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A Book and a Wish for a Daughter

by Aaron Freeman
Dec 23, 2005

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Aaron Freeman

My teenage daughter loves Harry Potter, so for Hanukkah I'm getting her a copy of T.H. White's The Once and Future King. With all due respect to Harry from this humble muggle, White's re-imagined Camelot remains my favorite tale of a boy wizard.

The boy is called Wart, a play on his given name, Arthur. Abusively raised by his wicked stepfather and picked on by his older stepbrother, Wart, like Harry, is a classic hero.

My daughter and I wallow in Harry's lessons at Hogwart's school. But imagine the story if Harry had been personally and exclusively tutored by Dumbledore. That's what you have between Wart and Merlyn. Merlyn would have been one of Dumbledore's mythic heroes. In addition to being the world's greatest wizard, in The Once an Future King, Merlyn lives backward through time and gets ever younger as Wart becomes Arthur the old king.

But more, I want my daughter transformed by the passion of Lancelot and Guinevere. I want her, like them, to demand of her heart fire that transcends law, nation and king. I know it's unlikely she'll get it, but I hope she doesn't figure that out for decades to come. I dream that as an adult she'll settle for nothing less than grand, soul-searing ardor. I want her satisfied only with a love willing, like Lancelot, to gallop into the wild mob and rescue her from a death that she would gladly endure for an hour of his embrace.

In my daddy fantasy, Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot, will take their places alongside Harry and Ron Weasley and Hermione within my daughter's imagination. I imagine that through the book she and I will forever share enchanted landscapes and points of reference.

As she internalizes the politics of Harry and Hermione's campaign for house elf rights, I hope my daughter will also embrace Merlyn's anti- war message that might can never make right.

As it did with me, I want the novel to inspire her life and love for decades.

It is, I know, ridiculous to weight any gift with so many dreams, so much hope. Maybe no present can have the as profound an effect on a person, much less a teenager as I desire of The Once and Future King.

Then again, it's a really good book.

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About the Author

Aaron Freeman commentator for All Things Considered. He is a journalist, stand up comedian and correspondent for Chicago Public Radio’s morning magazine "Eight Forty Eight." Hear Aaron Freeman on NPR:

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