Published 1958 by Random House
The story opens at the far-away Island of Sala-ma-Sond where Yerlte the Turtle was king of the pond. It was a small pond, but it was clean and everyone had plenty to eat and they were very happy.
But then, one day, Yertle decided his kingdom was too small. He reasoned that he is king of all that he sees so he needs to see more. He decided he needed a higher throne so he could view more of the land and therefore have a larger kingdom.
So, Yertle ordered nine turtles to stand on each other’s backs to make his new throne. For a little while Yertle was satisfied because then he could see a house, a blueberry bush, a mule, a cow and a cat. If he could see them then he ruled them, but a sigh interrupted his musings. The sigh came from poor Mack who was at the very bottom of the stack. When Mack complained about pain and asked how long they had to stand there Yertle furiously yelled back,
“I’m king, and you’re only a turtle named Mack.
You stay in your place while I sit here and rule.”
By noon Yertle was already unsatisfied. He wanted to rule more so he ordered more turtles to stack up on poor Mack’s back to make his throne higher. Yertle was ecstatic to be able to see 40 miles wide and rule all that he saw. Meanwhile, poor Mack suffered greatly. He complained:
“Down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
Yertle was again furious that anyone would challenge him. He screamed:
“There’s nothing, no, NOTHING, that’s higher than me!”
But then Yertle noticed the moon. He yelled for more turtles to make his throne even higher! But as he was shouting the commands, plain old Mack couldn’t take it anymore so he let out a burp and the burp shook the the throne of the king! The burp vibrated up to the top of the throne and Yertle fell with a Plunk! into the pond!
“And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course…all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.”
(Mack the turtle with his checkered board shell.)
The story is modeled on the rise of Hitler. Yertle represents Hitler and his greedy rise to power by climbing on the backs of others. Mack represents the everyday man that suffered under Hitler. Seuss’s goal was to depict the effects of living under a tyrant.
When Seuss was asked “Why ‘maybe’ and not ‘surely'” Seuss replied, “I wanted other persons to say ‘surely’ in their minds instead of my having to say it.”
The dedication reads:
This Book is for
The Bartletts of Norwich, Vt.
The Sagmasters of Cincinnati, Ohio
Joseph Sagmaster and Donald Bartlett were fellow students with Seuss at Oxford. They all traveled to France together during their studies.
Like Horton in a tree, the development of stacked turtles was not an overnight idea for Seuss. Seuss had been stacking turtles since he first started using the pen name “Dr. Seuss.”
Appearances of stacked turtles:
- 1928, cartoon for Judge Magazine (one of the first times he used “Dr. Seuss”)
- 1935, Seuss’s original comic strip called Hejji, for Sunday American, Chicago Herald and Examiner (all William Randolph Hearst newspapers)
- 1942, political cartoon (shown below)
“Then again, from below, in the great heavy stack,
Came a groan from that plain little turtle named Mack.
‘Your Majesty, please…I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down at the bottom we, too should have rights.
We turtles can’t stand it. Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food. We are starving!” groaned Mack.”
Seeing the turtle all happy in their little pond is just pleasant. I also enjoying following the path of the turtle’s dive into the pond.
This is the first time that Random House published more than one of Seuss’ stories together. There are later titles that also say “And Other Stories.” The other two stories included with Yertle the Turtle are Gertrude McFuzz and The Big Brag.
Orginally published in 1951 in Red Book magazine
Gertrude McFuzz is a story about a young female bird that was jealous of another bird, named Lolla-Lee-Lou’s, plumage. Gertrude only had one little tail and wanted more. She went to her uncle, Doctor Dake, and asked what she could do to get more tail feathers. Her uncle said,
“Such talk! How absurd! Your tail is just right for your kind of bird.”
Gertrude had tantrums and threw fits until her uncle finally told her about a pill-berry bush on a hill. Gertrude hurries to the bush and eats a berry. Suddenly she had a beautiful second feather, but that wasn’t enough. She ate lots and lots of berries until she ate three dozen!
Now that she had such beautiful feathers she decided to fly by Lolla-Lee-Lou’s and show off, but when she tried to fly all of her tail feathers weighed her down!
She couldn’t even walk, let alone fly! Her uncle heard her yelp and grabbed a bunch of other birds to help lift her off the ground. It took almost two weeks to fly her home and another week to pull out all of the feathers.
“And, finally, when all of the pulling was done,
Gertrude, behind her, again had just one…
That one little feather she had as a starter.
But now that’s enough, because now she is smarter.”
“You talk mighty big, Mr. Rabbit. That’s true.But how can you prove it? Just what can you DO?“
“So you see,” bragged the rabbit, “it’s perfectly trueThat my ears are the best, so I’m better than you!”
“My nose can smell anything, both far and near.With my nose I can smell twice as far as you hear!”
“Now, boys,” said the worm, “you’ve been bragging a lot. You both think you’re great. but I think you are not.”
“And I saw on this hill, since my eyesight’s so keen,The two biggest fools that have ever been seen!And the fools that I saw were none other than you,Who seem to have nothing else better to doThan sit here and argue who’s better than who!”