Most cartoonists eventually try their hands at writing children’s books. I’m not sure why this should be, other than that cartoonists happen to have the requisite skills of children’s writing. Specifically, we’re just okay at writing, just okay at art, and not very good at writing something longer than a few sentences.

Every now and then I get the bug. I have a major complaint with children’s book writing, which is this: there seems to be an implicit idea that the point of kids’ books is to play to the level of the child, rather than to improve the child’s intelligence or creativity. So, with that in mind, usually when I write something like this, it’s geektastic. In fact, it’s so geektastic, nobody would ever want to publish it, and I probably wouldn’t include it in a hypothetical portfolio of my work. As Gertrude Stein was reported to say in A Moveable Feast, it is “inaccrochable.” The word translates as “unhangable,” referring to a painting that, though perhaps good, an artist would never show in a gallery, and a buyer could never hang on her wall.

However, Stein lived before the Internet, where that which is inaccrochable is quite possible tres bloggable.

So, with all those caveats out of the way, here’s the first of hopefully many inaccrochables to be posted here. Enjoy, and feel free to critique! Doing everything stupidly is the first step toward doing everything slightly less stupidly, which is the essential difference between amateur and professional.

Polly Tope and the Blob

“Outrageous!” barked the gelatinous blob. “Scandalous!”

Polly Tope turned around with a serious look on her face. In her 4 years of existence, she had found the serious face to be particularly useful against both outrage and scandal.

The blob continued in its burbly warble. “You’re late! You’re late and you’re getting later all the time!”

“Seriouser and seriouser,” thought Polly as she narrowed her eyes still narrower and pursed her lips still pursier. “How can I be late? I’m here, just as your invitation said!”

“You most certainly are NOT!” blubbered the blob.  ”You are only here in four dimensions!”Polly gaped at the angry colloid as she checked her invitation. Indeed, it read that she should come to the cave by the beach at 34.4 degrees North Latitude and 119.7 degrees West Longitude at 3pm on the surface of the Earth. Polly looked at her watch and then furtively checked the ground to verify that it was not, perhaps, the surface of Mars or Neptune. It was not. She then noted to herself that, as the blob was in front of her at this very moment, it had no right to tell her she was getting later all the time.

In an entirely serious tone, Polly related the facts to the blob.

“Bah!” chuggered the blob. “You are only here in FOUR DIMENSIONS!”

“What?” coughed Polly, beginning to drift from confusion to conniption.

“There are 5 dimensions! 4 for space and one for time! You were asked to be at a particular place and time and you are not!”
“I am!” shouted Polly.

Polly was sure she was at the right place in space because she could see the gelatinous blob quite clearly. And, she was sure she was at the right place in time because if she were in the past, she’d be younger, and if she were in the future, she’d be a famous astronaut. As she was beginning to question this piece of logic, the blob began squirbing from its pudding-like mouth.”4! 4 SPACE DIMENSIONS!” it squirbed. “There are 4! Left-right, back-forth, up-down, snurf-antisnurf!”

Polly was entirely familiar with the first 3, but she found her brain devoid of facts on the topic of snurf.

“SNURF!” snurfed the blob as it wobbled up and down.

As far as Polly knew, you only needed 4 pieces of information to find anything else in the universe: how far it was in front or behind of you, how far it was left or right of you, how far it was up or down of you, and when you were supposed to meet it.

What to bring to the occasion was also important, though not essential.

Polly thought over the many events, occurrences, and happenings in her life and concluded that she had never once needed more than these 4 things to find anyone. As long as she and her friend also had those 4 samenesses, they could find each other. Of course, if any one sameness was off, you might miss your friend entirely.

For instance, if you went to the pier 10 million years too early, your friend wouldn’t have been born yet and neither would you. This would pose a logistical nightmare for a breakfast get-together. Or,  if you were at the proper time, proper distance forth, proper distance left, but at the wrong distance up, you might find yourself deep under Earth’s surface while your friend waited impatiently and his tea got cold.

