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Rob Jenkins - 07/05/09
Fictional characters sometimes preferable to real people

Whatever adventure you've had this summer - cruising the Caribbean, backpacking across Europe, trying to sell your home - I think I can top it. The first few weeks, I divided my time between London and a remote Scottish castle. Then I hiked several hundred miles to climb an active volcano. Lately, I've just gotten back from Mars. Of course I'm not talking about "real life" - why would I? It's depressing - but about books. Specifically, I'm talking about some of my favorite books, which I've been revisiting this summer. I say "revisiting" because that's the way the best stories always seem to me: places to visit, like Hogwarts or Middle Earth or Malacandra. In many ways, these places are just as real to me as some of my favorite non-fictional destinations, like New York City or the Lawrenceville-Suwanee Target. And it's not just the places I love. It's the people. I know this sounds weird, but some of my best friends are fictional characters. In fact, I'd probably rather hang out with Harry, Ron and Hermione, or with Frodo and Sam, than with most of the non-fictional people I know.

My wife says I'm anti-social, but I don't think that's it, exactly. I like people just fine: her especially but other family members as well, along with a handful of close friends. It's just that, the older I get, the more I prefer the company of certain people - real or otherwise - as opposed to people in general.

That may explain my penchant for re-reading. I've now completed the Harry Potter series twice, and no doubt I'll tackle it again in a few years. It doesn't matter that I already know how the story ends. The enjoyment lies in spending time with Harry and company, who remind me of myself and my friends when we were that age, aside from having an evil wizard bent on their destruction. Then again, remembering Mr. Gordy's Algebra II, I can kind of relate.

The same holds true for the characters in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I've read nine times since my dad gave me my first set at age 16. In four or five years, I'll celebrate my 10th reunion with the Hobbits, joining them once again on their perilous trek to Mordor. Of course, there's joy in meeting new literary friends, too. I'm always searching for them in libraries and book stores and occasionally finding one, like ex-detective John Corey or sports agent Myron Bolitar. But that seems to happen less and less often these days.

Mostly, when I read, I'm just marking time with people I like OK, which come to think of it is a lot like real life. It helps to know, in the back of my mind, that Frodo and Sam are always waiting for me at the edge of The Shire.