Monday Motivation: Yum. Green eggs and ham
Does everyone know how Green Eggs and Ham came to be written? I certainly didn’t until I stumbled across a reference to it on the internet. It appears that Dr Seuss’s publisher at Random House, Bennett Cerf, bet Dr Seuss $50 that he couldn’t write a book using no more than 50 unique words.
Well, as history records, Dr Seuss sat down and wrote Green Eggs and Ham, which employs just 50 distinct words* and went on to sell eight million copies in the US alone. It was, in fact, Dr Seuss’s most fabulously successful book for children.
Fifty words. Can you believe it? I re-read it today online, and noted, as I’m sure I didn’t when I last read it to the youngest of my children, that it is full of literary conflict.
Sam-I-Am, you might remember, offers the unnamed character a plate of green eggs and ham, which he rejects summarily. Over a number of different locations, and in association with three different animals, Sam-I-Am continues to ply the unnamed character with his plate of green eggs and ham. With increasing spleen and vigour, the unnamed character persists in repudiating the dish until on the eighth or ninth asking he at last capitulates, but with ill grace.
“Sam!” he exclaims (hence the exclamation mark), “If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see.”
You will see, in other words, that he can’t stomach the damn things.
He spears a floppy green fried egg and eyes it lugubriously. At last he puts it in his mouth and immediately expostulates: “Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-Am!”
The book has delighted and enthralled tens of millions of children – and many of their parents. It demonstrates, if, after Ernest Hemingway we need any further proof, that you don’t need to use sesquipedalian words, and labyrinthine sentence constructions, to create drama.
A simple tale, told well, using short words and evoking powerful emotions, will do the trick.
So, quite clearly Dr Seuss won the bet. But Bennett Cerf, apparently, never paid up. I suppose, though, that the royalities that Dr Seuss enjoyed from sales of the book helped to sooth his ruffled feathers.
* The 50 words are: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.
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