Monday, May 21, 2007

Overthinking Harold's Purple Nightmare

We've been reading Harold and the Purple Crayon to The Mayor lately.

haroldpurple

Harold exists in a blank world with nothing but a purple crayon. He must invent everything around him by drawing it himself.

The first time we read it The Mayor found it a little upsetting.

Harold can't find his own house, his own window or his own bed.

The Mayor was anxious.

I know it is suppposed to be
an "understated tribute to the imagination, reminding us of the marvels the mind can create and giving us the wondrous sense that anything is possible..."

hpcPath

But I hated the book as a child. (I do recall my brother loving it though.)

Harold lives in a world of nothingness, endless, boundless, limitless white space.

Anything he wants to experience he must create himself.

Fair enough on one level, but...

He is searching for "home" and he can't find it.

Harold falls into the sea, he plummets down the far side of a moutain.

He comforts himself with nine kinds of pie.

[Note to self: NINE KINDS OF PIE!!]

He creates a dragon to protect his apples, but then he's afraid of it (and so am I!)


harolds-purple-crayon



The policeman he invents to help him find his way is not at all helpful (or real.)


hpcCop


Harold is alone, utterly and completely alone.

He creates a city void - an endless sea of empty windows.

Poor Harold. No one to talk to... nowhere to turn.


hpcCity


In the end, Harold has to draw "home" and sleep there.


hpcCovers


Maybe this book is some kind of litmus test for personality type.

Perhaps some people experience the book as an
existential celebration of the human capacity to create meaning in life while others find it a woeful tale of isolation and lonliness.

I want Harold to wake up from his bad dream in the end. I want him to find his "real" home -- a place where he has parents and where purple is not the only color.

[What does this say about me?]

At the end of the book, I can't help but feeling like Harold is either suffering from a severe mental illness or he is in hell.

HE IS IN HELL I TELL YOU!!!

Wait.

Could Harold be...

THE DEVIL HIMSELF?


Effing children's books.

92 comments:

DD said...

We have that book as well, and our son love it. However, I find the story where Harold gets lost on Mars rather scary so you might want to skip that one as long as possible.

Toni said...

I have never heard of this book! I am shocked! I don't think I would like it very much either!

Jenny said...

I never liked that book. It always seemed so cold and alien to me. You nailed it.

QueenB said...

We like Harold here, although I do see what you mean. I never liked this book all that much as a child.

They made a series of cartoons based on the book (or books) and they're somewhat warmer-although purple is still predominant.

Get the Mayor into Where the Wild Things Are. That's one we love. I love that Max's mom still brings up his dinner at the end.

tulipmom said...

Sweet Boy never liked that book. To be honest, I didn't give it much thought. But now that you mention it, I totally see why.

Jodi the Librarian said...

Maybe I need to re-read some "classic" childhood books from an adult perspective. No telling what kind of long-term psychological damage I caused by reading "The Foot Book" to my son 8 bajillion times before he was one year old. Maybe he'll be a podiatrist?

Patience said...

I've never seen that book, but, in my humble and honest opinion, tha's one weird book!

momomax said...

I feel better after my morning shnicker. thanks.

Max doesn't like watching the tv version of Harold. He's always freaked out when it's on. I like to live in an abstract world like any good Pixie, but this is pushing it.

Wendy said...

I have never read this book, but I think my daughter has experienced it in school. She didnt seem bothered, but now I am. That book will never enter my home. I need to go cry and lay in bed all day. What a sad book.

Poor Harold, I hope you find your way home and smack your mama, who wasnt watching you as you fell into this deep hole of despair.

Pecos Blue said...

Wow that is disturbing. We just got the one of him planting the carrot seed. And I was thinking about how harsh it was that his mother, father and brother said over and over it wont grow. Not so supportive. Not sure I liked it and I do not like this one for sure. Thank you for the review.

Anonymous said...

Your mom - the former children's librarian never liked Harold either - and I don't remember that your brother did. If I read that book to him, I've blocked it from my memory ;-) Love, Grandma Seattle

Jenny Ryan said...

