When I was pregnant with Matthew, a friend of mine gave me a flat wrapped package for the baby. From the shape of it, I could tell that it was a book — but which one? The wrapping cleverly offered its own clue: attached to the front of the package was a small card, to which my friend had taped a single purple crayon.
Matthew, at the age of four, has grown to love Harold and the Purple Crayon. Really, what’s not to love? Harold is a resourceful child who creates his own adventures, all with a few strokes of his magic purple crayon. That crayon gets him into scrapes and out of danger. It takes him to exotic places. It even creates friends for him — who can forget the time that Harold was hungry and drew nine kinds of pie to eat, and then sketched a very hungry moose and a deserving porcupine to finish the leftovers? There is no problem that Harold’s crayon cannot solve, when paired with a boy’s ingenuity and imagination.
And that, to me, is a worthwhile life lesson. Harold doesn’t just settle for what is; he makes his own world, quite literally. He is a little visionary in a saggy sleeper, not content to stay at home, eager to roam (though he does return to his own bed at the end of the book). He is the embodiment of creative possibility, and as such, he is a pretty inspiring character.
In fact, many famous people have said many famous things about this very theme. The playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote, “You see things, and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, “Why not?” Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” — one of my all-time favorite bits of advice. And Emily Dickinson, whose poems seem to have been to her what the purple crayon was to Harold, wrote, “I dwell in Possibility,/A fairer House than Prose.” Where would the world be if there weren’t people who looked around an empty space and said, “You know, I envision something really great right over there …..” Whether you’re building a hospital in a developing country or starting a moms’ group in your neighborhood, you’re doing the Harold thing … and it does make a difference.
I think Harold also resonates with me because I’m a writer, and writers, by their very nature, create something out of nothing. Every story, book, and blog post begins with the spark of an idea, and there’s such a feeling of satisfaction to taking that spark and creating a world of prose where there was formerly nothing. That’s why Harold is such a great mascot for the writing life, or for the creative life in general. Like him, we can accomplish a whole lot before bedtime, if we are willing to grab that purple crayon and scribble away.