A Treasure From the Past?

Kenny Brechner -- July 30th, 2015

opinion alert

In Clark Ashton Smith’s The End of the Story, a book-loving young man, Christophe, finds himself in the library of the learned monk Hilaire who, discovering in Christophe a rapt audience, “pressed a hidden spring in one of the library tables and drew out a long drawer, in which… were certain treasures that he did not care to bring forth for the edification or delectation of many, and whose very existence was undreamed of by the monks.

‘Here,’ he continued, ‘are three odes by Catullus which you will not find in any published edition of his works. Here, also, is an original manuscript of Sappho — a complete copy of a poem otherwise extant only in brief fragments; here are two of the lost tales of Miletus, a letter of Perides to Aspasia, an unknown dialogue of Plato and an old Arabian work on astronomy, by some anonymous author, in which the theories of Copernicus are anticipated. And, lastly, here is the somewhat infamous Histoire d’Amour, by Bernard de Vaillantcoeur, which was destroyed immediately upon publication, and of which only one other copy is known to exist.'”

What book lover ever born does not yearn for such treasures, for some newly surfaced relic from a beloved dead author to appear, to have a fresh experience in a familiar world, to have a little bit more. Unpublished worked by dead authors appear all the time, and there is no hard fast rule as to whether they should or should not have been published. Each case is unique. There are, however, three central questions that are always in play. First, would the author have wished for the publication? Second, does its quality grossly deviate from the established standard of the author’s work? Third, will it make so much money that questions one and two are null and void to all but fanatical fans?

I would argue that if any of these three points is crystal clear then the answer to whether the book should have been published is equally clear. If question one is an emphatic no, then the answer is no. Should Christopher Tolkien have overseen the publication of the series of early drafts and unfinished marginalia published as The History of Middle Earth? No, because their author was a well known perfectionist and he would have died a thousand deaths at the thought of their publication. Should Go Set a Watchman been published? Yes, because it was such an economic success that it would have been madness not to publish.

This brings us to the latest newly discovered Dr, Seuss book to be published. What Pet Should I Get? is an excellent example of a question two ruling. Though the artwork is good the text of the book is so totally substandard, lacking in both creativity and character, that it is clearly a gross deviation from the author’s standard of work. The hype for it makes it an exhumed naked emperor of a book, its poor quality all the more painful and glaring

I grew up on Dr. Seuss. He is important in my life. Do I want to read a great new Dr. Seuss book? Of course. In an essay in the back of the book it is noted that What Pet Should I Get? is “a story about making decisions – sometimes it’s hard, but sometimes you just have to make up your mind.” That’s so true. Should the book have been published? No. What’s a Seuss lover who wants to read a great book to do? It’s called re-reading.

One thought on “A Treasure From the Past?

  1. Charlie Quimby

    The perfectionist Seuss once said: “I know my stuff looks like it was rattled off in twenty-eight seconds, but every word is a struggle and every sentence is like the pangs of birth.”

    So I wonder if he was through rattling?

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