Oh I am SO glad I never knew about that book when I was a kid. I already was having existential crises starting at about age 7 anyway, and that book I think would have just made my brain totally explode.

Lawyer Mama said...

I've always hated that book too! I hadn't thought about it in years and years and now I realize *why* it made me so uncomfortable. I can understand why the Mayor was disturbed.

Poor Harold.

Abbynormal said...

That's sad.

Life As I Know It said...

I've never even heard of this book, which, I guess, is a good thing!

Above Average Joe said...

Slow down, breathe, & stop listening to the voices in your head. He is not in hell, nor is he the devil.

Now some of those Dr. Suess books, I would wonder.

radical mama said...

We love Harold over here at the radical house. I think it's all the purpleness in the book. I do have three girlie-girls, ya know.

Jodi the Librarian said...

OK, now *I* am over-analyzing poor Harold. I can see how a child might enjoy the idea that he has the power to create his own world. There isn't much they get to control, really.

Except, of course, how they totally control us with their superpower: whining.

liv said...

Dude. He is in hell. But, that's from me, miss INFJ...and the person who couldn't stand Le Petit Prince...

Never heard of this book, but I don't think it will earn a place on our shelves. Thanks for the preview...

katy said...

My kids loved all books but that one always left me feeling worried for Harold. We all always loved the I'll love you Forever book too but I worried that the mother in the book may need some help to learn when to let go.

Jen Magnuson said...

I remember a horrible nightmare I had in first grade about that dragon! To this day I can remember how it made me feel. Unsettled and scared, that's how. You're right, effing children's books.

Rock the Cradle said...

In the world of graphic design, purple is the color of death. At least, it used to be. Coincidence?

It's unsettling in that classic way...the way that(once upon a time) fairy tales didn't have happy endings. Post Warner Brothers, I can't help thinking about Duck Amuck every time I read it.

The Impling loves this book, although I think the main attraction for her is when we make up names for the 9 kinds of pie. Things get very creative.

Jen Magnuson said...

Oh, and speaking of weird children's books, add songs to the list. My nine year old came home from French class singing the very popular French children's song...

"Alouette, gentil aloette
Alouette, je te plumerai."

Remember Pepe le Pew singing that one? Translation: "Oh, the lark, oh the gentle lark. Oh, the lark. I will pluck you." The other verses deal with the parts of the lark to be plucked head, neck, back).

We are screwing up our kids all over the world!

CamiKaos said...

I will NEVER read that book to K. She would have nightmares for a month. Hell I would too... I hated that book as a kid and I am normally super pro imagination... but it is just sad.

slouching mom said...

Yep, I'm definitely in the minority here.

But my boys both love Harold.

Even my anxious one.

Loves it. Wants it over and over.

I do think you can flip Harold's powerlessness and see it as power to create his own landscape... (Yes, he makes his dragon too scary, but then he fixes the situation himself.)

Whatever. To each his/her own!

Paige said...

Note to self: Must not introduce Harold's Purple Nightmare to the fair -- and OCD-ish -- Avery Lane.

Disaster will likely ensue if I do.

bubandpie said...

At least Harold WANTS to go home (like Dorothy). I always founds those kinds of books less frightening than those - like the Alice books - where the protagonist doesn't know how to get home and doesn't care.

aimee / greeblemonkey said...

This is why we have not read that book to Declan. He's run screaming into the night.

PunditMom said...

If I could have left my house and drawn one without my parents when I was that age, I think I would have turned out a tad better adjusted!

karrie said...

Maybe I have something to blame for all the purple scribbles on my white walls?

:)

Karen Forest said...

I have never heard of this book. No one read it to me as a child and for this I must thank them.

Blog Antagonist said...

Both my boys loved this book, but I found it creepy even as a child. Do you remember that kid Simon that drew things that came to life? That was much more my speed.

The Holmes said...

Yikes! That just makes me want to go find that little boy and help him find his way home.

Natalie said...

I loved that book. I liked the idea of being able to create whatever you needed. Purple has always been one of my favorite colors.

Slackermommy said...

We have the Harold books and I've never actually read them. Now you've got me curious.

Queen Karana said...

