The King's Stilts. Digression: Do people even walk on stilts anymore? I recall making 'em out of two-by-fours and scrapwood to clunk around the scene shop in High School theater tech. Haven't seen a pair outside the circus in years, and I'm near MIT - which would qualify as a high-probability-stilt-zone if anything did.

But I digress.

The King's Stilts is another story by the lamentably late Dr. Seuss about the relationship between a King and a young subject. Not Bartholomew, but Eric - although both Kings and both boys look suspiciously alike. But this, Seuss' second book, predates Bartholomew, so really, Bartholomew looks like Eric.

No matter.

This is a story about responsibility, propriety and jealousy. It's a tale of loyalty, and ecology, and duty. It's a fable about work and play, to boot. Hm, how much to reveal? I'll give you the setup, which is so indisputably Seuss - the story's plot I leave to you to discover.

King Birtram of Binn is a hardworking king. He works hard all day long, doing Things Kings Do (which seem to involve lots of signing papers, which he even does in the bath). There's a reason for this. His kingdom has been built in a most inconvenient place. Notably, in the middle of a sea that seems to have a median level somewhat more altitudinous than the landmass on which the kingdom resides.

In other words, the water's higher than the land, silly.

How, then, does Binn exist? Through Birtram's foresight, planning and hard work, that's how. It's a multi-layer system. All around the kingdom are planted Dike Trees, whose interlocking roots (looking an awful lot like mangroves) hold back the sea. Hooray! However, all is not well. There is a problematic local avian pest which enjoys nothing more than pecking on the roots of dike trees. They are known as Nizzards.

So the dike trees need protection.

The King has a, well, special organization to do that. I won't go into it, but it's typically Seuss. Maintaining this unit is one of those hideous time sinks that His Highness shoulders so bravely.

How does he keep himself together and cheery?

He plays.

Ssh! That's right. This adult keeps himself centered through playtime. Not just any playtime - he's got himself a passion. He loves nothing more than racing around on stilts. Yup, that's right, stilts. Got himself a nice, red-painted shiny pair. But he only plays during playtime. Works hard, plays hard. But who can blame him? Not his subjects, who think it's a bit odd that their king zips about on stilts, but (clever and well-informed rational citizens they are) they figure as long as the King is working hard and doing his job, why the hell not?

And this is just the setup. Entre a sour-faced vizier, a young boy named Eric who serves as page to the king, and a plot, an imprisonment, a daring escape, and a rescue - and it all fits into a Seuss-sized book, prose style rather than verse, with true Seuss illustrations throughout.

There are lessons aplenty in this book, lessons which if asked about Dr. Seuess would undoubtedly have simply grinned in response and perhaps doodled an improbable creature giving the asker a raspberry. But that doesn't mean they're not there - just that he figures finding them is your job, if not making them up yourself. He just puts in the fun.

And fun it is.

The King's Stilts
Random House Books for Young Readers; New York. Oct. 12, 1939.
Still in print: Library binding / trade paperback
48pp. ISBN 0394800826.

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