Patrick Brehany. Contributing Writer
The practice of making public one’s literary influences – subjecting a bookshelf or book to the scrutiny of friends and strangers who are often better educated or have their own strong opinions – can often seem perilous. And yet, perhaps because it offers such a rare opportunity to inspire and communicate, we all engage in the practice.
Although four-million people may have seen the same YouTube video, it is always a great pleasure to find someone who has read the same book. The experience is akin to meeting a fellow adventurer, someone who has trod the same strange shores.
The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson will launch you on an unforgettable voyage. Johnson’s whimsical children’s stories (there are nine) contain only two important elements: a boy called Harold, and his purple crayon. Armed only with his instrument of imagination, Harold creates worlds that are familiar, but also beautiful, simple and unpretentious.
Each short story finds Harold alternately fashioning and responding to the world around him. For instance, during a long walk, Harold draws an apple tree and a dragon to guard it; the appearance of which is so frightening that his hand shakes, creating an ocean and the new necessity for a boat.
There are many reasons to read Harold and the Purple Crayon, such as fun, the aesthetics and an opportunity for contemplation. Face it, by this time in the academic year, following Harold to outer space is much more attractive than following Dante further into the Inferno.
The timeless illustrations draw the reader in, seamlessly flowing from page to page. While Johnson does provide a few illuminating words, for the most part one is content simply to follow each new twist in the ever-advancing purple story.
As for contemplation, already I have written more words than Johnson’s stories contain in their entirety, but their enduring quality deserves consideration. The worlds that Harold creates are somehow familiar and yet foreign.
Such questions as, How am I related to the world around me? and What ability do I have to change the world? quickly come to mind. But before I embarrass myself describing Harold’s metaphysics, I will leave these larger questions to your imagination.
Throughout my life, I have found great joy in returning to Harold and his adventures. Each new reading brings comfort and inspiration. For those of you who have not read The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon and for those who are returning to Harold’s world after a long absence, the decision to read should be as easy as Harold “drawing” up the covers after a long adventure.