The Butter Battle Book
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ8.3.G276 Bu 1984|
|Preceded by||Hunches in Bunches|
|Followed by||You're Only Old Once!|
The Butter Battle Book is a rhyming story written by Dr. Seuss. It was published by Random House Books for Young Readers on January 12, 1984. It is an anti-war story; specifically, a parable about arms races in general, mutually assured destruction and nuclear weapons in particular. The Butter Battle Book was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
This book was written during the Cold War era, and reflects the concerns of the time, especially the perceived possibility that all life on Earth could be destroyed in a nuclear war. It can also be seen as a satirical work, with its depiction of a deadly war based on a senseless conflict over something as trivial as a breakfast food. The concept of a war based on toast is similar to the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which was nominally based on the correct end to crack an egg once soft boiled.
The Butter Battle Book tells the story of a land where two hostile cultures, the Yooks and the Zooks, live on opposite sides of a long curving wall, fairly similar to the Berlin Wall. The Yooks wear blue clothes; the Zooks wear orange. The main dispute between the two cultures is that the Yooks eat their bread with the butter-side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter-side down. The conflict between the two sides leads to an escalating arms race, each competing to make bigger and better weapons to outdo the other, which results in the threat of mutual assured destruction.
The race begins when a Zook named Van Itch slingshots the Yooks' "Tough-Tufted Prickly Snick-Berry Switch", which could be used to give Zooks a twitch if they dared to come close to the wall, which was guarded by "the Zook-Watching Border Patrol". The Yooks then develop a machine with three slingshots interlinked, called a "Triple-Sling Jigger". This works once (Van Itch got scared and ran off), but the Zooks counterattack with their own creation: The "Jigger-Rock Snatchem", a machine with three nets to fling the rocks fired from the Triple-Sling Jigger back at the Yooks' side "just as fast as we catch 'em".
The Yooks then discover that slingshots are old-fashioned, and create a gun called the "Kick-A-Poo Kid", loaded with "powerful Poo-A-Doo powder and ants' eggs and bees' legs and dried-fried clam chowder", and toted by a dog named Daniel, the country's "first gun-toting spaniel". The Zooks counterattack with an "Eight-Nozzled Elephant-Toted Boom Blitz", a machine that shoots "high-explosive sour cherry stone pits, and will put your dumb Kick-A-Poo Kid on the fritz".
The Yooks then devise a machine called the "Utterly Sputter", a large blue mechanical device with two very tall mechanical legs, a cabin which resembles that of a rotorless helicopter's, and four faucets on the back, whose main purpose was to "sprinkle blue goo all over the Zooks". But the Zooks counterattack with a Sputter identical to the Yooks'. Eventually, each side possesses a small but extremely destructive red bomb called the "Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo" (a reference to the naming of the two atom bombs dropped by the US — "Fat Man" and "Little Boy"), the smallest weapon of all, and neither has any defense against it. The TV special (see below) demonstrates the development of the weapon in a mysterious and somewhat frightening mad scientist-style song (complete with living goo, floating rings, ghosts, snakes and exploding chemical flasks).
No resolution is reached by the book's end, with the generals of both sides on the wall poised to drop their bombs and waiting to see who will do it first. The question is left hanging for the reader to answer by his or her actions, much like the question "UNLESS" at the end of Dr. Seuss' book, The Lorax. The book thus departs from the commonly accepted approach to children's writing, of positive themes and resolution of the plot's conflict by the end of the story.
There was an animated TV special in 1989 by animator and filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, narrated by Charles Durning and produced by and aired on TNT. The special followed the book closely, notably in its preservation of the original cliffhanger ending of said book, hence the title card "The end... maybe." in the conclusion of the story. Seuss himself called the short the most faithful adaptation of his work.
- Charles Durning - Grandfather
- Christopher Collins - Chief Yookeroo
- Miriam Flynn - Additional Voices
- Clive Revill - Van Itch
- Joseph Cousins - Grandson
A National Review article finds it plausible that the rejection of the book stemmed from Seuss' promotion of a theme of "moral equivalence", where the difference between the Soviet Union and the United States was equivalent to a disagreement over the proper side on which to butter bread, presumably in addition to the theme of the arms race and mutually assured destruction. This issue was discussed in a National Review article published on July 27, 1984.
- Schrader, Alvin M., and Canadian Library, Association (1995). Fear of Words: Censorship and the Public Libraries of Canada. Ottawa, Ont.: Canadian Library Association
- The Butter Battle Book. - Free Online Library[dead link]