On loathing “The Giving Tree”: a literary historical footnote

from an interview with editor Phyllis J. Fogelman with Leonard S. Marcus, published in Horn Book in March/April 1999

LSM: One of the books you worked on at Harper was Shel Siverstein’s The Giving Tree (1964). Tell me about that experience.

PJF: Shel had originally submitted drawings for the book in the “scratchy” style of his very popular Playboy cartoons. When I suggested that he might want to redo the art, he said very firmly, “No. That’s how I see the book and that’s how it should stay.” Then, about a month later, he called me up and said, “Phyl, I have a question to ask you. If someone sees something one way originally and then later on sees it quite differently, do you think that that person should stick with the original version or do it the way he’s thinking of now?” Naturally I said, “The way he’s thinking of it now. That brings it right up to date!” And so he redid the artwork in the more pared-down and much sweeter style that everyone now knows, and it was just right for the book.

I must add that ever since then I have had qualms about my part in the publication of The Giving Tree, which conveys a message with which I don’t agree. I think it is basically a book about a sadomasochistic relationship and that it elevates masochism to the level of a good. Of course, millions of readers have apparently felt otherwise.

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