The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
is one of Dr. Seuss
's great works. A magnum opus
, even. It is illustrated by the good Doctor, of course, in trademark style; however, it differs from many of his books in that it is written in prose
, not meter
. It comments on many facets of human life, beliefs, politics and society, all wrapped up in a nice, accessible, high-larious 'children's book' which (like so many of Seuss's are) will keep telling you things you didn't know long into adulthood.
One of the primary reasons my brother had children, he and I have agreed secretly over beers, is so that his wife (Gods look upon her and love her as we do) would allow him to spend money on collecting every book Seuss had written. Even The Seven Lady Godivas, which has (gasp) NEKKID WIMMEN ON EV'RY PAGE! But there they all are, now, arranged neatly in his library on the shelf near the floor (for easy access by those who need them). My nephew is just past three years old, now, which means that some of those tomes are well-smeared with various and particolored food substances, magic markers, Play-Doh dyes, and other more radioactive tones that we wisely choose not to try to identify.
No matter what publishers do, these books become ragged and smeared. They have to; they will be read more times than anything else in the house. Guaranteed. The 500 Hats has a bit of an advantage, at least the edition he has (which is the copy from our own childhood) - the cover is mostly matte black, rendering smears and stains nowt more than variations in the albedo.
But back to the book.
500 Hats is the tale of a kingdom - The Kingdom of Didd. It is ruled by (surprise) The King, who lives in a palace at the top of the tallest mountain, at the top of the city which starts waaaay off in the foothills and climbs the mountainside to the nobility at the apex. Also living in this kingdom is a small boy named (can you guess?) Bartholomew Cubbins. He lives with his parents in a very small house way off in the outskirts of town, where his family picks cranberries from a local bog. From his front door, Bartholomew can see all the way up the road, into the town, up the center, up the mountain, up to the King's own palace so far away. This makes him feel quite small. He imagines that the King can see the same view in reverse, and feels quite large. Which, of course, is how Kings are supposed to see the world.
Our story starts one day when young Bartholomew is dispatched to take a basket of cranberries to town market to sell. While he is in town, the King's carriage (and associated retinue) pass by, preceded by criers and soldiers. As a result, everyone removes their hats and kneels to the ground to show fealty and respect. Especially young Bartholomew, who is so very small.
But something happens.
The whole procession stops, because (horror) there is a hat on Bartholomew's head!
Ignoring his protestation that his hat is in his hands (which it is) the King gives the boy a few seconds grace to remove his hat. Bartholomew, very confused, reaches up - and finds a hat on his head! He yanks it off, only to have the King exclaim angrily that he has not yet removed the offending headgear!
You can imagine where this is going.
Poor Bartholomew! Falling victim to the mechanisms of social control and the Divine Right of Kings, he finds himself swept up in the retinue by a soldier and taken to the palace, where he will suffer the consequences if he doesn't remove his hat.
He removes his hat all the way up the hill, tucked under the sergeant's arm as he is. He leaves a trail of them along the street.
And so it goes. Various powers and personas are called into consultation, from the Vizier Cornelius to the Grand Duke (the king's bratty son) to the King's Magicians ("Hat on this demon's head, fly far away! Fly away, steal away, creep away, gleep away, never come back!") to the Yeoman of the Bowmen ("SCREEBIES!" when he shoots it off - kerrr-ZOPPP - and a hat remains!) to the wise men Nadd, the Father of Nadd, and the Father of the Father of Nadd - all of whom shake their head silently, solemnly no.
I won't spoil the ending for you, having spoilt so much of the book. However, rest assured that the book is a wonderful diversion for all children, ages 3 to 86 and a half. It is the first of the stories concerning the relationship between Bartholomew the commoner and The King (the other two being The King's Stilts and Bartholomew and the Oobleck). It belongs in everyone's library - preferably alongside its fellow Seuss books, and on a lower shelf where small jam-smeared hands can easily reach it whenever it is wanted.