Pagan Survivals in Children’s Literature: The Case of “Mr. Brown”
The eponymous hero of Dr. Seuss’s Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?: Dr. Seuss’s Book of Wonderful Noises displays a remarkable ability to evoke a wide range of sounds. Clues embedded within the structure of the text suggest that Mr. Brown is more than he appears to be on a surface level. The climax of the book is a dramatic scene involving weather manifestations. Thunder takes the fore, chiastically bracketed between rain and lightning. While in most of the vignettes Mr. Brown “can sound like” things, here there is a profound shift: Suess writes, “Boom Boom Boom/ Mr. Brown is a wonder./ Boom Boom Boom/Mr. Brown makes thunder!/ He makes lightning / Splatt Splatt Splatt/ and it’s very, very hard/ to make a noise like that!” The crucial shift moves away from onomatopoeic mimesis; rather than declarative speech, Mr. Brown is engaging in performative speech that not simply replicates but produces the very phenomena conjured by its sound. In short, Mr. Brown bears the characteristics of a storm god.
When the rest of the narrative is viewed through this lens, an unmistakable agricultural pattern may be discerned in many of the sounds connected with Mr. Brown: bees (Buzz Buzz)–important pollenators and source of a primary ingredient of most premodern diets, rooster (Cocka doodle doo), grapes and wines (the sound of a cork: Pop Pop accompanied with an image of a wine bottle). The presence of an owl (Hoo Hoo) suggests Mr. Brown may manifest a chthonic form as well. The most telling piece of evidence receives structural emphasis as it is the first sound/image of the book: the cow. Pulling the evidence together, a storm god surrounded by agricultural motifs foremost among them the image of a cow or bull, it seems quite clear that Mr. Brown is a survival of the Ancient Near Eastern Hadad/Ba’al tradition.