Thursday, March 8, 2012

Childhood Books and Movies: When You Can't Go Home Again

We've all faced that moment when we go back to a childhood favorite book or movie or character and it just doesn't hit us the same way anymore. It's a sad, but true, and perhaps even vital part of maturing as a person.

But how does it feel for writers, particularly when it may be some of your early inspirations that no longer hold sway over you?

Well, curiosity suitably stoked, we asked. 

When was that for you?

Scott McCullar: For me, I’ve recently gone back to episodes of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION after taking about a decade hiatus from watching re-runs. I’m struck at how incredibly tired I get watching some of the episodes. Characters I absolutely loved 20 years ago now seem parodies of what I remembered. When Worf gets all wide-eyed and full of Klingon pride, I want to laugh. I just can’t take him serious any longer. Data isn’t as funny as I remembered. Geordi seems tired. Dr. Crusher gives me the heebie-jeebies. Picard isn’t as sharp as I thought. Riker comes off as a putz without motivation. Troi is a headcase. Guinan makes me want to roll my eyeballs with her wisdom. The Enterprise NC 1701-D comes off as a Caribbean cruise ship.

The only improvement? Wesley Crusher is much cooler than I remembered.

Ron Fortier: I think it is really the material that makes the difference here.  I remember reading J.D. Salinger's Catcher In The Rye as a thirteen year old and being so taken with it.  Yet when I tried to re-read it as an adult, I couldn't get past the first chapter.  I thought it was just dumb.

At the same time I first read Frank Herbert's Dune at sixteen.  Ten years later I re-read it and loved it even more.  I've since re-read it every decade and it continues to entertain and amaze me.

Some works are timeless, others are not.

Erwin K. Roberts:
A lot of this depends on whether the book/movie/whatever was created just for little kids, or with all ages in mind. And, sometimes this may be unintentinial. I doubt Carl Barks worried all that much if adults enjoyed his Duck stories. But the man told tales (or tails) for everybody with an open mind.

Ed Erdelac: I used to have a rabid admiration for a Charlie Sheen movie from 1986 called The Wraith. I had seen it one night on Cinemax as a kid. In my mind, it was this brilliant amalgamation of The Road Warrior, The Punisher, and every mid-'80s sci-fi movie from Back To The Future to Weird Science, all things I was heavy into at the time.  In later years, I recalled it as a precursor to The Crow. It was about a kid living in a weird remote desert community of gearheads who was killed in a car crash by a local drag racing gang and returned as Charlie Sheen, a kind of High Plains Drifter outlaw stranger on a cool red bike who romanced his own hot girlfriend (an oh so sexy Kerilyn Fenn, whom I'd rated up there with the inimitable Kerri Green in my pantheon of 80's crushes) and also transformed into this awesome Ghost Rider-type avenger all in black motorcycle helmet and leathers with a sweet indestructible black car (the Turbo Interceptor!). Armed with a Predator-like mystic laser cannon (?), he dished out vengeance on the weirdo punks who'd killed him. Sounds great right? Even writing it it sounds great. Well, years and years passed, then at some point in college I found out it was going to be released on DVD and purchased a copy sight unseen. I put it back up for sale the very next day.

Pete Miller:
Any of the 60s Saturday morning cartoons. They are terrible. I guess when you're 6 or 7 you can watch just about anything that has superheroes or monsters or spacemen in it. (Note - Jonny Quest was an evening show and that holds up well...)

What changed? Had the reality of life changed you or had you graduated to a higher quality of storytelling?

Lee Houston Jr.: With me, it's not a sense of disappointment. If anything, when I return to something I loved in the past, what gets me more than anything else is usually either the datedness of the material or a sense of melancholy realizing the passage of time because some (if not all of) the creative personnel involved are no longer with us.

Scott McCullar: I think I matured and couldn’t take some of the characters seriously as adults. Some of the storytelling was clunky. Some of the acting was poorer than I remembered.

Ed Erdelac: Obviously the movie hadn't changed. I guess I had. I like to think I matured, but there are plenty of things from my childhood I still enjoy with the same juvenile glee. I have a problem. When I don't like something, I put it entirely out of my mind. I can't recall a bit of my last viewing of this movie. I only remember coming away thinking it was just a bad movie, full of lame posing, hyper overediting, and plain old nonsense.

Kim Smith:
I believe the higher quality of storytelling is what got me. The situations were pretty comical when looked at with an adult perspective. Reading it aloud to someone with a lower reading level got me back into it again.

Pete Miller: What changed was my ability to recognize the complete lack of money and time that went into those shows. There are some great ideas and designs, but Hanna-Barbera apparently had no money.

Erwin K. Roberts: Tom, Jr. seemed to have no depth, for want of a better term.

I remember when Gladstone Comics brought back Disney Comics in the U.S. And, in addition to U.S. reprints, they started presenting stories created in and for other countries. And some darn good ones. But, they said, there would be nothing from the U.K. The publisher mindset in the U.K. was that no person above the age of ten would dream of reading such material. So they removed anything that their target audience would not "get." Sort of a comic strip lobotomy.

At age ten or eleven I blazed a trail thru all of the Tom Swift, Jr. books I could find. I still have the first twenty or so. But have not had any desire to re-read them as an adult. (In fact, I now prefer the Tom Swift Senior books.) On the other hand I re-read the Rick Brant Science Adventures every few years. And occasionally one of Fran Striker's Lone Ranger books.

Alan Lewis: With maturity comes a need for more mature entertainment. The simple stories of our youth can enthrall us then, but as we take on more responsibilities and hardships, we want or need to see that life is as hard for our literary/movie heroes as it is for us.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Take for example the Harry Potter series. The first book was a playful story of a young boy entering a magical world. It captured the wonder and imagination we expect our children be drawn too. But by the time the seventh book rolled around, the series had transformed into an adult drama, a struggle between good and evil, love and loss, life and death. The series matured in a manner of speaking just as the children who read the first books grew and found themselves needing more than just another playful kid’s story.

Did any subsequent re-reading or re-watching help you to recapture the original feeling, or was it gone for good?

Ed Erdelac: I never looked back once somebody on ebay bought it. I pray it gave them more enjoyment than it did me. Although I gotta admit, re-reading my description of it, I kinda have the urge to give it another shot. I must be a glutton for punishment.

Kim Smith: Reading it aloud to someone with a lower reading level got me back into it again.

Alan Lewis: Sometimes as a parent, reading an old story that’s lost it charm on me to my young ones is the best way to reconnect. I may not feel the same connection, but watching their faces reminds me that the story never lost its charms, but I lost my ability to be charmed by it.

Scott McCullar: I’m going to give it another try at a future date. I think I may need to distill my viewing to “the best of” episodes. I don’t know if I have enough hours remaining in my life to watch each and every episode of the seven year run ever again. Still, I love Star Trek in all of its incarnations, but TNG lost some of the allure.

Maybe the transfer to Blu-Ray may help rekindle some of the love?

Lee Houston Jr.: We grow older and times change. But the best thing to do is when returning to those classics, to remember why you enjoyed and loved them before and embrace that spirit again, at least for a little while, before coming back to the present and looking forward to the future.

Erwin K. Roberts: I am fortunate that I can appreciate many things that thrilled me as a child. But that doesn't prevent me from seeing the flaws I didn't notice then. Today I watch a movie serial fight scene more for its choreography than for thrills.

Pete Miller: Gone for good. I don't watch Space Ghost reruns so that the show I saw as a kid still lives in my brain.

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To follow the works of these fine creators who took part in this roundtable, simply look for their links on the list of Heavy Hitters on the right side of this page.