Polly was satisfied that she understood the universe perfectly well. She placed her clenched fists at her sides and  put on the seriousest face she’d ever worn.

“Now see here, my gelatinous sir,” shouted Polly quite seriously, “I’ve never needed more than 4 things to find anyone, and I’m not about to start needing 5!”

The blob raised up on its hindblobs and plopped open its mouth to shout back. Then, quite suddenly, it paused. As much as is possible for a blob of goo, it looked thoughtful.

“You mean to tell me,” it bombinated, “that this is a 4-dimensional universe?”

“I believe so,” said Polly, deftly switching to her polite face.

“My goodness,” bibbled the blob. “Where I come from, we have 5. You have to know 5 things to find anyone. You could be at the right place in time, leftness, forthness, and upness, but have the wrong snurfness, and find yourself in the middle of Saturn’s hypervolume! BWA HWA HWA HWA HWA!”

Polly smiled politely and nodded as the blob chortled wildly.

“Well,” it squelched, “I must apologize. I thought you were several billion kilometers antisnurf of here!”

“I wouldn’t dream of it!” said Polly as she smiled sincerely. She was glad the angry ball of jelly was now a happy ball of jelly. This being the case, she opened her picnic basket and offered it a hard-boiled egg.

“I’m sorry,” lolled the blob, “but I must be going. I only had a few minutes to spend with you, and I’m afraid I’ve wasted them in confusion.”

Polly politely made a sad face, though she was secretly happy that the eggs would now be all hers.

“Sorry to hear that,” she said, eyeing the snack already.

“Quite all right. But, I must hurry. My friend exists in a  6-dimensional universe where they have 2 dimensions of time. They have time (future, past, and present), AND tome (fotore, post, and prosont).

“My goodness” whispered Polly. “It must be very difficult to locate birthdays.”

“It takes weeks and wooks,” wumbled the blob. “Weeks and wooks.”

The blob put on its protective headgear, squunched down, then leapt high into the sky. It rose higher and higher until it was well out of sight.

Polly put on her serious face once more as she thought about what a strange lunch date it had been. She picked up the hard-boiled egg and rubbed a fingertip along its smooth ellipsoid surface. She broke it in half and smiled. On each inner surface was a pretty yellow 2-dimensional circle.

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28 Responses to Dimensions

  1. Kchuu says:

    Very cute! I like it a lot. And I know I would have loved that book as a child, too :)

  2. Camus Dude says:

    Marvelous! Very Douglas Adams-esque. Also reminds me somewhat of the short stories of Oscar Wilde, particularly The Friendly Giant (I think it was called that).

    Anyway, I think it’s a fantastic little story, and I could definitely imagine a collection of such stories getting published some day. Perhaps you could even illustrate it! (I’m imagining something like Edward Gorey – that appears superficially “childish” but is really adult oriented [not to imply that your artwork is similar to his]). Also, I’m sure a clever kid would be entertained by this story.

    • ZachWeiner says:

      I love Douglas Adams. Though, I always get the feeling he died before he made his true opus (dammit!). Like, he always seemed to me to be personally smarter than his most popular creations.

    • Argh says:

      There’s “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde, or “The Big Friendly Giant” by Roald Dahl, that I’m aware of.

      I haven’t read “The Selfish Giant”, but Dahl liked making up words for his characters.

  3. I printed it off and read it, then handed it to my 12-year-old to read. We both quite liked it. The comments I got were: 1) reminiscent of Lewis Carroll and 2) Polly seems a bit older than four.

    If I get a chance, I’ll read it with my 7-year-old and see what he thinks.

    Also, I’d like to see the illustrations that would go with this. :-D

  4. Jemus42 says:

    Oh my god, it’s a kid’s story that’s (dramabutton right here) … EDUCATIONAL. In a good way.
    It’s not recycling the same old clichés most kid’s stories tend to use over and over again, and it’s utterly…well, geeky.

