When the characters in your imagination meet their movie versions

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My daughter still wants me to read to her every night.

It is one of the great joys of my life.

She’s a great reader, tied for top in her class and competitive in a way I didn’t really expect, always asking to go another level up.

She likes the way I do the characters, with accents and growls and stutters.

We’ve moved on from her toddler books into the big world of pop cultural literature. When we moved recently, I found myself with two boxes of books to donate to Goodwill. When I opened the box to peek inside, I found all my favorites there. “Goodnight Moon,” “Curious George,” “Go, Dog. Go!” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and many more.

These books are books I’d proudly keep on my shelves next to my Hemingway, Vonnegut, Maclean, Harrison and Bulgakov.


But books are meant to be read, and there are so many children in need of exposure to the ideas within these books.

So we are building a new library for her that consists of some hand-me-downs from her brothers and books that reflect her own burgeoning interests.

I read to the boys until they discovered it was faster and more satisfying to read on their own, and off they went with their science fiction, history and biographies, never looking back. They often just want to finish, to get to the end of the story, to gain understanding. While my daughter seems to relish the stories for their own sake.

Our reading adventures this year have taken us through George MacDonald, who inspired the likes of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. We spent time with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Beverly Cleary, Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl and many others, but it was time to revisit a family favorite.

When the world was first introduced to Harry Potter, I read the books myself to get an early look at all this magic and witchcraft and evil the religious world was blabbering on about. What I found was a delightful story about courage, friendship and collaboration set amidst the backdrop of a complex magical world. What I found was great literature doing what great literature has always done, challenging presuppositions and dogma with the simplest truths of our existence. It’s never the magic, it’s always the brightest of human traits that shine through to make the stories work.

Having an eight-year-old daughter who has never read the books or seen the movies is like introducing your favorite food to your best friend. There is a joy in passing along the beauty of experiencing it for the first time that is almost as strong as the feeling of experiencing it for the first time yourself.

When I read to her, I do all the voices, but I let her find the characters in her own imagination. I don’t know what she sees in that head of hers. But it must be wonderful. Like every other kid, she never wants to stop to go to bed. She wants to know what happens next. She asks careful questions about the main characters, establishing her own idea about who they are.

Originally I thought we would read all the books and then maybe watch the movies together.

But she’s been asking for weeks to watch the first movie.

As a member of Generation X, I can get stuck between my love for technology and the time before the Internet. I have lived in both worlds long enought to remember how magical it is to have a great book live entirely within your mind.

But I’m also able to recognize the power of technology to give us the visual versions of “The Lord of the Rings,” or almost anything Pixar does.

There is always a perfect way to tell each story.

I’m nostalgic, but I appreciate the power of increasingly high definition visuals.

Last night I caved and let her watch “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

I didn’t watch the movie. I watched her.

I wanted to see her reaction to the people that were living in her head.

Would she be disappointed by Hagrid or Malfoy? Would she buy into Emma Watson’s Hermione Granger?

The joy of watching her introduction into the wonderful world of the Harry Potter books was amazing for me. She doesn’t buy into something like her brothers did. She’s like me. She moves right in and lives there.

As I watched her face light up when Hagrid bursts into the the little house on the rock to rescue Harry from the Dursleys, I watched the characters in her head meet the ones the rest of us know.

“That’s exactly how I imagined Hagrid,” she said to nobody in particular. She squealed with recognition when Dudley was given a pig tail with Hagrid’s pink umbrella.

Later, when the students were awaiting the Sorting Hat’s placement, I asked her if she could recognize Snape.

She watched carefully for a few minutes, and then she shouted, “There, that one talking to Quirell.”

“How do you know?” I asked her.

“Because,” she said. “You can see it on his face, it’s dark and he just looks like Snape.”

There were many discoveries as we watched the film together. Some played right into the characters in her head, others didn’t match up at all, and I believe she’s stubborn enough to keep those along for the duration of this reading adventure.

I worry that now she’ll only see those faces and hear those voices.

But the truth is, someone has visualized these books for us. The characters exist in a form we no longer have to imagine. They are what we have come to think of when we think of Harry Potter characters.

The chances of my daughter seeing this on her own at a friend’s house or through references at school are great, and to get to see her reaction to the visual version of these books is pretty special too.

Technology isn’t something to run away from. When it goes right, it can really enhance our experiences. It doesn’t have to dampen our imaginations, as long as writers still are creating worlds that we can imagine in our minds or on the big screen.

The joy of discovery will always start off in our imagination. Then we’ll pull out the maps and start to visualize it.

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