Thursday, November 16, 2006
I think when I was a kid I must have wanted to be a hero. Not like superman or a firefighter. I wanted to be the hero in the novel, the “plucky” kid who overcame adversity and triumphed in the end. Most of my favorite and often read stories involved these heroic youths. Some of these heroes were actually not human but that was fine with me. My hero could be a hobbit (LOTR), a rabbit (Watership Down), a deer (Bambi—from the book, not the Disney movie) or a person. I wanted to write great stories in my attic like Jo March or sell my hair to support my family. Some of my heroes were orphans, like Taran in the Lloyd Alexander series. Although I wasn’t orphaned I could identify with their search for their own identity and with their resilience despite loss. In kids’ novels, loss makes people stronger and they find true friends along their journeys.
Books supported me in hard times. They were my best friends and they could be counted on never to turn on me. The ones I had read many times before became a comfort zone. There were no surprises, but I could still share the hero’s ups and downs.
Kids today have rediscovered literary heroes in reading the Harry Potter books. I would have loved encountering Harry as a child. He is the perfect orphan, overcoming adversity and a really bad guy. (Of course in real life, I was more of a Hermione type). As a parent, I have read the Harry Potter books more than once. Each book is read aloud to my older child, then my younger son as he “aged” into it. Partway through the read-aloud, I get impatient with how long it takes to cover the book and read the rest in one sitting before my own bedtime. We listen to the book-on-tape on a car trip or I listen during my commute to work. (Incidentally, the reader of the Harry Potter series, Jim Dale is fabulous).
Nowadays, the only dragons I slay are internal. I try to fight my inner Voldemorts and Saurons, and teach my kids to do the same. The real-life heroes in my life are the parents I work with who are coping with mentally ill or disabled kids, as well as the sufferers themselves, who get up every day to a world as grim as any Mordor or as scary as any forest after dark. The times I feel, just a little bit, heroic are when I have helped someone conquer their OCD or depression, or simply, when I realize that I am raising my own kids to be the fine, young men that they are and will be.
Heroes change as you grow up.