Currently Reading: Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier and Inishmurray: Island Voices by Joe McGowan
So who else loved the ode to children’s literature that appeared in the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics last night?
Besides the opening montage of scenes and vistas from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, the literature segment was by far my favorite. What can be better than a performance that starts with J.K. Rowling reading a passage from Peter Pan? Clip here:
As she reads, literary villains including Captain Hook and Lord Voldemort (as a terrifyingly huge statue, complete with wand that shoots sparks) come to life to frighten the young girl reading in bed. She and the other children are finally saved by the appearance of a slew of Mary Poppins’ flying down with their umbrellas to chase the baddies away. (To dance with Mary Poppins is every kid’s dream, I should think.) The only thing that would have made it better was if Aslan the Lion appeared with Mary Poppins, and the kids fell back asleep clutching stuffed Winnie the Pooh bears.
I just love that at a ceremony celebrating the start of the world’s biggest athletic competitions, tribute is paid to England’s cultural contributions in history, music, film… and literature. By doing so, it emphasized the importance of the arts alongside the focus on athleticism, which is a crucial message to today’s society, in my opinion. In a world where education budgets are tight, and music and theater programs are usually cut in favor of athletic programs, this was a subtle reminder of the importance of all areas in a child’s education. I also find it interesting that children’s literature was emphasized. From a country whose literary heritage includes works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and so many others, the Ceremonies focused instead on England’s contributions to children’s literature. Perhaps I am reading too much into this (catch the pun?), but I see it as a reflection of the idea that children’s literature is the most important kind of all, for that is where a person’s future begins. I am passionate about the importance of books in a child’s life, for I know how reading influenced who I am today and I have seen the difference between children who are encouraged to read and those who are not. So of course I watched this highlight of some of England’s most beloved children’s books (although really, where was Narnia?) with delight and have been mulling it over ever since.
I think the message inherent in this segment was that these beloved children’s books, like many others, are timeless. They endure because they are real to the children who read them and because they continue to exist for us when we are older. The power inside books like these triumph over the dark things in life and provide children with worlds never before imagined. It is children who grow up to inherit our world and exposure to great children’s literature does nothing but benefit them as they grow and learn. We were once children too. We once fell in love with Neverland, Narnia, and Mr. McGregor’s garden. Each generation will continue to do so, just as the one before them did. Whatever the future may hold, this alone will endure. And that is a comforting thought.
So those are my musings on the Opening Ceremonies. Final thoughts: bravo to Rowan Atkinson for bringing back Mr. Bean so flawlessly, and thank you Kenneth Branagh for giving life to a great passage from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” His performance was so moving that I did not even recognize it as Shakespeare until he was finished because he performed it in such a way that it seemed as if the words had never been spoken before, that they just materialized out of air in the seconds before he spoke them. I tried posting a clip of the performance, but it didn't work. Try Googling it, if you can! It always gives me chills! (The background hymn "Jerusalem" doesn't hurt the effect either.)