Beware the Wampus Cat

Out-Seussing Seuss

By Alessandro Meregaglia

The book was “just a lark,” Carol Angerbauer told me. Her grandfather, Henry Senger, sat around a kitchen table with Nick Villeneuve in a remote cabin near Grandjean that they called the “Chimney Chalet,” telling each other jokes and stories. Then they put pen to paper for “a book they didn’t intend to write.” In 1938, Hank’s Unnatural History Series: A Saga of the Sawtooths hit bookstore shelves.

I first encountered the book after I gave a talk about the history and importance of Caxton Printers, the long-time Idaho publisher located in Caldwell. I was familiar with Caxton’s more famous books but had not yet come across this title. After my lecture, an audience member came up to me with a copy of A Saga of the Sawtooths and asked if I knew anything about it. I had to admit that I did not. But I checked a copy out of the library the next day and immediately thought the artistry looked familiar.

The whimsical stylings and witticisms of author Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, appeared in a children’s book in December 1937, just a few months before Henry published  his and Nick’s book, which was printed by Caxton. But Carol told me Henry didn’t read Dr. Seuss. What’s more, while the first Dr. Seuss children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, did have rhyming prose and entertainingly drawn horses, zebras, reindeer, giraffes, and a blue elephant, it did not contain mythical animals like the Grinch or the Lorax for which the author later became famous. This might make a person wonder who was inspired by whom, although I’ve seen no evidence of such influence either way.

I looked up Nick’s obituary, which described his sketches in A Saga of the Sawtooths as “Paul Bunyanesque animals that inhabit the lofty Idaho mountains.”

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Alessandro Meregaglia

About Alessandro Meregaglia

Alessandro Meregaglia is an archivist and associate professor at Boise State University's Albertsons Library. He holds two master’s degrees from Indiana University, one in history and the other in library science. He lives in Boise with his wife and son.

One Response to Beware the Wampus Cat

  1. Alice Dunn - Reply


    I can hear those two lonely guys guffawing the evening away as they sketch their outlandish characters. I thought the same about Seuss back ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s when I was reading Seuss stories to my children. What an achievement and fun it would be to create crazy characters that entertain with outlandish characters doing wondrous, nutty things to laugh at while at the same time telling moral stories that teach worthwhile principles with with your own entertaining, outlandish stories.

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