"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

04 February 2015


Church, Sky at Sunset, Jamaica, West Indies, 1865

“Why don’t they live in Illusions?” suggested the Humbug. “It’s much prettier.”

“Many of them do,” he answered, walking in the direction of the forest once again, “but it’s just as bad to live in a place where what you do see isn’t there as it is to live in one where what you don’t see is.”

“Perhaps someday you can have one city as easy to see as Illusions and as hard to forget as Reality,” Milo remarked.

“That will happen only when you bring back Rhyme and Reason,” said Alec, smiling, for he had seen right through Milo’s plans. “Now let’s hurry or we’ll miss the evening concert.”

They followed him quickly up a flight of steps which couldn’t be seen and through a door which didn’t exist. In a moment they had left Reality (which is sometimes a hard thing to tell) and stood in a completely different part of the forest.

The sun was dropping slowly from sight, and stripes of purple and orange and crimson and gold piled themselves on top of the distant hills. The last shafts of light waited patiently for a flight of wrens to find their way home, and a group of anxious stars had already taken their places.

“Here we are!” cried Alec, and, with a sweep of his arm, he pointed toward an enormous symphony orchestra. “Isn’t it a grand sight?”

There were at least a thousand musicians ranged in a great arc before them. To the left and right were the violins and cellos, whose bows moved in great waves, and behind them in numberless profusion the piccolos, flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, trombones, and tubas were all playing at once. At the very rear, so far away that they could hardly be seen, were the percussion instruments, and lastly, in a long line up one side of a steep slope, were the solemn bass fiddles.

On a high podium in front stood the conductor, a tall, gaunt man with dark deep-set eyes and a thin mouth placed carelessly between his long pointed nose and his long pointed chin. He used no baton, but conducted with large, sweeping movements, which seemed to start at his toes and work slowly up through his body and along his slender arms and end finally at the tips of his graceful fingers.

“I don’t hear any music,” said Milo.

“That’s right,” said Alec; “you don’t listen to this concert—you watch it. Now, pay attention.”

As the conductor waved his arms, he molded the air like handfuls of soft clay, and the musicians carefully followed his every direction.

“What are they playing?” asked Tock, looking up inquisitively at Alec.

“The sunset, of course. They play it every evening, about this time.”

“They do?” said Milo quizzically.

“Naturally,” answered Alec; “and they also play morning, noon, and night, when, of course, it’s morning, noon, or night. Why, there wouldn’t be any color in the world unless they played it. Each instrument plays a different one,” he explained, “and depending, of course, on what season it is and how the weather’s to be, the conductor chooses his score and directs the day. But watch: the sun has almost set, and in a moment you can ask Chroma himself.”

The last colors slowly faded from the western sky, and, as they did, one by one the instruments stopped, until only the bass fiddles, in their somber slow movement, were left to play the night and a single set of silver bells brightened the constellations. The conductor let his arms fall limply at his sides and stood quite still as darkness claimed the forest.

Norton Juster, from The Phantom Tollbooth

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