A while back — and I mean a while back, I’m talking at least 5 months ago — I was discussing my love for (read: obsession with) the Harry Potter franchise with a good friend of mine. While I can’t recall the exact conversation or even why it had been brought up, I remember her saying something along the lines of “I just don’t get it. I’ve seen the movies and they suck.” Now, I have to concede that a considerable fraction of the movies left me disappointed, like I expected more out of them having read (some multiple times), discussed, reflected over, and discussed again all 7 books.
“I dunno,” I shrugged, “I guess it just excites me to see some of my favorite characters being brought to life. For the most part, in exactly the way I thought they would be in my head.”
I bring this up because over the past few days I’ve read a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction (:look: I’ve honestly never read an entire fanfic before last week, but it’s been winter break for almost a month now, and I’ve still got a week and a half to go. I’m running out of things to do), and it got me thinking about what I love about the Harry Potter book series and, on a larger scale, what I love about reading in general.
There is a level of depth you get with books that you don’t get from film, pictures, or any other form of art — for the most part. You build a certain relationship with the book you’re reading, and the characters in it, that is so much more than what you get when you’re watching a film. The characters are introduced to you the same way you are introduced to anyone in real life. You meet them, size up their appearance (read a brief physical description) have a brief, conversation (read their first discussion with your main character or, if it is your main character, read a few of their thoughts) during which little personal information is shared, but first impressions are made, then spend the rest of the weeks, months, years (pages, chapters, books) you are involved with them getting to know them better. As long as your relationship (book/book series) lasts with them, they never stop growing and developing as characters. Just like people.
I have fallen in love with so many book characters, and I don’t mean that in the yaoi/yuri-fan-girl kind of way. Often, the people I read about have gone through or are going through the exact same things I have gone through or am going through. I can relate to them, learn from them. They always know exactly the right thing to say or do to make me feel comforted, feel less alone, feel like things will get better, whatever I need to feel. And they do it without making me talk about my feelings, which is great if you’re shit for saying what you’re feeling or thinking, but you’re still in a state of near hysteria brought on by constant, overpowering emotions and over-thought ideas like I am most of the time. They become, and I’m willing to go ahead and be totally trite saying this, you’re best friends. And your mentors, and your guidance, and anything else you need them to be.
I guess what I’m saying is, the written word is so personal. Everything about a story: it’s characters, it’s plot, it’s dialogue, it’s description, are left open to interpretation, if only just a little bit. For example, I always like to imagine the heroes of my stories are at least 3/4 as absolutely bat shit insane, quirky, and worrisome as I am, because it makes me feel like I’m in the “in crowd” with them . Similarly, I have a friend who told me she always pictured Bella, from twilight, as a bit on the heavy side, perhaps because she herself is a bit bigger.
I know I can easily be disputed on this. Plenty of plays and films and TV shows and music have driven across beautiful points, haunted me with the emotions they brought up, and just been generally powerful pieces. I’m not saying that reading is better than any of those things (because it would make me a total hypocrite). What I am saying is that a well-written story has a certain quality to it that makes it so much more intimate. A film is best watched in a group so that you can laugh at it, discuss it, and share it. A book is best read alone, so that you can really give it some thought, and discuss it later with people who were able to experience it in their own unique way, only after you have analyzed it and allowed the experience you’ve had with it to help shape who you are.