I think I was always fascinated by that book as an adult because I never read it as a child. But once I read it, never really cared for it. Out of the 3 or 4 HUNDRED children's books that we do own, Harold's Purple Crayon is NOT one of them. I think I was always afraid that my kids would grab the purple crayon and decorate our walls. :)

I thought I was going to be the first one to post this morning, but then I couldn't figure out how to post. It seemed like the link was gone. Weird. And oh well. :)

Little Nut Tree said...

I think I'm with you on that.. I have never heard of this book and now I'm feeling all sad about where this little boy's mummy is :(

Shauna said...

I liked that book as a child. So I got it for my kids, but Nicholas doesn't like it. He likes "Harold's Fairy Tale," though. And that one is a little warmer - Harold finds his mama in that one.

Craze said...

Yuck, I don't think I would like that book at all.

That's like reading the Three Billy Goats Gruff to your kid, mine did not like that story at all!

Honeybell said...

I had vaguely heard of the book before~was it made into a cartoon as well at some point? Anyway, I was unsettled by your description after the first few sentences. Poor Harold! I have to reassure my 5 year old sometimes that I'll always be with him, I'll never buy that book!

Seattle Mamacita said...

i feel the same way about Goodnight Moon not that it is disturbing in anyway but just so utterly boring...

Grim Reality Girl said...

I always LOVED Harold and the purple crayon. In my youth, I thought Harold was pretty HOT in his footed PJ's. I believed he could draw wonderful gifts and places for me -- Oh the power Harold held in that purple crayon. He had the power to change the world. He had the power to make dreams come true. Harold was my hero.

I was shocked, appalled and sadly disappointed when my kids didn't dig Harold. Hello? Are you really MY kids?

Momish said...

I Never knew of these book. God is merciful after all cause I would have been a wreck. My child will be shielded.

Aliki2006 said...

I still haven't read that book to either kid--now I'm not sure I ever will.

jess said...

I always found the Harold books disturbing too. All of my worst nightmares as a kid were of waking up and finding myself completely alone, and not being able get back to my family.

Jenifer said...

We have this book, but for some reason we have never read it. It has somehow never been touched in six years.

I had a vague idea of what it was like, now I know more and can't say I am in any real hurry to read it.

One of my friend's just can't get over the fact that Max & Ruby have no parents - they take the bus alone! She just can't get past it, freaks her right out.

charlottalove said...

Although I'm in the minority, I LOVED that book. My brother and I read it so much, we tattered the corners, lost the cover page, and even tore a few pages. Loved Harold! I liked how he encouraged creativity. He could create something and if he didn't like it, change it. Sometimes in life, people need to know that a situation can be changed if it's something they don't like.
Anyway, I loved harold!

FENICLE said...

I HATED Harold and that book. Harold had no boundaries. I NEED BOUNDARIES!!!!

carmachu said...

He;s not the devil. Sheesh, you southerners.

He's God, he creates everything he needs. Get it right.

jeanie said...

I feel blessed that that book has passed me by - I mean, we were distraught after Piglet's Big Movie (because his memories got lost - no matter how the others tried to fix the problem, that was the grief)...

I second Where the Wild Things Are

Aldon Hynes said...

I did not read that book when I was little, and only first learned about it in Janet Murray's book, Hamlet on the Holodeck, the future of narrative in Cyberspace.

In it, she talks about the importance of the moon as the touchstone that we can always draw on to return safely to our room.

"Participatory narrative, then, raises several related problems: How can we enter the fictional world without disrupting it? How can we be sure that imaginary actions will not have real results? How can we act on our fantasies without becoming paralyzed by anxiety? The answer to all of these questions lies in the discovery of the digital equivalent of the theater's fourth wall. We need to define the boundary conventions that will allow us to surrender to the enticements of the virtual environment. We cannot pick up the magic crayon until we have a clear fix on Harold's moon"
(p. 103)

To a certain extent, the stories we are coloring in with our purple blogging pens can be as scary as Harold's story, if we lose sight of Harold's moon, or whatever it is that grounds us back to daily life.

Oh, and my wife and five year old love the Harold books.

Gingers Mom said...

