July 22nd, 2007

Typewriter Guy

The Right to Be Hurt, but not by spoilers

A wiser person than I once said "We don't read books [or watch TV or movies or whatever] to find out if the good guys win. We know the good guys will win; we read the books [or watch TV or movies or whatever] to find out how." I don't really know who first came up with this particular nugget of wisdom, but I first encountered it in the letters column of an issue of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! back in the early 1980s. (Oh, that Scott Shaw! and his love of exclamation marks.)

That philosophy has stuck with me for over 25 years now and can you blame it? It's a good thing to have in the back of your brain: Don't concentrate too much on the if, concentrate on the how. However, this hinges on one constant, one naturally assumed rule of the narrative universe: that the good guys always win. You can have as many scrapes and close encounters and brushes with death you like, and there may be sacrifices made -- that's part of the how -- but the good guys always win in the end. Evil has to be vanquished. Even when you're dealing with a story involving moral grey areas and anti-heroes and whatnot, the one who usually comes out on top is the one for whom the reader or the audience is supposed to at least feel a little bit of support. If the story involves Phyrric victory (which I shall neither confirm nor deny with regards to certain wizardly books -- and indeed, below the cut there lie no spoilers) then that character becomes a martyr and honored accordingly.

I bring this up because there have been brou-ha-has (brous-ha-ha?) over the big ol' Harry Potter Book 7 Release festival in Harvard Square on Friday. I went to the Brattle's special movie/book event, where they screened Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone at juuuuust the right time, so that when the film ended and the credits were nearly done, it was 12:01 AM and we could get our books. I was still in the auditorium when the stroke of midnight occurred; even so, we could hear the cheering outside. Several people inside were talking to their compatriots outside via cellphone, relaying the information to the kids inside; we saw cameraphone pics of the crowd, heard the countdown, and then went down to the lobby for our books. The line inside the Brattle was amazingly short. (I believe the Brattle people were probably among the first hundred to receive the book in Harvard Square. At least, I'd like to think that, so I can have a smug feeling of "Woo, I was one of the first people to get the book, and I also got to sit in a theater and enjoy a movie instead of standing in line.")

Walking outside in the square was exhilirating. The streets were crowded, lines at the Coop stretched all the way around the block and down Church Street, and every time a gaggle of people emerged from the Coop, books triumphantly held high overhead, the crowd cheered and took cameraphone pictures and otherwise made merry. As cliche as it may seem, there really was dancing in the streets. I trudged forth towards the T, fresh book snugly in backpack, and I got out while the getting was good, finding a seat on a reasonably empty Red Line train back to Davis. I ran into journeystar in the station, and we marveled at the celebrations above, calling it "New Year's Eve for literature." As a writerly type, I was absolutely amazed to see all this fuss, all this celebration, over a book! It rivaled sports victory celebrations in its scope, only there were no Slytherin overturning cars or Ravenclaws climbing streetlights. Not that I saw, at least. And this excitement was all for one single book! Emphasized in italics! People were actively exulting in their having purchased a copy, and the crowds were cheering them on! This is insane! This is nuts! This is America?!

My heart was indeed lifted by this display and I realized that while it probably was one of the larger gatherings around, it was but one of many similar, smaller celebrations all across the country. That we are a nation of tube-watching, Intar Web glomming, video game playing potatoes was suddenly irrelevant. We liked books again and that's what was so wonderful.

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