Thursday, April 7, 2011

Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys

Alberic the Wise and Other Journeys
Norton Juster ~ Domenico Gnoli
Pantheon, 1965

The Phantom Tollbooth is such a genius of a story that I'm always on the lookout for other books by Mr. Juster, the architect and children's book inspiration. A recent trip the the Goodwill brought this one to my attention, and after a bit of digging, I'm glad to see it is back in print. As far as writers for children go, hands down Mr. Juster is the best. His words are eloquent and witty and pasted in these wonderful descriptions that are so intelligently put together it's hard not to fall in love. He might be the smartest man ever to write for children.

Here we have three stories, or three journeys, that lead each character to a place of cosmic understanding. I'll keep it to the title story and start here:

More than many years ago when fewer things had happened in the world and there was less to know, there lived a young man named Alberic who knew nothing at all. Well, almost nothing, or depending on your generosity of spirit, hardly anything, for he could hitch an ox and plow a furrow straight or thatch a roof or hone his scythe until the edge was bright and sharp or tell by a sniff of the breeze what the day would bring or with a glance when a grape was sweet and ready. But these are only the things he had to know to live or couldn't help knowing by living and are, as you may have discovered, rarely accounted as knowledge.

And so Alberic leads a life of mediocrity, until he meets an old man who regales him with tales of the world outside his little village. Inspired, Alberic takes off in search of... something. He spends years and years traveling and learning different trades, but finds nothing that he's exceptional at. When at least he is old and gray himself, he becomes recognized as a wise storyteller and lavished with riches and praise. But even still, he is not happy, and finally has the ultimate revelation, "It is better to look for what I may never find than to find what I do know really want."

All of Juster words are like this. Big and profound and meaningful. The best sort of storyteller. He speaks the truth. (Italian artist and graphic designer Gnoli's drawing aren't half bad either.)


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