Thursday, August 31, 2006
Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon 3
Harold also does not know what it is he will create – though the landscape and everything in it is his own mental space he has the capacity to be surprised by his work. His tree “turns out to be” an apple tree, and he is frightened by his own dragon; he draws an ocean without realizing it and falls in. His imagination is both his, and something external (as "genius," in the ancient world, was a kind of daemon who followed us around).
This internal landscape is also one in which time does not exist: Harold decides what time it is when he creates the moon (I find it necessary to remind myself that the entire story takes place at night: even with the moon it is easy to forget that this is a nocturnal journey, as the blank page invokes a bright landscape). This is especially noticeable when Harold creates the apple tree: he creates the dragon to guard the tree to protect the apples from being destroyed before they ripen and become red, but the only reference to color (other than purple) in the story, along with the fact that all the images besides Harold are purple, only serves to emphasize that the apples will never get red. With its single tree this timeless Eden (Harold’s parents are never referenced in the narrative) breaks the second of Stevens’s commandments in Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (following “It must be abstract” and “It must give pleasure”) that, “It must change.” Change is impossible here.
On an additional Genesis note, Harold goes looking for a hill to see where he is, but realizing that the higher he is the farther he can see decides to “make the hill into a mountain.” “Making a [mole]hill out of a mountain” is an expression that means to make a big deal out of something small (as I am doing here), but is most often associated by the parallel hyperbole “making something out of nothing” which is exactly what happens in Harold’s narrative.