Thursday, July 21, 2005

 

Early Saturday morning, Jesse started (and finished) rereading – skimming really, even for him – the fifth Harry Potter book in anticipation of the arrival later that morning of HP6. It didn’t show up until a little before noon, and that was pretty much the last we saw of him until sometime around sundown when he completed it. He was so upset by the ending that he took a long walk around the neighborhood to calm down.

Colin, who’s a more leisurely reader than Jesse, was by then just finishing his rereading of HP5 & it took him until something like 9 pm on Sunday to finish the new volume. He too was staggered by the ending, declaring that Harry Potter should no longer be considered children’s literature & that he wasn’t sure he would let a ten-year-old read this volume. Colin & Jesse are both 13. And both have been reading Harry Potter books since they were seven.

It’s interesting & moving to watch them be so moved by a book. I’ve tried, sans success, to convince myself to wade through the rather bloated prose of that series, but I’ve known for some time that my boys have suspended all disbelief with regards to these characters long ago. So where the Harry Potter experience for me principally has been one of the movies – in which most of the characters have been played by the same actors film after film (the notable exception being Dumbledore, a role taken over by Michael Gambon after the death of Richard Harris) while the directors have begun rotating, giving the last film at least something of a Rashômon effect as the stylistic paradigm changes just a little as the cast goes on, the films are mere commentaries for my kids – the books are the real deal.

I didn’t read Lord of the Rings until I was a jaded & cynical 21 years old & I never did get to The Silmarillion. Never read Narnia tho I suffered some through an audio version on a long summer’s trip to Nova Scotia many years back. At my boys’ age, I was making my way through Ray Bradbury & gradually easing into a John Steinbeck period. In fact, quite without any encouragement from me, they’ve taken to devouring Bradbury’s books themselves, along with Isaac Asimov & Philip K. Dick (“That’s the right age reader for him,” Samuel Delany once told me). But they don’t connect with any of these books the way they do HP. Even if, as was the case for Jesse, he read the last novel – all 800+ pages of it – the day it came out & didn’t pick it up again until last Saturday morning.

As a younger reader, I had gone through a short spate of Hardy Boy novels – the formulaic plots & execrable writing of all the contract authors who became “Franklin W. Dixon” drove me away pretty fast. Better were Walter Brook’s Freddy the Pig series – think Animal Farm sans politics, tho these came first & may have had a hand in setting Orwell’s imagination toward the barnyard – and, immediately thereafter, Howard Pease’s Tod Moran adventures. If there was any character in literature that I had an imaginative relationship with even remotely kin to what my boys have with Harry, Ron & Hermione, it was Tod Moran. Tod Moran is halfway between Ishmael & the Hardy Boys, solving mysteries wherever he traveled, invariably by tramp steamer. The Tattooed Man, Ship Without a Crew, The Black Tanker, The Jinx Ship, Captain of the Araby & others were available at the Albany Public Library whenever I wanted in the 1950s. It didn’t hurt that Pease, who’d been a school teacher before he was able to support himself through his writing, knew how to craft sentences & paragraphs either.

But they were end of kid’s literature for me – Bradbury, Steinbeck, Lovecraft & others replaced Pease & the Moran novels before I even recognized the difference. Now, you can’t find them anywhere, save on Abebooks.com. Once, in the early 1970s, I went to give a talk on criminal justice reform at a highschool in Marin County only to discover that my host, a soc. teacher, was Pease’ son. His dad had already retired from writing by the time I got to the books, but he was still alive then, so I told my host just how much those novels had meant to me & asked him to thank his dad. I hope that he did.





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