Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Truly Scrumptious Imagination

Raised on the 1990s, I spent hours in front of the television watching Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, the King and I, and also the beloved but slightly less well-known classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Thanks to Amazon Prime, I was able to watch it recently for the first time as an adult.  I didn't remember any of the plot, but the songs were as familiar as an old friend.  Somehow, you never seem to forget those tunes from your childhood.  (Sherman Brothers magic.)

The film was released in 1968 and based off of a book by the same author of James Bond.  He wrote it for his son.  The movie's screenplay was co-written by Roald Dahl.

These details stood out to me because, as I watched the movie, I didn't realize that 75% of the movie is spent watching events entirely imagined.

When I was little, I thought that Chitty actually did float and fly.  I had thought the child-catcher and the toy maker and all of the adventures that Caractacus Potts and Truly Scrumptious and the kids were having were all real.  I was surprised at the ending when the movie returns to the scene on the beach because I hadn't remembered that part.  As a child I had never connected the pieces.

At first, it's a little disconcerting to have spent the last hour of your life watching the adventures of a spontaneous father's imagined story for his kids.  It's sort of like ending a story with "It was all a dream."  There is a little bit of a disappointment, sort of like you felt played.

But isn't that what we're doing anyway?  Spending time in people's imaginations?

You might think I'm contradicting myself.  I blogged recently about the addictive nature of stories.  I argued that while stories were fun and healthy to an extend, we needed to remember we live in reality. 

I don't think I'm contradicting myself; rather, I'm developing that same argument.  There is something to be said for the freedom of being able to go to faraway places while just sitting there.  I miss the days of my youth when I could just imagine something and it would be true.  "Let's pretend," I would always tell my sisters and playmates.

The ability to dream and imagine is essential to the growth of our society, but we have to remember that living in fantasy is dangerous.  However, neglecting man's ability to dream can be just as dangerous.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang explains it best.  The movie ends with this monologue by Mr. Potts.

So dreams come true...But you have to be practical too. You have to face the facts.  A man has to see things as they really are. A man with responsibilities can't have his head in the clouds all the time.  A man should keep his feet on the solidly on the ground. Oh, a man should have his dreams, but he has to put them to some practical use, not just sit around and think about 'em all the time.  (Car soars off the road and into the air.)
The irony is clear in the movie.  The emphasis on the imagination is clear and strong, and coming from a writer, being able to find a use for your dreams makes sense.  It is as if Fleming is defending his profession.

I know that I sometimes forget the imagination of my youth too much when I'm writing.  How much do I really believe in the stories I'm telling?  And if I don't believe in it, how are others supposed to believe in it?  Others, like the child version of myself, believing that every bit of the story Mr. Potts was telling was true.  The adult-side of me needs to remember to believe like Peter Pan so I can remember how to fly. 

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Related Posts:

How to Save Mr. Banks
Persuasive Fiction 
Musings on the Writing Life
On the Writer's Stereotype
The Test for Every Writer