I have cool friends, and sometimes those cool friends give me cool things. I recently became older (than I ever was), and on the day we celebrated my surviving for this long, two friends of mine, Mark Counts and Mary Counts, handed me a few books! (ALWAYS a cool thing.) One of those books, which Mark described as one of his favorites, was The Dot and The Line by Norton Juster. I had read the classic kids’ book, The Phantom Tollbooth, (also by Juster) but I’d never even heard of THIS one! How does it hold up, you ask? Let’s find out…
Norton Juster – The Dot and The Line (1963)
The Dot and The Line is a kids’ book, in the sense that it is a short book full of illustrations (you know, like most of Edward Gorey’s work.) The story centers on the obsessive infatuation that a straight line has for a dot, but the consummation of the line’s interest is thwarted when the dot reveals that she prefers a free-spirited squiggle to the straight-laced, commonplace line. The story is witty and humorous, and full of interesting, mostly adult-leaning inside jokes, which I found to be pretty clever. For instance, when the line’s friends (all the other lines) suggest that he finds “a nice straight line and settle down,” the hero of the story ignores them, and thinks about how perfect the dot is. He says she’s “36-36-36,” no matter what direction you look at her from: top, side, or straight on. (This is, of course, a clever nod to the 36-24-36 that are supposed to be the “perfect” dimensions for a female, but this is nonsensical for a dot because, in mathematics, a dot is a single point, 1-1-1, from any vantage point. What kid is going to get THAT joke?) There are several clever jokes like this one in the book.
Moving on with the story, eventually, after brooding and daydreaming for several pages, the line decides to take drastic measures, and figures out how to BEND himself, forming an angle. Once this skill is mastered, he learns to form himself into a multitude of shapes and patterns of remarkable complexity—and then he returns to the dot and wins her away from the anarchic squiggle, who is too uncontrolled and chaotic to compete with the line’s subtle, rhythmic constructions.
It’s a fun story, and the illustrations are interesting and very clever. There are also a number of nods to adult sensibilities, but nothing outright NAUGHTY. I’d say this would be a fun book for people who like math and/or sly humor OR who are able to read between the lines! (Ha! Had to do it!)
But here’s where things get weird. I’ve read a lot of conspiracy materials and listened to tons of podcasts about secret societies and hidden symbols, and I have to say this: There are a number things about this book that suggest it could be a Masonic / Illuminati / Conspiracy text. (Come along with me for a few seconds on this one…) First, the book jacket says that Norton Juster is a 33 year old architect, at the time of publication, living in Brooklyn. In the Scottish Rites of Freemasonry, the 33rd degree is the highest level of initiation that a member of the craft can reach. (Interestingly, Burl Ives was a 33rd degree mason!) Next, architects design buildings, and masons construct buildings. (Is Juster DESIGNING young masons’ minds through this text?) Also, Brooklyn is in New York, and New York was known as the “Empire State,” which is thought by many conspiracy theorists to be the Home Base from which Masons will take over the world. There are also a number of drawings in the book that (before computers) would have required the use of a compass and protractor to create, and the compass and protractor (or at least a square) are frequently used as symbols for freemasonry. Last, the line character wins over the dot with his show of controlled complexity, convincing the dot to give up on chaos in favor of order, and one of the primary concepts that freemasons believe in (if my conspiracy literature is correct) is “ORDER OUT OF CHAOS.” When the world is about to go up in flames because of political, economic, and military strife, the citizens will reach out to the Freemasons and gladly take the ORDER that they offer in exchange for personal freedom. New World Order!
So—was Norton Juster attempting to sway young minds towards acceptance of his Illuminati Masters by mental conditioning provided by a clever children’s story? OR have I just read too many pages of Robert Anton Wilson, and I’m now seeing conspiracies and symbols even when they aren’t actually there??? Either way, The Dot and The Line is a fun book, witty enough to keep adults interested, but simple enough to entertain even young readers. I recommend giving it a read, (if you can find it,) if you want something quick and fun to chew on (and if you don’t mind having your brain pushed just a tiny bit closer to acceptance of the New World Order!) Personally, I’m rooting for the anarchic squiggle. If all it takes for that flighty dot to leave you is a quick show of FLASH, let her walk… There’s always another dot out there waiting!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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