    And that’s a good thing.

    If I was told this story when I was a kid, maybe it hadn’t given me that kind of a headache when I first tried to wrap my mind around that whole 10/11-dimensional-spacetime-thingy string theory has going on.

    Very nice, Mr Weiner.

  5. Telanis says:

    Reminds me of the story of Miss Polly Nomial.

  6. Sam says:

    I agree with @TreeLobsters – though I think the Carroll nor was deliberate? Polly definitely comes across as much older than 4. Nevertheless, the story has real charm. Not entirely sure it will be educational though… it would require that the adult have a grasp of the subject to matter… a tall order even for inexpert fans of SMBC!

  7. Grae says:

    I really like this, but although it may seem corny, I would like to see some kind of “moral lesson” aside from the geeky one if it’s actually meant for little kids. Polly seems like a brat, and is actually happy when she’s left alone. It’s a trope and a cliche, but part of the importance of stories is value transmission… egg-hoarding-but-outwardly-polite brats doesn’t quite tickle me there.

  8. I was half-expecting the yellow circle to say something. :-D

  9. Update: I read it to my 7-year-old and he said he liked it but didn’t understand a lot of it.

  10. Kaz says:

    As somebody above mentioned, a lot of children might not understand a lot of it. But I reckon if I read this as a child, I would have enjoyed it immensely and it would have been one of the stories that I revisited many times during my childhood, each time understanding a bit more of it. Those kinds of stories are the best…
    As for me now, I loved this story! (20 year old here)

  11. V says:

    Unlike some previous comments, I don’t think that any prior knowledge is needed to understand or enjoy this short story.

    i really enjoyed it,

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Barb says:

    I enjoyed it very much! I also noticed a similarity to Lewis Carroll, but in it was also very unique. I’m not sure how much a child would understand it unless they have very geeky parents. They would, however, most likely enjoy it.

  13. MikeF says:

    Loved this a bunch. I’m a much older but still geeky kid. It was a fun read and I would like to hear more.How about a male character? Little girls can be quite precocious, but my experience is young boys are little more direct sometimes. It would be fun to see how the characters would react differently.

    and yes you can still have some geeky kid left in you when you hit your fiftys.

    Thanks again

  14. Lantern says:

    Very enjoyable. For people who are saying that a little kid might not understand it…that would be a good indicator that it’s educational. If a kid can read it with no problem then what have they learned? And really the only thing that may be complicated is some of the vocabulary, the actual plot line seems like a kid would understand it. And they can ask their parents about the vocab.

    A great man once said ‘Any book is a children’s book if the child can read’.

    When/if I have a kid I’m planning on reading to them The Count of Monte Cristo when they turn 6. And then Les Miserables after that when they turn 17.

  15. JRM says:

    I enjoyed it, but it’s not quite right for any age group. At the least, I’d think your readership would typically need to be at least 13 to get the space-time thing without more explanation, but the end part is aimed more toward eight-year-olds. It needs some age consistency.

    But that’s just my opinion. I could be a million snurfs off on this.


  16. xeno says:

    I couldn’t help but read the line “fotore, post, and prosont” as the swedish chef.

    Was a good read though, and If you get published ill read it to my kids for damn sure.

    and for some reason the paragraph “For instance…his tea got cold” seemed particularly reminiscent of Woody Allen’s writing style…and that’s a good thing as far as i’m concerned.

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  18. Keynan says:

    So, as was stated before, really heavy influences from Adams and Carroll (Adams especially in the paragraph with the cooling tea), and I like it a lot.

    At first I thought that having words that even an adult wouldn’t necessarily know, such as colloid and conniption (at least to me they are not too clear), but then I thought about the Tiffany mini-series from Terry Pratchett (A Hat Full Of Sky for example), and the way she knows words like susurrus from reading the dictionary. it’s a word so rare apparently, that Firefox labels it as a typo.
    Thinking along those lines, I’d have to agree that Polly seems a tad too young – even the better educated 4 year-olds don’t know what conniption is, I think.

