Milo and the Magic Stones

Author: P. Heistein 14-5-2017

“Milo and the Magic Stones” (called “Max en de Toverstenen” in Dutch) is a child’s story about some mice who discover an uninhabited island and settle on it. It’s a nice place to live, easy in summer and a little harsh in winter. By planning carefully and working hard they can sustain themselves and even have a little time to gaze at the stars on a warm night. This carries on for generations. Then one day, one of the mice discovers in the ground a special stone that emits light and warmth. He takes this home and soon his little hole is better and more comfortable than the neighbours home, because he has some light and warmth. Word spreads and soon all the mice are digging out the hill to find their own stones. A rat-race develops to see who can accumulate the most magic stones and have the best mouse-hole. The rich mice end up basking on top of heaps of magic stones far bigger than they can ever need for their own personal comfort. This gives them a feeling of power.

At this point in the story the pages of the book split horizontally into two halves (how creative, who would think of that!) Each half carries a different story. The reader can choose a good ending or a bad ending. People being what we are, we tend to dive first into the bad ending. And only when that bad ending has run it’s course, do we choose to go back and read the good ending.

So I’ll tell you first the bad ending…

Little by little, all this frantic and unchecked excavation of magic stones has hollowed out the island-hill on which the mice live, and made it weaker. One day the hill caves inwards during a violent storm. Most of the mice on the island are killed during the ecological collapse. Only a few survive. They have a hard time but the remaining mice cling on to life. These ones learn from what happened to their race in the past. They put back into the earth, one pebble of the same size, for every magic stone they extract out of the ground. And they only take just enough magic stones to meet their own personal needs for light and warmth. In this way they discover they can live continually without another collapse.

Of course this story is an allegory for man’s use of fossil fuels and over-use of the seas, forests and topsoils, and the ecological collapse that inevitably results from overshoot.

Back in 2005 when One Planet was started, I phoned the author Marcus Pfister in Switzerland to ask him if we may please use his book and illustrations on our website. The story of Max fits with our goals at One Planet and is a nice symbol for our message. He was pleased we could make use of his story and said yes. So now, 13 years later, I have finally put Max onto our website!

For the One Planet Christmas staff party in 2011, we made a power-point presentation of the pages of Max. For about ten minutes that evening we turned off the lights and lit the candles on the tables. The husband of one of our partners, who was an old police chief with a calm voice and an actor’s feeling for the crowd, read to us the story of Max while I turned over the slides. He delivered a delightful and simple message about our work at One Planet. We are trying to get people to reduce their consumption of magic stones, and to take only what resources they need and can be replenished. In this way we hope that our children and grandchildren will be able to avoid the ecological collapse of our island, caused by our wild and excessive consumption of magic stones.

If only we had chosen first the path with the good ending!

The good ending you already know in your heart, without having to read the book. The good ending goes like this: some of the mice realised in time that they were collectively digging too many magic stones out of the island-hill. They called all the mice together and warned them about the dangers of over-exploiting their natural resources. The greedy mice didn’t want to listen, they just wanted to keep on taking magic stones out of the ground until they had more than anyone else. But enough mice did listen to the warnings, and the majority agreed to stop the mining. There were already enough magic-stones for every mouses need, but not for every mouses greed. So they shared out equally what they already had and everyone managed to live reasonably well. And all the mice lived frugally but happily every after, generation after generation.

When people left the Christmas party at the end of a delightful evening, we had a little Max-chocolate waiting for each of them by the door.