Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The other night I was reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to Jamie just as he was dropping off to sleep. Inveterate readers of this blog know of Jamie’s fascination with Harry Potter and his knowledge of the first five books in the series, but I don’t think I’ve ever described precisely how Jamie listens to these books as I read them to him. He climbs into bed around a quarter of ten (being a teenager and all), and even though he’s capable of falling asleep the minute his head hits the pillow, he is so eager to hear the evening’s Harry Potter installment that he keeps one eye open and fights for consciousness as long as he can.
So we reached the second Pensieve scene, in which the young Dumbledore visits eleven-year-old Tom Riddle in the orphanage in order to inform him that he is a wizard and extend him an invitation to Hogwarts. It’s a dramatic encounter; Jamie raised his head off the pillow and gasped at Tom’s initial reaction to Dumbledore’s invitation (which those of you who have read the book surely remember, and those of you who haven’t should go and see for yourself), and stayed awake for another couple of pages. But before we got to that point, I read the following passage:
The orphans, Harry saw, were all wearing the same kind of grayish tunic. They looked reasonably well-cared for, but there was no denying that this was a grim place in which to grow up.
I decided to say a few words about the orphanage, and about Harry’s moment of sympathy for the boy who grows up to become Voldemort. “Did Harry have a happy childhood when he was growing up?” I asked. Jamie shook his head no. “He had the Dursleys,” he said. I pointed out that Harry and Voldemort are similar in that they grow up without parents, and that the kids in the orphanages are there because they have no parents either. And I mentioned that Jamie might remember the orphanage in the movie Like Mike, which just happens to be in Jamie’s video collection.
“Or Free Willy,” Jamie suggested. “Yes, that’s right,” I said with some surprise. “Free Willy is also about a kid who is growing up without parents, and who has stepparents, and he has trouble getting used to his new home.”
“Or Rookie of the Year,” Jamie said. “Not exactly,” I replied. “In Rookie of the Year Henry has his mother, but his mother’s boyfriend is a creep, and we don’t know where his father went before he was born.”
“Mrs. Doubtfire,” Jamie offered. “Nope, that’s about parents who are divorced and live in different houses,” I said, “but still, in Mrs. Doubtfire the father misses his kids and wants to see them, so dresses up as a nanny.”
“What about Babe?” Jamie asked.
“Oh yes, that’s a very good example,” I told him. “Babe has no parents, and that’s why he is so happy when Fly agrees to be like his mother.”
“And Rex is like his father,” Jamie added. “And Ferdinand the duck is like his brother.”
Why, yes, I thought—Ferdinand is like his brother. Hey! Wait a second! Who knew that Jamie was thinking, all this time, about the family configurations in these movies? And who knew that Jamie knew that so many unhappy families, human and pig, are alike?
If I have a spare moment later this week (in the middle of my four-day meeting), I’ll try to get to around to explaining why I’ve bothered to post this update on Jamie’s reading habits. In the meantime, suffice it to say that he continues to surprise me.