Sometimes, a well-known artist decides to shake things up and try something completely different than what they’re known for. Think Bryan Cranston transitioning from goofy comedic characters to Walter White. And when it works, it’s a truly impressive accomplishment.
But more often, these would-be groundbreaking projects are total flops, and today’s article is about an example of the latter.
It was 1939. A few years earlier, Theodore Geisel aka Dr. Seuss had published his first children’s books, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Vanguard Press was Dr. Seuss’s first book publisher, but in 1939 he switched to Random House. One condition of this switch that Dr. Seuss got Random House to let him do one book for adults.
If you’re thinking, “Uh-oh,” good instincts!
That adult book was The Seven Lady Godivas. In it, Dr. Seuss tells the story of the seven Godiva sisters, all of whom appear naked throughout the book. Their father has just died in a horse accident, and the sisters vow to not marry until they have each learned a valuable lesson about the nature of horses.
If that sounds bizarre to you, know that Dr. Seuss probably felt the same way. He later said, “I attempted to draw the sexiest babes I could, but they came out looking absurd.” Even better, on the very last page of the book, Dr. Seuss pays tribute to his Random House publisher, Bennett Cerf…by putting his name on a bucket of sap, implying that Cerf was being too nice in allowing the book to be published. The book was a total flop and only got reissued in 1987 because Dr. Seuss’s other books were so successful.
The book is mostly forgotten, but luckily for you, I’m going to take you through the whole thing RIGHT NOW!
1. The Foreword
Well this is interesting. I always thought “reboots” of beloved characters were something that only started happening in the 2010’s. Not so! Maybe this is going to be a dark, gritty version of Lady Godiva, kinda like Christopher Nolan’s Batman.
(Spoiler: I’m wrong.)
Also introduced are the seven Godiva sisters’ fiancees, the Peeping Brothers. Don’t worry, they’re not creeps who peep on naked women, it’s just a family name. A very unfortunate family name.
2. The Godiva Family Tree
Right now you may be thinking “Wait, there were SEVEN Lady Godivas???? I thought there was just one!” And you’re correct! The “real” Lady Godiva was a 13th century countess who stripped naked and rose through town on horseback to protest her husband’s refusal to raise taxes.
This family tree is the most Dr. Seuss thing ever, and it’s why he had the nickname “Guy Who Doesn’t Need LSD Because His Brain Already Does That For Him.”
3. The Dedication
And here are the names of the seven Godiva sisters. It might seem like most of these names are pretty clunky, but the book takes place in 1066. That’s a good couple centuries before acceptable girls’ names were invented.
4. Lord Godiva
And now the book begins. Lord Godiva, the girls’ father, is about to leave on horseback for the Battle of Hastings. The girls are horrified, not because he’s going to battle, but because he’s about to ride on a horse. You see, at this time horses were a misunderstood and dangerous mode of transportation, much like Segways are today.
What’s weird to me is how Clementina Godiva (aka the one in the middle), doesn’t have a butt crack. What, was it OK to show butt crack in 1939 as long as it was at an angle?
5. Off To Battle
Aaaaaaand mere seconds after leaving the castle, Dad’s horse throws him, and he dies.
If you think this is sad, and not SUPER embarrassing, picture this scenario. It’s 2017, and your father just pulled out of the driveway, crashed his van into the mailbox, and his car somehow exploded. You would say, “That wasn’t my dad. I was adopted.”
6. The Funeral
“Sorry, Dad. I wanted to buy you a real coffin, but Gussie and Dorcas said we could just put you on a rock. They don’t love you as much as I do.”
Anyway, while burying Dad, all seven sisters simultaneously have the same realization: this wouldn’t have happened if more was known about horses! They lock hands and swear a vow: “I swear that I shall not wed until I have brought to the light of this world some new and worthy Horse Truth, of benefit to man.”
Clementina, the oldest Godiva sister, gets a blank book and chains it to the horse stables for each sister to fill with horse knowledge. For the rest of the book, the sisters have a series of horse-related adventures that each lead to the creation of a popular phrase like, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
7. Meet The Fiancees
While the seven Godiva sisters are all learning about horses, the seven Peeping brothers will be learning about blue balls.
8. Horse Lesson #1: Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth
OK! We’re ready to start learning about horses, and right away we run into problems. Six of the sisters go off to ride horses, but Clementina, aka “Teenie,” is left out because, get this, she’s too fat to ride a horse. That’s literally what the book says. Remember, this was written in 1939, when our national past-times were baseball and fat shaming
9. A Merry Disfigurement
So what does Teenie do? While hanging around the barn, she notices one of the horses yawning a lot, so she looks in its mouth, and the horse bites her nose right off.
I TOLD YOU THIS WASN’T A BOOK FOR CHILDREN! (Sabbath rules.)
And this is how the phrase “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” was coined. (The gift part comes in because the horse was a gift from some uncle of theirs, and it doesn’t factor into the story.)
We’re only one lesson in and we’ve already had a horrible disfigurement. But actually Teenie is thrilled because at least now she can have sex.
10. Horse Lesson #2: Don’t Put The Cart Before The Horse.
Dorcas is up next. She watches a horse pull a cart through the town and thinks, “Hey, what if the cart were in front of the horse instead?”
So, she literally puts a cart in front of the horse, and as you can see, the horse hates it. The horse gets so mad that he purposely crashes into a tree and kills himself to escape his living nightmare of a life.
I wish I were kidding.
And if you think that’s enough animal torture for one book, just read on to the next lesson!