Read The Books First

28 Apr

ay back in the beginning of this blog I talked about how my daughter fell in love with “The Hobbit” (read part 1 here and part 2 here… they really are cute stories). The Rankin/Bass animated version of “The Hobbit” is the perfect launching point to get young children into Tolkien’s work. Watching it sparked all sorts of questions from my daughter about where the ring came from, and why Gollum was the way he was – which ultimately led me to have to describe some of the back story to her, material from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Both my older children have watched the animated feature and demanded that I fill in the missing details of the story around the edges. Additionally, they have both seen and watched me play their respective avatars in the Lord of the Rings MMORPG, so they are both aware that there is a vast, untapped cache to the story that they haven’t been exposed to yet.

My wife generously lets me keep these "on display" in the bookshelf.

Anyone familiar with Tolkien’s masterpiece knows that “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is not particularly kid-friendly. As opposed to “The Hobbit”, which was originally created as a string of bedtime stories told to his children by Professor Tolkien himself, “The Lord of the Rings” has themes and images way beyond the abilities of a kindergartener (and indeed some adults). On more than one occasion my daughter has asked me when we can watch the Lord of the Rings movies. Similarly she’s asked when we can watch the “Harry Potter” movies, having been made aware of them from her older cousins and other kids at school. I have to laugh, because obviously she doesn’t realize how far beyond the scope of a kindergartener those stories are. All she knows is that they are stories that other people (including her DorkDad) have on the “What’s Cool” list. She’s hungry for them. She knows they’re coming down the pipeline, and she thinks she’s ready for them now.

These are "on display" too. My wife's public acknowledgement that there's a dork living in her house.

In today’s YouTube-world it’s very tempting to plug into the movies first, and skip over the tedious step of reading the book. But that’s a slippery slope. Anyone who’s read the Harry Potter series, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy knows that reading the books is a drastically different (arguably superior) experience. I want my kids to have those experiences. So last week when my daughter asked again when she could watch the Lord of the Rings movies I made a deal with her. “You have to read the books first. Once you read the books, we’ll sit down and watch the movies together”. The deal extended to both the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter franchises. By the time a kid is old enough to read material like that, they should be mature enough to handle the content.

Now is the time to mention that this year my daughter has turned a corner on the reading front. Kindergarten has been wonderful for her in that way. She’s totally excited about her new reading skills. She’s proud of what she can do and she loves to push herself. So it didn’t surprise me this morning while I was in the middle of a diaper change, my daughter came up to me with a big book in her hands. “Daddy, is it OK if I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ right now? She had dragged a chair across the living room to the book shelf, climbed up to reach the top shelf, found and pulled down the correct book.

Whether it's courage or naivete', you have to admire her chutzpah.

I smiled to myself. “Honey, if you think you’re ready, you go for it”. With a huge smile on her face and wide eyes, as if she’d just been given the keys to the secret grownup meeting room, she went off to the living room and cracked the book, confident that with her new reading skills she could conquer anything.

She just about made it through one paragraph. When she ran into the word “tributary” she admitted defeat. “Daddy, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is too hard for me. Can I try Harry Potter instead?”

“You bet, Honey.”

So I pulled down “The Sorcerer’s Stone” and opened it up to the first page for her. I must say, she’s a tenacious little girl. She muscled herself all the way through the first page – a herculean effort for a kindergartener, and by the end she was exhausted. But even so, she was proud of herself. She’d read an entire page, mostly by herself, of a real grownup book. She knew that was a huge accomplishment. Even though she knew she was going to have to wait to watch the movies, she was satisfied. She closed the book, reported her achievement to UnDorkMommy and received the praise and hugs she’d earned so well.

The time will come soon enough. I don’t need her to rush to grow up. But to see that she has the confidence and self-motivation to push herself like that, it gives me hope that we’re doing right by her. Teaching a young woman self-confidence, in a world intent on destroying it, is in my opinion one of the hardest and most crucial things a parent must do. Clearly the seeds are there. I just hope I don’t screw it up while she’s in my care.

On a totally unrelated note, most dorks are well aware of the fact that Sir Peter Jackson is busy finishing up his onscreen adaptation of “The Hobbit”, to be released in December of this year. After screening it to make sure there isn’t anything too inappropriate, I think it’s going to have to be a *special* father/daughter date. Most of it will probably be over her head. But I’m geeking out over it to the Nth degree, and she’s hungry for it too. Assuming the imagery isn’t too “adult” I really don’t see any way it isn’t going to happen. Besides, what’s the use of being a DorkDad if you can’t teach them to geek out with you?

-Dork Dad

3 Responses to “Read The Books First”

  1. Ande April 30, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    You’re totally doing it right. Kudos to Episode 4.

  2. b.h.quinn June 8, 2013 at 4:12 am #

    I absolutely *love* this idea. For someone who doesn’t have kids and doesn’t plan on having kids anytime in the near future, I spend a strange amount of time trying to figure out how I’d be able to balance “read the book first” with “but the movies are out.” I think it has to do with my mum’s students never having read *any* of the books before watching the movies (What’s up with kids these days?). I also had the awesome experience of growing up with the Potter books since I was 8 or 9 when the first book was released in the US and I got my hands on it. This seems like a nice balance between reading and movie-watching that I’ll have to remember as children become more probable.

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