Something about Horton Hears a Who has bothered me ever since I first read this book, and it has everything to do with Horton finding the clover.
In the picture that shows Horton speaking to the speck after hours of searching, we can see that he’s picked the field clean. There are piles of dead clovers everywhere. I always thought 3 million was too low. But I never did the math.
First, I’ll say that I’m not going to address the fact that from 7 a.m. to noon, Horton has picked up 9,005 clovers, but by the evening, he’s up to 3 million.
So let’s put the facts out on the table. Horton finds the speck on the 3 millionth flower, and he does it in one day.
Disclaimer: I’m bad at math.
Dr. Seuss said the clover field is 100 miles wide. We don’t know how long it is, but let’s assume it’s 100 miles long as well. That means it’s 10,000 square miles in area. Now, we don’t know what kind of clover inhabits this field, but let’s assume that it’s the red clover, which is actually pink. The red clover’s flower measures from 1.5 to 2.5 centimeters. Let’s use the average of 2 centimeters, and again, let’s assume that it’s 2 centimeters in both directions, so 4 square centimeters in area.
10,000 square miles contains 258,998,811,033,600 square centimeters, or about 260 trillion square centimeters for those of you who are too lazy to count the digits and commas in that number. So if a clover is 4 square centimeters, that means there are approximately 65 trillion clovers in the field, and that’s a low estimate, considering that flowers often intrude on each other’s personal space.
But Horton finds it relatively quickly, on the 3 millionth flower! This is much, much less than 65 trillion. How much smaller is it? It’s 21,666,666.6667 times smaller. And while we’re on this number, look at all those 666’s! What kind of secret message was Dr. Seuss trying to write?
And another thing: Horton finds the speck in the afternoon of the same day, which is mind-boggling when you think about it. His search efforts went like this: he would pick up a clover, ask “Are you there?” and wait for a response. How long he waited, we don’t know, but let’s say he spent a total of 7 seconds on each clover, and he didn’t find the speck until he reached the final flower.
Even with just 3 million clovers, that would take 21 million seconds. Do you even know how long that is? That’s 243 days!
Let’s go with my 65 trillion flower theory. Let’s say he spent half a second on each flower. That’s 32.5 trillion seconds, or 376,157,407 days. But there’s no way he could do that and be totally sure that he wasn’t missing anything. If he spent 7 seconds with each flower, it would take him 455 trillion seconds to get through all of them, or 5,266,203,703 days, or 14,427,955 years.
African elephants have an average lifespan of 70 years, meaning Horton would have spent 206,113 lifetimes looking for this clover.
But I know what you’re all thinking: how many times could Horton have watched the extended version of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in that span of time? Well, those three movies are a combined 682 minutes or 40,920 seconds long (not including additional credits). So Horton could have watched short hairy people try to destroy a piece of jewelry 11,119,257,087 times.
In short, it would be impossible for Horton to find the clover in one day, or one lifetime if he were a regular elephant. I’m guessing he is an alien or some sort of supernatural being, like an elephant angel (elephangel?) who can somehow freeze time. That is the only logical explanation I can think of.
You may not know this, but some people believe Horton Hears a Who is based on a true story. Legend has it that on his second trip to Africa, Dr. Seuss met with several tribes, all of whom told stories of a benevolent elephant who took care of a tiny world.
I made up this legend.
Dr. Seuss thought this would be a good idea for a book, but he realized that it was too far out for American audiences, so he twisted the truth of the story. If children were reading about a supernatural elephant who could transcend space and time, well, that would cause all sorts of problems and plant weird ideas in their heads. Dr. Seuss had to tone it down. For the kids.
How did it work out? Well, the book was first published in 1954. Now look at where we are as a society. Whether you think it’s great or terrible, you owe it all to Dr. Seuss. Who knows where we’d be if our parents grew up wanting to become Horton, the extraterrestrial flower-counting monster?
The moral of the whole story: If you’re about to be killed, just scream. Someone’s bound to hear you. Unless you’re in space. In space, no one can hear you scream “Fire” in a crowded movie theater. Or something like that.