Growing Perspectives

Norton Juster’s ‘Phantom Tollbooth’ is just such a timeless delight. I discovered it when I was studying in New York University, got a used copy of the book from my favourite bookstore – Strand Bookstore. It was about the adventures of a boy named Milo who went into some kind of fantasy land.

At one point, Milo meets a boy named Alec who belongs to a group of humans who grows downwards. So Alec actually floats in the air because his head is where it is at the level of his full-grown height. Alec thinks Milo is a strange type of human because ‘his perspective changes as he grows‘. Because Alec’s perspective is always the same (‘the grown up view’) through his life.

At the end of some further interactions and adventures, Milo decided he’d like to continue seeings things as a child, because it’s not so far to fall. The interplay between the literal and figurative meanings of words throughout the book is brilliant and the story has so much practical wisdom about reality which we never quite escape from in life.

And yes, I think as we grow, we become afraid of falling, we think so highly of ourselves. Yet the more we want to be put on the pedestal, the less we are willing to try, take appropriate risks, and some day, we just decide to stop thinking altogether and just follow. Because we imagine, there are ‘guarantees’ of what comes at the end if we’d just follow. That tends to be where things start to go wrong.