Monday, October 27, 2008

Star Wars: Gateway Drug to Reading

My son is now reading Return of the Jedi, the novelization. He's a little scared of the movie, so he started reading the book. He particularly wanted to read the scene with the Ewoks, because he's seen pictures of them. He got so caught up in the story, he read past that and then suddenly burst into tears. When we asked him what was wrong, he informed us, very seriously, "Vader LIED to Luke."

This may not seem like much to us grown-ups who have been reading for decades, but for my son, who is only five, the betrayal was PERSONAL, real, and immediate.

I felt terrible for my son who is now swearing he'll never, ever, ever watch the movie, but, at the same time, I was thinking: "Wow, words have power." As we were talking this over on the drive to work, it occurred to me that books do that, don't they? They grab you by tender hooks and drag you in -- particularly if you're emotionally invested in a character (like Mason is with Luke Skywalker.) I remembered those moments -- that feeling of being depressed by something that happened in fiction... or excited... or you find yourself bursting into tears, just like my son did.

It's kind of awesome, isn't it? And, I guess, scary too. For my son, it was surprising that words could make him feel so strongly. But I reminded him of something I learned from Fahrenheit 451 (by Ray Bradbury): unlike with TV or movies, you can put a book down. If you're scared or upset by something that happens in a book, you can stop reading. You can quit, or just take a break. The book will wait for you to get a hold of how you're feeling, you can talk to someone about it, figure it out, and, when you're ready, go back. Mason, my son, seemed comforted by that.

Still, ain't it cool? A book made my son cry.


SaturnMoonie said...

Yeah that is awesome. I have to admit that I cry a lot in books, I'm such a sap. But like you said, it's about getting invested in the characters, getting emotionally attached to the point that they cease to be characters, and become your friends. And when something bad happens to a friend, don't we feel for them? Don't we get sad when tragedy strikes a friend? Don't we cry when they cry? And that's what it is, we've followed these characters through their journey and we feel like we know them, like we've known them all our lives.

azteclady said...

Poor Mason, but yes, yay! He's just discovered the power of the written word to take you to new places--and not just around the world or the universe, but inside yourself.

Good going, mom! :wink:

Kelly Swails said...

This is a perfect example of why I've always loved reading, and one of the reasons I want to be an author. Thanks for sharing, Tate. :)

Moondancer said...

My son cried inconsolbly for over an hour in the first couple chapters of Deathly Hallows (not spoiling it by saying where) and I was almost afriad to let him read the rest because I'd read it and knew the sad stuff got worse. I do love that our little boys get so connected to the story and people in them they feel this deeply.

tate hallaway said...

Yeah, I thought about this all day, and it's why I want to be a writer too, you know?

Thanks for all your comments!

Lilithas said...

The first paragraph was so adorable. Where Mason says, "Vader LIED to Luke." I loved it so much that I forced my brother to get up and read it, too.

As Meg Ryan says in You've Got Mail, when you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does. Mason's somehow, even unconsciously, going to remember this for the rest of his life. ;)