I haven't read that one to be honest. Some kids books ARE scary.

notfearingchange said...

ummm...if he lives in a world of nothingness, there is nothing to socialize him of the objects of his need and/or desire therefore there is truly a flaw in the logic of that book....

I hate the book.

That is my review....tada... ;-)

Starrlight said...

Children's books and films are the most sadistic genre I have ever encountered. I hated Harold too.

Aldon Hynes said...

Follow up: Although I disagree strongly with those who dislike the book, I thought this was a great post and I awarded it a Thinking Blogger Award.

Stop by at Orient Lodge to about the award and my take on the story.

BOSSY said...

Bossy agrees with Joys: Deeply Disturbing. Of course Bossy grew up in a high rise and so habitually located her own bedroom window - on the 19th floor - in the midst of the freshly scribbled Harold cityscape and felt perfectly comforted. A little illusion goes a long way with Bossy.

The Sour Kraut said...

Try the show on HBO family. In it, he has a home and a bed but draws his adventure. It's much better than the book.

LeRoy Dissing said...

I have never read this book and it wouldn't appeal to us to buy it for the kids. I am not sure if they would get anything out of it since kids love colors, but kids do view the world differently than adults - don't they?

Omaha Mama said...

That is hilarious! I find it a little upsetting too and tell myself it's because I like some boundaries. And to be with people. Real people - not fake purple people.

Great post!

KC said...

This is getting way too deep for me...metaphors of Satan or God... let's talk about poop or something. Non-purple poop.

moosh in indy. said...

I read some damn book to the moosh tonight where the chicken and all her friends were eaten by a fox so they never made it to the castle.
WTF?

carrie said...

Harold has always creeped me out. I hope he wakes up soon too.

Carrie

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I have always LOVED this series. Loved it so much that my mother gave me a purple crayon when I graduated from college. I suppose it was so that I could draw me some money since I was going to be starting at $16k a year.

theotherbear said...

That looks like a truly scary book to me.

Cathy said...

As someone who grew up deeply disturbed by the whole concept of "eternity" and "nothingness" -- I have to say Harold's adventures sound a tad disturbing.

Ick.

Definitely not bedtime fare in our house. Not because of the kids' reaction, necessarily, but because it would give their weirdo, neurotic mommy nightmares.

Sher said...

I am so completely depressed right now, I want to draw myself jumping from a building. Maybe the second floor. I'm afraid of heights.

I'm guessing you're not getting enough Xanex in your diet. Perhaps a valium smoothie would hit the spot. :-)

jen said...

i've not had the pleasure of meeting Harold. but on first pass, given your post, i sadly think i need some sort of lines to define things around me, purple or not (as much as I'd prefer it wasn't true)

LZ Blogger said...

I always loved the COLOR PURPLE! ~ jb///

EE said...

We have the book. My kids never wanted to read it...Thank God!

urban-urchin said...

My kids love the Harold stories (they also have a show on HBO kids). My daughter's take is that he can draw his own reality.

Janet a.k.a. "Wonder Mom" said...

Funny. I hated that book as a kid too. I always found it creepy and upsetting.

Glad I'm not the only one.

The OE said...

I'm a consultant myself at times (I freelance). Harold reminds me of a part of me. In many ways he is an analogy of a secret agent.

Bungi said...

This story is scary... Thank God i didn't grow up hearing such stories. I would have been scarred for life..

Bon said...

i only discovered this book not quite two years ago...a friend of mine had her childhood copy on the bedside table when we visited. loved it. bought it for the-child-who-eventually-became-O. am now wondering if perhaps that was a kindness.

blogging has introduced me to a fascinating world of children's lit crit...so many of the books that made me feel 'better', in that unsettling, literary catharsis way, are vehemently hated by waaaay more people than i'd ever suspected. litmus test indeed...i'm starting to think perhaps i should have had a happier childhood and i wouldn't have loved all the sad and creepy books so much. :)

Mrs. Chicken said...

I'm no fan of Harold's. It freaks me out, because I am a home-seeking personality from the git-go. He always seems so lonely.

Mr. Chicken loved it. Go figure.

homemom3 said...

