Published in 1939 by Random House
Review by NY Harold Tribune: “Dr. Seuss’s latest extravaganza has a meaning so good it makes its madness all the merrier…This is the best Dr.Seuss so far, and that’s no small praise.”
The King’s Stilts focuses on three different characters. First we are introduced to King Birtram who rules his kingdom well. He wakes up early every morning and works diligently all day signing important papers and overseeing the protection of his land.
The Kingdom of Binn is surrounded by water, but it is protected from flooding by Dike Trees that grow so closely together that water can’t get through. However, there are large black birds (very crow like) called Nizzards that like to eat the roots of the trees causing leaks, but the King has seen to it that the Dike Trees are protected by the Patrol Cats that patrol the Dike Trees and scare away any Nizzards that might be causing trouble.
King Birtram is assisted by two characters: Eric his page and Lord Droon who oversees all of the important documents that the King needs to sign. Eric is a hard working, dutiful young man that knows how to follow orders. Lord Droon is a very serious man that does not enjoy smiling. He also disproves of the King’s enjoyment of walking on stilts.
Everyday after the king has worked very very hard he relaxes by running about on his stilts. Lord Droon feels that this is very unkingly and decides to put a stop to it by stealing the King’s stilts, but while he is in the act he hears the King coming so he throws the stilts out a window down to young Eric and tells him to dispose of them. Eric is hesitant at first, but he knows he should follow orders and do what he’s told so he buries them out by the Dike Trees.
The King is so unhappy without his stilts that he becomes lethargic. He stops working hard, so the Patrol Cats get fat and lazy, and the Nizzards eat the roots, and the town starts to fall to ruin.
Eric starts to feel so bad that he runs off to recover the stilts. The town starts to flood and Lord Droon seems to be around every corner, but eventually Eric gets the stilts back to the king and then everything gets fixed. As a reward the king gives Eric his very own pair of stilts and they run around town together on their stilts having fun, but only after they have worked very hard.
Once again Seuss goes with a classic Grimm-like setting in the Kingdom of Binn. We are back to child appropriate story telling, no naked ladies this time, in fact, there are no ladies at all.
The obvious lesson of the book is to have a balance of work and play. Which is a great lesson for children and adults. But there is also a lesson of following orders versus doing what is right. Children are taught to listen to their elders, but what happens when an adult tell you to do something that you think is wrong?
Eric has to make this choice twice. First he has to choose whether or not to do what Lord Droon tells him to. Lord Droon is not only an adult, but also his superior in the hierarchy of the kingdom so Eric does what he thinks he is supposed to and “follows orders.” But when he sees how sad it make the king and how the kingdom is falling apart he has to choose whether or not to stick to his orders or do what he thinks is right and save the kingdom.
It may no affect an entire kingdom, but children do have to deal with this problem often and in their minds it might as well be a kingdom at stake. There are typically two obvious adult figures in a child’s life. Parent 1 and Parent 2. Throw in teachers, step parents, grandparents and babysitters and there is a whole mess of adults that kids have to listen to on a daily basis and of course not all of those adults are going to agree on everything. So children have to deal with the conflict of what one adult tells them to do versus what another adult tells them.
On a more touchy note I find it a bit awkward that the evil birds not only look like crows but are called Nizzards, also, the Patrol cats wear little badges that say PC on them…I feel like calling crow-like-evil-birds “Nizzards” is not very PC.
The book is dedicated to “All the Irish Cats and Seagulls in the shores of Inchydoney.” Inchydoney is located in County Cork in Ireland and the protection against flooding is very important. Seuss had visited there in his European travels and was obviously inspired by it.
This was the first children’s book that Seuss published through Random House. He switched to them hoping that they would be able to promote his work better than Vanguard, but The Seven Lady Godiva’s and The King’s Stilts where actually his worst in terms of sales and The King’s Stilts holds the record for the slowest selling of all of Dr. Seuss children’s books.
There are a couple of different covers.
The original cover is extremely hard to find and has the large yellow font whereas the more common cover (which I have) is yellow fabric with smaller red lettering.
I am not 100% certain, but I believe this is the original dust jacket, if it is not the original then it is definitely a very early edition. The most commonly scene dust jacket is the blue cover at the top of the page.
“And when they played they really PLAYED.
And when they worked they really WORKED.”
This page does a great job of showing the general attitude of each character. Even though they’re working Eric and King Birtram are still smiling, but Lord Droon is scowling.
Thanks for reading,
Jack St. Rebor