Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason

"You may not see it now," said the Princess of Pure Reason, looking knowingly at Milo's puzzled face, "but whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way. Why, when a housefly flaps his wings, a breeze goes round the world; when a speck of dust falls to the ground, the entire planet weighs a little more; and when you stamp your foot, the earth moves slightly off its course. Whenever you laugh, gladness spreads like the ripples in a pond; and whenever you're sad, no one anywhere can be really happy. And it's much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer."

"And remember, also," added the Princess of Sweet Rhyme, "that many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow."

Apparently we just passed the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of one of the great children's classics of the 20th century: Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, which ever since has taught children that Rhyme and Reason settle every problem, that it's not enough to learn if you do not learn why you learn anything at all, and that the only thing worse than wasting time is killing it. So perhaps it's time to set out again with the trusty watchdog Tock and the fussy and blustering Humbug, and hear again the Which, Faintly Macabre, tell the story of the princesses of the Kingdom of Wisdom.

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