I have a confession....I've never read this book. Not as a child, not as an adult, not even as a mother. Guess I should check it out and see what I think of it. I can see my son would love the book because you get to create your own world, whereas BabyGirl would flip out if I read it to her.

gingajoy said...

we don't have it, and NOR WILL WE EVER! Oy. That really is creepy.

Mad Hatter said...

Hey! Harold was featured in my post yesterday too.

I love Harold. Miss M loves Harold. I like the word play in it. My artist friend loves the way it acts as an object lesson for how to draw.

Children are ALWAYS alone in children's literature and death is a major theme. That's just the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

Mad Hatter said...

Back again, knowing that I won't convince you. Harold is a brain book when almost all the other children's books are heart books. Harold simply thinks. That is his job b/c that is his premise. He does not need human interaction. He simply needs to use his creativity to solve one problem. He does it brilliantly.

I can't tell you how many artists I've met whose childhoods were transformed by this book.

Mad Hatter said...

Oh and Jen? It's "gentille plumerai." Pretty feathers NOT I will pluck you.

QT said...

I don't know how I missed this, but that book does NOT sound like my cup of tea at all!

The Medium Swede said...

The best part of Harold and the Purple Crayon is Sharon Stone narrates the tv show. I guess I show my age by declaring my interest in Sharon Stone.

On to Harold. I have always loved the show because it showed so much creativity and imagination. I imagine this is just what Harold thinks about as he drifts off to sleep. Although perhaps I have not given it enough thought. Perhaps, Harold is "acting out" a deep emotional issue. Maybe Harold is on a heroin trip.

I still like Harold and it reminds me of when my 7 and 10 year old were your children's ages....

Jennifer said...

Oh, I always loved Harold and his purple crayon. The idea of a blank world still appeals to me somtimes...a blank world in which *I* have the capacity to creat things as *I* want them...

BWAA-HA-HA!

Today: a purple crayon!

Tomorrow: world domination!

Damselfly said...

Huh. I escaped childhood without reading this book. Now I know what it's about, thanks.

I remember reading and loving Blueberries for Sal. Then my baby got a copy as a gift. I read it to him and was like, "What's the big deal?" I really don't remember why I liked that book so much!

Ally said...

I completely agree with your analysis of this book. It is freakin scary. My oldest likes it and no one else in the house does. I read one day on the back of our copy that there are many other "Harold" books. I shuttered.

Kristin said...

Oh dear god... that fucking Harold gave me so much tension as a kid... I kept worrying about what would happen if he were to lost that crayon while off on one his damn tiger hunts... seriously, I just wanted the kid to stay home!

ewe are here said...

I've never heard of these books... and I suspect that's a good thing.

Mrs. T said...

Harold is not my favorite. (btw, I am amazed at the number of people who've never even heard of it) It sure beats the hell out of anything with "My Little Pony" or "Strawberry Shortcake" in the title.
My husband and enjoy ad libbing to some of the Spot books- we like to add that he hits his head on the toilet after getting his morning drink before going out to pee on the fence.

Ruth Dynamite said...

You know, I don't think my kids know this book. Hmmm. I didn't like it as a child, but as an adult I like it so much more.

Kevin Charnas said...

Amen, sister...

PinkPowerSuit.com said...

Mmmhmm. I was also disappointed. And it's just so illogical! I had no imagination as a kid. Illogical things bugged me.

Where the Wild Things Are: I realize it's written like poetry, but it still bothers me when Max says "I'll eat you up!" so his mother sends him to bed without his supper. Just for that? He's dressed as a WOLF, Mom. Get a sense of humour. You just called him "Wild thing" and now he responds in the manner of something wild. Doh! I wonder why. Maybe it would make sense if we knew HOW he said it. Was it violently? Did he scream it? I'm noise sensitive. That would get me riled up. When I read this story to my kids, I make sure to read that part particularly snottily so that it makes SENSE that he would get sent to his room. Context, Maurice, context!!

Robin Marie said...

As a child I loved this book. Now I find that sometimes I love it and other times I find it utterly depressing. Optimism is definitely crucial when reading this story!