Reading a great story to a child allows you to see it twice, through your own eyes and through theirs. They see moments of comedy or suspense that we have become invisible to us out of familiarity or adult sensibilities.
We were just getting to the part of Treasure Island where Jim, the boy narrator, has discovered the treasure map left by the pirates, and brought it to the two learned men of the region, Doctor Livesey and Squire Trelawney. They all planned to search for the treasure, Jim staying with the doctor while the squire acquired a ship for them at the nearest port. The problem, The Girl and I agreed, was that the squire was a well-intentioned blabbermouth. So when the squire wrote Jim a letter describing how he had found a ship and crew, and that the crew were excited to be looking for treasure, The Girl smacked her forehead.
“FACEPALM!” she said, the word as well as the gesture. “Squire, what did you do?”
I agree, I said – if the sailors know they have a treasure map, I wouldn’t trust any of them once they’re at sea. They should have said they were on a science expedition, like Darwin was with Fitzroy.
“They should just leave the squire behind for this!” The Girl said. “He might as well have put this all over Facebook!”
After a moment’s pause, something occurred to me. Wait a minute, I said – you're eight years old in the country, and you don’t use much internet or see much television. How do you know what Facebook is?
“I guess I just know somehow,” she said.
I bet there are Amazon tribes that know what Facebook is, I thought, smiling, and none of us chose to. We don’t have the right not to know things anymore.
For movie night I picked College, a Buster Keaton film that she had never seen before, and as per most of his plots, it involved his character trying to win the love of a sweet, gamine brunette who initially spurns him. In the case of The General, he has to prove himself a hero in war, but in this he wants to prove himself an athlete in college, and his bookworm character – who knows not the first rule of any sport – must try out for baseball, rowing, running, javelin, hammer, discus and hurdles, all with the results you might expect. Unexpectedly, it caused a long talk about relationships.
“Why is he doing all these things for just one girl?” The Girl said. “She’s not even nice! She’s laughing at him!”
I know, I said, it’s quite unfair to Buster. He should just find someone good, but unfortunately all he can think about is her. You remember “twitter-pated” from Bambi, how all the animals went funny? He’s twitter-pated.
"Will that happen to me?" She asked. When you’re a few years older, you will probably feel lots of strange things, I said – crushes, they’re called. As a teenager you’ll feel like doing stupid things. The trick, I told her, is to keep on doing what you know is right even when you feel like doing something else.
Later in the film, as the love interest sees Buster Keaton’s character try and fail over and over, she begins to feel sorry for him, and then to admire his spirit.
“She’s starting to see who he really is,” The Girl said. Yes, I said, she’s realising she shouldn’t be with the most popular guys, or the richest, but the guys who keep trying to do the right thing even when they fail.
“When she goes back to him, he should dump her!” she said. “He deserves better than her – she’s been mean to him all this time!”
Is she like Randolph Scott in Follow the Fleet? I asked. I showed her that a few weeks ago, and she was struck by the subplot of the smart girl with glasses falling for Randolph Scott, and how he suddenly likes her after she transforms her appearance. Whatever the original audience was supposed to feel, for us it was a teaching moment: if he likes her for her beauty, she should dump him.
“Yes! Buster deserves somebody better than this.”
She sees the error of her ways by the end, I said, but you’re on to something. Films and television show you the heroes and heroines getting together with the one they love. I’d like to see more of them, at the end of these stories, put together with the one they should love.