    • I’m a year late to the party, but I loved this story!

      As for the vocabulary; yeah, that’s educational. My mother is an elementary school teacher, and sometimes her kids will tell her something like “that word is too big for me.”

      Her response is: “Do you know what a refrigerator is?”


      “Then I guess you’re up to big words!” Then she teaches them the new word.

  19. kitukwfyer says:

    I have to say, as the rest already have, that I like it.

    I also have to say that it’s better than a lot of published children’s stories I’ve read. One of the reasons it took until my teens to start reading was because of the generally insipid stories people gave me. What I loved were books like _A Wrinkle in Time_ that actually attempted to respect my intelligence. I mean, seriously, I’m 18, and I’m STILL angry about the tedious monstrosities I had to trawl through as an advanced, if unwilling, reader.

    As it was, _Wrinkle_ spurred me to burn through all of L’Engle’s work….and then I ran out. I would have killed for something like this back then.

    I’m about to email this to various family members, and it’s going into my little store of treasures to share with my cousin when he starts learning to read. I’m going to try and keep him from writing off books as completely as I did.

    As far as getting published goes, that’s not easy for anyone, but I know of at least one author, Guy Saville, who started a sort of petition online to get his book, _The Afrika Reich_, published. It took a couple of years, and I can’t really say just what effect it had, but the guy’s book is coming out this February. If you did something like that, I’d sign and force my family members to as well.

    Craziest of all, I’d actually buy it when it came out! …..I’d also buy the SMBC comics if those ever came out in print…..

    You also already have a couple of successful projects online, so it would probably be easier for you to market yourself than it was for that Saville guy.

    Just sayin’.

    ….Other than that, I also have to agree, Polly seems like a seven-year-old at least. :)

    • ZachWeiner says:

      I could probably get it published if I wanted, as I know a few channels now. I think I’ll develop a few more stories first, though :)

      • kitukwfyer says:

        YAAAAAYYY!!!!!!!!! :) Seriously, having a book of short stories like this would be amazing!!!! All of the geeky children of the world are terribly under-served as of right now. So if anything comes of this, you, Sir, will be a hero! :) That sounds sarcastic, but you’ll just have to trust me that it’s not.

  20. anne says:

    very cool, reminds me of the movie Flatland :) i never read the book version of that but the movie was super interesting in the dimensions explanation. though you also incorporated in time, which i’ve certainly never thought of as yet another dimension and thats very thought-provoking… i only learning this sort of stuff last year in my geometry class :) it’s all mindbending

  21. Rylan says:

    I think Steven & Lucy Hawking have a kids book out now. George’s Adventures in the universe or something of that sort. I’ve heard it’s pretty good, and educational too. And good luck if you ever do try to get your story published!

  22. Evan says:

    I’m a big fan of this sort of idea, especially trying to work in the idea of multiple dimensions of time (like Tralfamadorians, only ideally in a more self-consistent manner). Perhaps both dimensions are “one way”; perhaps one is governed by the increase of entropy, and the other by the increase of snurfs (or any other parameter, I hadn’t thought about this much, but that could be a fun parameter to play around with, for multiple history time lines).

    It may be silly to point out the technicality (that I’m sure you’re aware of) in which the current dimensional limitations should be inescapably obvious. But I point it out nonetheless! Because I’d like to be of the opinion that if such an incredibly conceptually fertile topic is to be broached for a younger audience, that the intuitions developed from the experiences of the characters in such a story should strive to be plausible. Not that I’m offering any better ideas (pop up book about extra dimensions, anyone?).

  23. Leo says:

    I am going to read this to my children, when I have them. I’m not joking. And if you don’t write more like this, I’ll have to resort to writing my own lesser versions. Reading material like this makes for awesome kids, and I want awesome kids!

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