HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, an enchanting “children’s” book written by Crockett Johnson and published in 1955, extols the unlimited possibilities at hand when we use our imagination. I discovered it as an adult in my 40s in the discount bin of a bookstore and it has become one of my all-time favorites.
Within this story, my story, fueled by my imagination, I will teeter-totter back and forth between Harold and another character I’ve created, named Little Hands. Harold, a toddler in a bunny sleeper and a few wisps of hair, possesses an unbridled imagination and uses his fat purple crayon to create the possibility of beauty, magic, fun, and adventure everywhere he goes. On the contrary, Little Hands, a toddler of 70 years of age who wears an abnormally-long red tie, possesses no imagination whatsoever and wreaks havoc with his ballpoint pen while sitting at his oversized desk. Using his signature alone, (as he has no imagination), he is able to demolish all things beautiful, worthwhile and good. Carry on, Gentle Reader:
One night, Harold awakens with the desire to take a walk in the moonlight. He steps outside to discover that, before him lies a wide open void. His world looks just like my computer screen did before I started tapping away – blank. Harold has no problem that there’s no moon, no sky in which to hang the moon, nor are there any stars to decorate the sky. Oh, and there’s no place to walk, either. Harold is unfazed, for Harold has his imagination. Harold has a mind filled with creative potential. Harold has his fat, purple crayon, the servant of his imagination, poised at-the-ready in his fingertips. Harold wields his crayon like a magic wand. Whatever Harold can imagine, whatever Harold wants to see or experience, is only a crayon stroke away.
Little Hands, who lives in an Alternative Evil Dimension, in a void of his own making, far away from anything moral, ethical or, well, just plain human, steps outside and discovers that the only thing out there is himself. But he’s okay with that. He sees nothing but the possibility of drawing the world in his own image of fear and anger, madness, chaos and destruction. Ballpoint pen in hand, he plops his fleshy derriere into his chair.
The first thing Harold does is draw a horizontal line. That’s how he creates a point of reference, a literal horizon. Now, he’s standing on the ground and he has someplace to walk.
The first thing Little Hands does is issue a federal gag order on the National Parks Service, so the good people in charge of informing The- Good-People-At-Large are prohibited from tweeting with their own countrymen. This creates a shock wave that runs collectively through The-Good-People-At-Large. Little Hands’ action serves to unsteady the ground of The-Good-People-At-Large, who now question the stability of their every step. Little Hands strides onward, ballpoint pen quivering in his grimy paw.
If Harold wants to fulfill his wish of walking in the moonlight, he’s going to have to draw that moon. He raises his hand, purple crayon at the ready and does just that. He places the moon above his horizon, thereby creating a sky to boot.
Next, he draws a footpath, a forest with only one tree so he won’t get lost (isn’t Harold brilliant?) and a dragon to guard the apples that are growing on the tree. Now, about that dragon: Harold, so overtaken by the excitement of original thought, ends up drawing a dragon so fierce that it frightens even him! He backs away from his scary creation, clutching his purple crayon in his shaking hand, and inadvertently ends up drawing a wavy line.
Little Hands decides to do nothing but draw attention to himself. Unlike Harold, he thinks he doesn’t need a moon because he IS the moon (isn’t that silly?) He places himself above the horizon and decides that he’s the sky, too!
He his ample backside back down at his desk and draws a cabinet of inept, dangerous cronies that share his skin color. He draws a dragon with a head that looks just like his, meant to terrify all those Good-People-At-Large, which is easy to do because, let’s face it: in 2017, a man with a combover is a grotesque sight! Little Hands clutches his pen and, brow a-scowling, puts the finishing touches on 15 more dragons that look more or less just like him.
Harold’s wavy line morphs into the shape of waves – and ocean – which sweep him up and down and all around. To rescue himself, Harold, who is a master improvisor (a sure sign of high intelligence), draws himself a boat and finds his way to safety to an unknown shore of his own making.
Little Hands, having no imagination whatsoever, only knows how to direct his wavy line into the shape of his own signature, that he writes at the bottom of lots and lots of official documents that result in everyone outside of his office getting hurt. The Good-People-At-Large find themselves swept up in a raging sea of anxiety and insomnia, fearing for the safety and wellbeing of their loved ones and their very nation itself. Little Hands strangles his ballpoint pen and retreats into his own world of anger, paranoia, and megalomaniacal control, plotting what he can destroy next.
The rest of the story revolves around Harold seeking to find his way back home. En route, he wields his purple crayon like a swashbuckler and even creates an entire city with countless windows, hoping that one of them will turn out to be his.
The rest of Little Hands’ story revolves only around him. Many people want to make a home in the Land of Alternative Reality but Little Hands wields his pen like a rusty sword, butchering every established institution, civil right, and sense of community with abandon, leaving all of The-Good-People-At-Large feeling unsafe, confused and angry. He creates an entire house filled with windows that only reflect him back to himself. He is, as the old saying goes, “happy as a clam”.
Harold, caught up in the whirlwind of adventure, eventually recalls how he used to see the moon through the window of his bedroom. All he needs to do now is draw a box around the moon et voila, he’s home! once again gazing out at his old pal, the Man in the Moon.
Little Hands has forgotten everything, specifically, he’s forgotten how to be a human being. He draws a box around himself and snags the moon right out of the sky. “Nobody else needs the moon”, he scowls.
Harold draws a comfy bed around himself and drifts off into a peaceful sleep, elated over all the adventures that he had singlehandedly created for himself that night, fueled by the majesty and craft of his own, magical imagination.
Little Hands draws a coffin around himself and drops his burly ass into it. He will rest peacefully this night as well, having spent his day feeding off the souls of his own people and sucking the lifeblood out of his own nation. The corners of his lips curl into a rigid smile, and he is superlatively content, knowing that he created plenty of misery and anxiety for all The-Good-People-At-Large that day and relishing the promise of dismantling The Constitution, bit-by-bit.