Tuesday, 27 January 2009
Dr Who and my daughter
I have friends who are amazed and horrified that I let my 6 year old watch the new Dr Who. She's been watching with me since the show began, 3 years ago (we had to wait for it to premier over here). It began as a treat for her, she'd stay to listen to the theme music, then she'd stay for 15 minutes and fall asleep curled against me in a cuddle, then she'd slowly fight to stay awake for the whole hour. The next day she'd ask to see it again, when she was awake. And very quickly, she fell in love with Rose, and the Doctor, and the whole idea of travelling in the blue box all over the galaxy, helping fix whatever needed fixing in every world they came to.
So why, I am asked, do I let my daughter watch it? The themes are adult, even if some of the creatures are in that cute gizmo way, and the science talk is sometimes goobledy-gook, and the inside of the Tardis is fantastic beyond anything dreamed of! and I'm still not sure how it's the time machine, just that it is - it doesn't matter. What matters is the truth the show tries to convey, the heart of the story every week, which is almost always about love. There is death, and sadness, and partings - Holly-Anne still isn't over Rose going, and then all this past season got so excited over Rose coming back,until the ending, when she cried (I cried too) over Donna and Rose and the Dr. Because in a funny way, the writers and creators of Dr Who are updating this old science fiction idea for the 21st century. Yes, we can travel in time, and to different worlds - and wherever we go, we face ourselves, in whatever disguises we come in. How do we love what is alien in ourselves, if we can't embrace the stranger across from us? How do we learn to say hello in a different language? How do we gaze upon the stars and not wonder 'what's up there?' If we can save a life, do we? Yes, because we can.
My daughter is learning about what it is to be human, by exploring the universe. And I love the fact that as she grows older, she will find more in the stories and dialogue than she can currently understand. She loves the Dr, and Rose, and finally came to like Donna by the end of this year, only to lose Donna at the end. She's gone through the doctor change once - and she cried and cried when the Doctor changed from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant, and then within a year became devoted to David Tennant too! She has already said that if the Dr came by with his blue box, she would gladly fly with him through the universe.
So would I.
I bring this up today, not just because it's still Carl's on-going Sci Fi Experience, but because I wanted to share what Holly-Anne chose to take to school today for Canada's Literacy Day. The children were encouraged to dress in pyjamas, and bring a book and toy from home. Out of all the books for her and her brother that we have (hmm, 100? 200 is closer....)she went right to the bookshelf last night and picked out the 2009 Official Dr Who Annual.
We picked it up while in England because it hasn't been available here. Off she went to school, and she showed her friends and her teacher. I did ask her if anyone else knew about Dr Who, and she said no.
This quote from Ursula K Le Guin's essay 'Why Americans Are Afraid of Dragons', is the real reason why I let her watch Dr Who with me - always at her insistence, so it's become our tv show now, hers and mine;
And finally, I believe that one of the most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties [of a human being] is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the best and the purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.
For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life that they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.
So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy.....Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books." p 44
The unicorn comment made me think about something that happened this autumn with her. We came across a copy of The Last Unicorn, the animated video that came out in the - 1970's? that we were able to rent from our local video store. It was the animated film of Peter Beagle's book, which I read long ago and have carried a copy with me ever since. She watched it once, and then cried when it had to go back. (We haven't been able to get it out since.) I realized then, and often since then, watching her watch Dr Who, that there is a power in fantasy and science fiction - whether in Dr Who or Disney - that she responds to, and I am delighted to see this love of 'what if' rising up in her.
Oh, and she also loves Indiana Jones, especially the first movie. And Scooby Doo, and her doll Rose (named after you know who), and Strawberry Shortcake and Littlest Pet Shop. So she's not being completely taken over by Dr Who and science fiction! Though I have endless questions to answer about Dr Who, especially this season's ender, which she is still working out.
That's why I let her watch Dr Who. It is in the end, made for children, so any blood or gore is minimal - almost always off-screen. The very best of Dr Who contains what is in the very best of all science fiction and fantasy: it shows what it is to be human, and it shows what is true.