Horton Hears a Who!
|Preceded by||Scrambled Eggs Super!
Horton Hatches the Egg (plotwise)
|Followed by||On Beyond Zebra!|
The book tells the story of Horton the Elephant, who while splashing in a pool, hears a small speck of dust talking to him. Horton surmises that a small person lives on the speck and places it on a clover, vowing to protect it. He later discovers that the speck is actually a tiny planet, home to a community called Whoville, where microscopic creatures called Whos live. The Mayor of Whoville asks Horton to protect them from harm, which Horton happily agrees to, proclaiming throughout the book that "a person’s a person, no matter how small."
In his mission to protect the speck, Horton is ridiculed and harassed by the other animals in the jungle for believing in something that they are unable to see or hear. He is first criticized by a sour kangaroo and her little kangaroo in her pouch. The splash they make as they jump into the pool almost catches the speck, so Horton decides to find somewhere safer for it. However, news of his odd new behavior spreads quickly, and he is soon harassed by a group of monkeys. They steal the clover from him and give it to Vlad Vladikoff, a vulture (formerly a black eagle). Vlad flies the clover a long distance, Horton in pursuit, until the eagle drops it into a field of clovers.
After a long search, Horton finally finds the clover with the speck on it. However, the Mayor informs him that Whoville is in bad shape from the fall, and Horton discovers that the sour kangaroo and the monkeys have caught up to him. They tie Horton up and threaten to boil the speck in a pot of "Beezle-Nut" oil. To save Whoville, Horton implores the little people to make as much noise as they can, to prove their existence. So almost everyone in Whoville shouts, sings, and plays instruments, but still no one but Horton can hear them. So the Mayor searches Whoville until he finds a very small shirker named JoJo, who is playing with a yo-yo instead of making noise. The Mayor carries him to the top of Eiffelberg Tower, where Jojo lets out a loud "Yopp!", which finally makes the kangaroo and the monkeys family hear the Whos. Now convinced of the Whos's existence, the other jungle animals vow to help Horton protect the tiny community.
Geisel began work on Horton Hears a Who! in the fall of 1953. The book's main theme, "a person's a person no matter how small", was Geisel's reaction to his visit to Japan, where the importance of the individual was an exciting new concept. Geisel, who had harbored strong anti-Japan sentiments before and during World War II, changed his views dramatically after the war and used this book as an allegory for the American post-war occupation of the country. He dedicated the book to a Japanese friend.
Horton Hears a Who! is written in anapestic tetrameter, like many other Dr. Seuss books. Unlike some of his books, however, Horton contains a strong moral message, which Thomas Fensch identifies as "universal, multinational, multi-ethnic. In a word: Equality." Fensch also contends that the Mayor of Whoville's lines, "When the black-bottomed birdie let go and we dropped,/ We landed so hard that our clocks have all stopped" is a reference to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Adaptations in other media
Horton Hears a Who! was adapted into a half-hour animated TV special by MGM Animation/Visual Arts in 1970, directed by Chuck Jones (who also directed the television version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!), produced by Theodor Geisel, and with narration by Hans Conried, who also voiced Horton. In this direction, the Sour Kangaroo's name is Jane, while her son is named Junior. Jane was voiced by June Foray. In Russia, Alexei Karayev directed I Can Hear You in 1992, a 19-minute paint-on-glass-animated film which is based on the Russian translation of Seuss's poetry but features a very different visual style. The story, along with Horton Hatches the Egg, also provides the basic plot for the 2000 Broadway musical Seussical.
Horton Hears a Who! was adapted into a computer-animated feature-length film of the same name in 2008, using computer animation from Blue Sky Studios, the animation arm of 20th Century Fox. It was released on March 14, 2008. Jim Carrey voices Horton, Carol Burnett voices the Sour Kangaroo, who is called 'Kangaroo', and Steve Carell voices the Mayor of Who-ville (now named Ned McDodd).
Horton the Elephant's recurring phrase, "a person's a person, no matter how small", found its way to the center of the recurring debate in the United States, over abortion. Several pro-life groups have adopted the phrase in support of their views. Geisel's widow, Audrey Geisel, "doesn't like people to hijack Dr. Seuss characters or material to front their own points of view."  According to Geisel biographer Philip Nel, Geisel threatened to sue a pro-life group for using his words on their stationery.
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