This made my history of the trees exactly 3,508 words long – it ends in the year 2017 – and it takes us from a landscape of elk and wolves (and beavers! and wild aurochs!), roaming under a canopy of lime, oak, elm and Scots Pine, through centuries of imperceptible change, until suddenly everything speeds up, and in a heart-stopping rush we are catapaulted into our own convulsing, industrialized, sheep-ravaged land. Today, we have fewer woods than almost anywhere else in Europe (we lie just above Ireland and The Netherlands at the bottom of a dismal league).

 Anyway, ‘The Lorax’ should be read by everyone, because its message – that the Truffula Tree-destroyers will just keep on, chopping faster and growing BIGGER, until they have destroyed everything, including themselves, in order to make things that none of us need – this message is even more urgent today. And even if it didn’t have a world-shaking moral, no-one writes this stuff with such addictive bounce (and jounce) as Dr Seuss.

 

  Peter Fiennes is the author of To War with God, a  moving account of  his grandfather’s service in the First  World War. As a publisher  for Time Out, he  has  published their city guides, as well as books  about  Britain’s countryside and seaside. He lives in  Wandsworth,  south-west London.

  Oak and Ash and Thorn is availbale now.