Sunday, August 16, 2015

You Are What You Read

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Have you ever overheard a conversation, followed along for a while and then realized that the people are talking about a TV series or book or movie? Up until the crucial clue is dropped, like "and then he stopped time" or "if it wasn't for his mutant healing ability..." you would swear they'd been talking about real people.

If you're an author, you take for granted that you'll talk about fictional characters as if they're real. If you're like me, you hope you'll someday hear people talking about your characters that way. Because the really good characters (not morally good necessarily) are real. They are drawn from life and lifetimes worth of archetypes that have peopled stories since the first story was told.

"The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change."
 Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces

One of the reasons I find mythologist Joseph Campbell so interesting is because he expresses, in a scholarly way, ideas I find intuitively true. A group of academics have done a study that supports the proposition that we are what we read. 

The Sorting Hat by Tottie Woodstock
"People use fiction and storytelling to learn about themselves and their social world. ... Fans use a feature on Rowling’s “Pottermore” website that tests their personality and sorts them into the Hogwarts house that best fits them.... Our findings suggest that fiction can reflect real underlying personality dimensions."
 Harry Potter and the measures of personality: Extraverted Gryffindors, agreeable Hufflepuffs, clever Ravenclaws, and manipulative Slytherins

In the case of the Hogwarts Houses, the study found that there was a strongest correlation was between what the individual wanted to be and their personality--regardless of how the "hat" sorted them. My first reaction to that was, "Well, duh!" Of course we'd be attracted to the House that best reflects who we are and how we want to be.

But I'm a storyteller, not a scientist. The personality archetypes that Hogwarts Houses represent can also be found in the Tarot, The Beatles and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (The last two were observed by someone even geekier than I.)

"And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."
Friedrich Nietzshe, Beyond Good and Evil

That goes for Hogwarts, Middle Earth and any other world (realistic or not) that we immerse ourselves in. We read to find ourselves and find ourselves while we read.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting study. The result would seem to show that reading fiction can help kids find a place they feel comfortable and not so alone and different. I love your last line.

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  2. It certainly provides a good talking point when discussing books with your kids. When mine were younger, I didn't worry too much about graphic content in shows as much as the moral tone. We were watching CSI together when Kit was nine or ten.

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