Monday, August 21, 2006

Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon 1 (of 4)

My favorite childhood book was Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon. I thought I would do a series of four blogs about why I still think the book is interesting today. I want to start with an epigraph from Wallace Stevens's The Sail of Ulysses, before a short introduction and a summary of the book:
Under the shape of his sail, Ulysses,
Symbol of the seeker, crossing by night
The giant sea, read his own mind…

“There is a human loneliness,
A part of space and solitude,
In which knowledge cannot be denied,
In which nothing of knowledge fails…

This is the true creator, the waver
Waving purpling wands …”

In the introduction to the revised edition of Enjoy Your Symptom Slavoj Zizek quotes the “wise Jesuit motto” “give me a child till he is seven, and afterward you can do with him whatever you want” as an opening to his reading of Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O: there will always be hope for Lacan in America, says Zizek, as long as American children are exposed to these parables of the Lacanian opposition of desire and drive. It is in this vein that I want to go through Harold and the Purple Crayon as illustrative of a certain kind of solipsism that is central to the increasing internalization of post-Enlightenment poetry in English.

Harold and the Purple Crayon is the story of Harold, a toddler, and his crayon. On a blank white landscape, “after thinking it over for a while,” Harold decides to go for a walk in the moonlight, so he draws a moon and a long straight path (so as not to get lost). Because he appears to be getting nowhere he walks perpendicular to the path to “where he thought a forest ought to be,” and he draws a forest with a single tree (again, so as not to get lost). It “turned out to be” an apple tree and Harold, thinking the apples would be nice when they got red, draws a dragon underneath the tree to guard the apples. The dragon, however, frightens him, and, backing away with his hand shaking behind him he accidentally draws an ocean and falls in. He draws a sailboat, lands on a beach, and makes a picnic of pies; he draws a moose and a porcupine to finish the leftovers. Getting tired, he draws a mountain to see if he can see his house from the top (he knows the higher he goes the farther he can see) and go home. He falls off the top, through thin air because he only drew one side of the two-dimensional mountain. He draws a balloon to fly in; still not able to see the window to his room he lands and draws a house, but none of the windows are his. He draws more and more, finally drawing a city full of windows, none his. Deciding to ask a policemen for directions he draws one, but the policeman only dumbly points the way Harold was going anyway. Harold wishes he were home, and then remembers that his window is always right around the moon (which has been on every page since he first drew it): he draws a window around the moon, “[makes] his bed,” “[draws] up the covers” drops his crayon and drops off to sleep. The end.

That's the end of my setup. I will start the main discussion Thursday. Try to find the book in the meantime if you can. It's fantastic.

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