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· Most Wanted: The Phantom Tollbooth
· Globetrotter: Coming Next Week

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Most Wanted: The Phantom Tollbooth
by Dain

After the epic, children's literature is perhaps the most difficult. To entertain so young an audience, the writer must be gentle and attentive and very, very deft, executing in a few simple words a universe of the mind unusually vivid, and above all, he needs a sense of humor, a rare commodity in adult fiction. It is a gift. The writer of adult fiction may take refuge in the obsessions of melancholy, with its ornate infrastructure between word and intellect, and for his pains the reader's reward is sometimes obscure, though that too is a truthful answer. Experience is an accumulation of error, and an adult's vision is cluttered by it: past regrets, fear of the unknown future, the opinions of those around him, disillusionment, love and loss, the inexplicable presence of unhappiness and suffering in the world, all out of his power to control. A child knows only the present. He is simpler in that way. When he hurts, it fills him entirely; he has none of the adult's ability to add context to his situation, that a scraped knee will soon heal, that domestic abuse is no fault of his own. As for joy, it doesn't take much to make a child happy.

The writer of children's fiction inhabits both these worlds, the adult and the child. There may be a twinge of escapist wistfulness there, such as in Alice in Wonderland or L.M. Montgomery, or a slight contempt for adult hypocrisy, which is often the case for Roald Dahl, but these are not children who write these words. A firm understanding of adult existence saturates the text: Charlotte the spider finds fulfillment by giving to others, Aslan is definitely not a tame lion, "Little Red Riding Hood" is a cautionary tale against rape, and the vagaries of fate provide the plot of Holes. It is an attempt at guidance, to a reader whose limitation is innocence, from the vantage of experience, towards what is ultimately worthwhile.

Take, for example, one of my favorite children's novels, The Phantom Tollbooth. Milo, an Odyssean figure, suffers from inertia. He can't understand the bother of school. Through the magical device of fiction, he undergoes a thorough mental awakening to all that the world has to offer, accessible through the tools of knowledge. At the gates of Dictionopolis, he and the stalwart watchdog, Tock, are questioned by the guard:
               Before long they saw in the distance the towers and flags of Dictionopolis sparkling in the sunshine, and in a few moments they reached the great wall and stood at the gateway to the city.
               "A-H-H-H-R-R-E-M-M," roared the gateman, clearing his throat and snapping smartly to attention. "This is Dictionopolis, a happy kingdom, advantageously located in the foothills of confusion and caressed by gentle breezes from the sea of knowledge. Today, by royal command, is market day. Have you come to buy or sell?"
               "I beg your pardon?" said Milo.
               "Buy or sell, buy or sell," repeated the gateman impatiently. "Which is it? You must have come here for some reason."
               "Well, I—" Milo began.
               "Come now, if you don't have a reason, must at least have an explanation or certainly an excuse," interrupted the gateman.
               Milo shook his head.
               "Very serious, very serious," the gateman said, shaking his head also. "You can't get in without a reason." He thought for a moment and then continued. "Wait a minute; maybe I have an old one you can use."
               He took a battered suitcase from the gatehouse and began to rummage busily through it, mumbling to himself, "No . . . no . . . no. . . this won't do . . . no . . . h-m-m-m . . . ah, this is fine," he cried triumphantly, holding up a small medallion on a chain. He dusted it off, and engraved on one side were the words "WHY NOT?"
               "That's a good reason for almost anything – a bit used perhaps, but still quite serviceable." And with that he placed it around Milo's neck, pushed open the heavy iron gate, bowed low, and motioned them into the city.
On the surface, this little episode is not much but absurd wordplay. The gateman has taken the request for a reason, literally. As long as Milo has got a reason, even the aimless WHY NOT?, it's not particularly important whether he's kept in or out. But here in The Phantom Tollbooth, everything metaphorical is made literal. Milo is a boy without any sense of purpose in his life, but now he is must acquire it in order to move forward. Is it not fitting then, that here at the point of entry into the kingdom of words, where everything has been assigned a meaning as neatly as a dictionary, a reason for its existence, Milo should be stopped and demanded to provide one for his own? And indeed once he enters the city, he discovers his quest, to return Rhyme and Reason to the Kingdom of Wisdom. In spite of the fantastic journey and crazy characters, Juster's final message, as with all other great children's books, is rather simple and very real: "whatever we learn has a purpose and whatever we do affects everything and everyone else, if even in the tiniest way... And it's much the same thing with knowledge, for whenever you learn something new, the whole world becomes that much richer."

This outfit's theme is back to school. Terribly late, but I've been on vacation.

More dapper than sneakers, there's old-world charm to a pair of oxfords. Hard to imagine a more delightful pair than these Robert Clergerie ($585), with such lovingly detailed chocolate leathers: like pralines for your feet.

How much more modern for a young woman to sport a single note, after the material-focused manner of Serge Lutens, than the usual signifier of youth, the ditzy fruity floral. 10 Corso Como ($85) teases out facets of honeyed warmth and bright rose from the meditative aroma of sandalwood, an ideal complement for the deepening chill and leaf drift and dusty books. For every day, the body lotion ($55) imparts a subdued, allover sillage; layer the eau de parfum for intensity.


Buying a new jacket always signaled the start of a new school year for me. It would be the rare schoolgirl indeed who'd sport this Wunderkind Lambskin Jacket ($2100), a runway showpiece, but the Most Wanted caters not to reality but to fantasy, so let us run with the most exquisite finds. For cold weather, I'm a firm believer in a great coat to lend an outfit style and substance.


It's a trend that's here to stay: jeans so skinny they're essentially denim tights, grotesque as any trend done to excess. Even the purported tastemakers can't budge its grip on closets worldwide. Lanvin showcases ladylike cocktail dresses. Palates exhausted by the 80s revival flock to Celine's pure, deftly handled lines. Even Kate Moss, its origin point, attempted bellbottoms at one point. Still, if you can't embrace an oversaturated trend in high school, then when can you do it? At least these Etoile Isabel Marant Marbled Velvet Cords ($360) have an original twist that'll outlast the vagaries of fashion. Addendum: I do like the way Isabel Marant styled her skinnies, by rolling them to a 50s flood length, the silhouette seems better balanced.


Such care has gone into the choosing of the stones for this Elisa Solomon ($235) ring, but it retains all the charm of a promise ring.

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10/31/2010 [2]



Globetrotter: Coming Next Week
by Dain

I'm in Bali! I'll write an update on my travels when I return to Seoul next week. (If you've been wondering at the lack of posts.)

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10/21/2010 [0]




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