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Literature / Horton Hatches the Egg

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"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant... An elephant's faithful—one hundred per cent!"

In this well-known Dr. Seuss book from 1940, a lazy bird named Mayzie talks Horton the elephant into watching her egg. In spite of her promise to be back soon, the pachyderm finds himself egg sitting through fall and winter. His friends make fun of him; hunters capture him, but nothing will keep Horton from his sworn duty to the egg...and he is eventually rewarded.

The story was adapted into a Looney Tunes short in 1942, directed by Bob Clampett. The book would eventually get a sequel titled Horton Hears a Who! in 1954.

Horton Hatches the Egg provides examples of:

  • And Your Reward Is Parenthood.
  • Ambiguously Absent Parent: We never see the elephant-bird's biological father, though Horton probably becomes its adopted father at the end.
  • Artistic License – Ornithology: There are no known species of bird that has an incubation period of almost a year.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Horton's circus arrives in the very town Mayzie has been staying in since the beginning of the story. Not only that, but the egg also begins to hatch the moment Mayzie sees Horton.
  • Determinator: Horton, who else? He keeps his promise to protect the egg even in terrible weather, and even when his life is threatened by big-game hunters. (They spare his life, thinking taking him alive would be more profitable, but that only makes his ordeal worse.) As he himself says, "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant... An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent!"
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Some of the animals heckling Horton are a moose and a kangaroo and her joey, both of their designs very similar to Thidwick and Jane and Junior that would appear in later Seuss books.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Horton, having signed on for an afternoon of babysitting, spends a miserable 51 weeks getting snowed on, threatened with guns, used as a circus exhibit, and mocked by the other animals. But in the end, he gets a child and is returned to his old home, "Happy one hundred percent."'
  • Egg Macguffin: The main plot is about waiting for an egg to hatch.
  • Get Out!: Mayzie tells Horton to scram when the egg begins to hatch.
    "But it's mine!" screamed the bird when she heard the egg crack.
    The work was all done; now she wanted it back.
    "It's my egg!" she sputtered. "You stole it from me.
    Get off of my nest and get out of my tree."
  • Happily Adopted: Horton is not the egg's biological father, but the elephant-bird that hatches from it doesn't seem to mind.
  • Hate Sink: Mayzie. She’s a lazy, neglectful bird who doesn't care about hatching her own egg and quickly passes the job on to Horton. She only happens upon Horton again by pure chance, and discovering he's loyally done the job, then lies and claims he stole the egg from her.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Mayzie. Along with "Yertle The Turtle", this is one of the only Dr. Seuss stories to have an antagonist get comeuppance (appropriately, Yertle got his the same way) rather than making a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Honorable Elephant: As much as he wants to leave the nest, Horton refuses to go back on his word and sticks it out until the egg finally hatches. His Survival Mantra is even the quote for the main page.
  • I Gave My Word: Horton sticks with his agreed-upon egg-sitting, no matter how much suffering it puts him through, and no matter how much the bird is abusing it.
  • Imprinting: The elephant-bird seems to see Horton as its dad, judging by how it flies up to him.
  • Interspecies Adoption: Well, sort of. The egg hatches an elephant-bird, and it is raised by Horton, who is an elephant.
  • Jerkass: Mayzie, natch.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Mayzie's baby inexplicably hatches having much greater resemblance (and attachment) to Horton, who has been watching over it the majority of the time. As such Horton ends up its adoptive father, while a fuming Mayzie is left with nothing.
  • Lazy Bum: Mayzie. The reason she hands the egg-sitting job over to Horton is because she can't be bothered sitting on it herself.
  • Mama Bear: Averted by Mayzie during the climax. When she accuses Horton of stealing the egg, she is lying to making him feel bad.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Mayzie abandons her egg and has Horton take care of it, completely inverting the roles of the usual caring mother and deadbeat dad.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Horton appears to be an African elephant, which are supposed to live in tropical climates, however the seasons that pass by are those of temperate climates. Even discounting the weather, Horton's friends include a lion, a giraffe, a hippo... and a deer and a kangaroo.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The elephant-bird.
  • Never My Fault: Mayzie. She ignores the egg and dumps it with Horton simply because she was too lazy to hatch it herself, then turns around and accuses him of trying to steal it when it hatches (at which point, she all of a sudden starts caring).
  • Never Say "Die": Averted in the original draft of the book, in which one of the lines was "Night and day they went on, and he thought he would die." Played straight in the finished book, where the line is changed to "Up out of the jungle! Up into the sky!"
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Because of his taking care of the egg for Mayzie, Horton becomes a laughingstock and is almost killed by hunters.
  • Parental Abandonment: Mayzie, who decides that she'd rather be in Palm Beach than watching her egg.
  • The Reliable One: Horton, as noted in his catch phrase, he is always faithful, one hundred percent.
  • Somewhere, a Mammalogist Is Crying: Horton's comment that he "must weight a ton" is an understatement; a full-grown African elephant weights six to eight tons; propping the tree up likely wouldn't have prevented him from crushing it in reality.
  • Survival Mantra: Horton, while suffering through many terrible conditions taking care of the egg, says many times, "I meant what I said/And I said what I meant./An elephant's faithful/One hundred percent."
  • Taking Advantage of Generosity: Mayzie really milks her vacation while poor Horton suffers with her egg.
  • Unbroken Vigil: Horton sits on the egg for 51 weeks nonstop.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Mayzie, upon finally returning for her egg that Horton has been watching for 51 weeks, pretty much just tells him to push off.
  • Walking Spoiler: It's hard to describe the egg without revealing that there is an elephant-bird in the egg.
  • Wingding Eyes: After being taken by the hunters and now being shipped over seas, we see a very seasick Horton with Xs for eyes.