I am so often disappointed by the things I read… not because they aren’t trying to be what I want them to be, but because they so often fail miserably. The trying is enough to rocket a book or film into the category of mediocre or decent. However, the execution is of greatest import in the astonishingly good category.
Lately, I’ve been re-reading and re-watching. Mostly, I’m re-watching Star Trek: TNG, and I get that a person has to get past the aliens and gadgets to really love Star Trek, but in re-watching the series, I’ve discovered that it’s not disappointing at all. Now, okay, the pilot was pretty cheesy, and I’ve never really liked Troi that much. She’s definitely on the show to off-set the Testosterone and to be eye-candy, but, in re-watching the series, I’ve discovered hat it’s Gene Roddenberry who’s set the bar for all of fiction.
Star Trek is such a beautifully hopeful series when you think about it. It’s a future where we’ve put an end to poverty and war (at least between humans and other humans). It’s a future where racism and sexism are abolished. And, in every episode, the writers and characters try to figure out what it is to be human. Coming up against all of those alien species helps them see themselves a little bit better. When they discuss the possibility of God, we discover that all of their technology has failed to convince them that God doesn’t exist… they sometimes encounter cultures that follow what they see as outdated religious practices, but they still display a humility, and concede that they don’t know what it true. While the technology in the future is impressive, the most impressive feat of technology (Data) spends his days writing poetry about his cat, Spot. He also plays poker, paints, plays the violin, and even tries his hand at friendship and romance, because he deems those things as valuable regardless of how much more efficient and superior his intelligence and physicality might be to a human’s.
I watched Star Trek every night for several years of growing up. It came on at 9:00, and my bedtime was 10:00, so I would get ready for bed on the commercials. When I look back now, I think a significant portion of my personality was formed through the watching of this silly show about aliens… I think my idea of right and wrong, that gut reaction to a situation, was built out of the prime directive. I know that’s ridiculous, but I am willing to admit that I was often less engaged with reality than I was with that particular fiction.
I’ve also been re-reading the first Harry Potter book, which I first encountered during my senior year in high school. I was in an AP English class that was far above my head. It required so much reading that I’m not sure I would do all of it if I were to be in the same class nowadays. We had several books a semester that we were supposed to read and discuss as a class. They included that ridiculous Russian story by Dostoevsky (I can’t remember what it’s called at the moment), that other terrible book Heart of Darkness, and another terrible one Metamorphosis… they all pissed me off, and those are just the ones I read. There were others that I completely ignored. We also read all of the Old Testament, and we had something like 800 pages of outside reading per quarter. The outside/individual pages we read had to be considered classics… so I did a lot of BS-ing that year, pretending to read things I hadn’t ever read. For the most part, my teacher believed I’d read things, and I think she felt sorry for me because I was so clearly not up to par with the other students in the class.
The one awesome thing that happened that year, was Mrs. Sobkoviak allowed that Harry Potter was possibly a modern classic. Thus, I thought: Hey – I might actually be able to read some of the required pages instead of faking it. So I read the first HP book.
I honestly didn’t think it was that extraordinary at the time. It was a task to be completed. I stuck with the series through high school, and into my freshman year of college. As an athlete on a team of girls who were frequently ineligible, I had to find ways to keep myself from being bored out of my mind during our required time in study hall. That’s right, because my teammates were athletes more than students, I had to log some atrocious amount of time in study hall, regardless of my 4.0 GPA. Therefore, I took Harry Potter with me to read in study hall.
The fourth book was the one that really caught me. I’m not sure why; it’s the first of the series that feels truly long, but it, again, was this story where good was trying to triumph over evil in great and small ways.
In re-reading the books time and again, I find myself captured again – the way I was captured by Star Trek. And it’s impossible to describe what it is an any moment of fiction that really grabs at your heart, but I knew, when I was re-reading the beginning of the first book, and nothing really important was happening, and yet, I started crying… I knew that I was reading the right book. The book that not only tried to be what I wanted it to be, but also succeeded. 🙂