Are we losing our imagination? Return to the Theater of the Mind. The Authors Collection.
June 18, 2013
The teacher was concerned.
She was a troubled soul.
She did as she had done for years. She sat down in the middle of her classroom floor and told her first grade students to sit around her.
Now close your eyes, she said.
Now tell me what you see, she said.
“It was terrible,” she told me. “They didn’t see anything.”
She fears that we are losing one of our greatest assets.
Forget about money.
She fears that newer generations are losing their imagination.
The curtains have been lowered.
The footlights are turned out.
The theater of the mind has closed its doors.
Now children see it or they don’t believe it. For them, imagination exists only in a square box: television, movies, and videos, both games and music. They don’t have to think the story anymore, so they don’t.
Don’t despair, however. There is one great hope left: the written word, and it’s found in books, in novels, and in a storyteller’s tale.
When I was young, and it was a long time ago, our minds were captured by radio dramas. We lay there in the darkness – the only glimmer of light came from the radio dial – and we listened to stories that sometimes kept us awake for the rest of the night. They were vivid. They were real. I never saw Mr. Keene, tracer of lost persons, but I knew what he looked like. The funny thing is, he looked different to everyone else. We put flesh and blood on the characters we heard, we saw Superman leap tall buildings with a single bounce, we saw the Lone Ranger ride in on a fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty hi-yo Silver.
It was the stuff of magic.
Gangbusters and the FBI in Peace and War kept criminals on the run.
Mr. and Mrs. North solved mysteries, usually the spooky kind, spending a lot of time in dark alleys, stepping over dead bodies, and wise-cracking their way from one murder to the next.
Inner Sanctum had the creaking door, the most frightening sound of all, and each story wrapped us in a web of terror and horror that never really ended when the episode passed on into the night.
The Shadow had the power , the announcer said, to cloud men’s minds so they could not see him. And we heard: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. The Shadow knows, and we knew he knew. There was never any doubt about it. Those final words each week left us with a simple message: The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay.
We closed our eyes and saw it all as it happened, just as it happened maybe even better than it happened. And why not? Those old radio shows were written by the like of Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Archibald Macleish, and Irwin Shaw.
The old radio dramas have faded with time, and now books and novels form the last frontier where the theater of the mind raises its curtain again and takes you to places where you’ve never been, introduces you to fascinating people you didn’t know existed, makes you laugh and cry, fall in and out of love, and creates all sorts of possibilities to chase a dream, stumble across someone else’s dream, descend into a nightmare, and condemn you to experience conflict that may be well calculated to keep you in suspense.
With books and novels, you can do the same thing.
In reality, you don’t simply sit back and read a lot of connected words.
Deep within the hidden recesses of your mind, you see the story.
You feel it.
You sense it.
Imagination takes over.
And imagination is a lovely and a gruesome, a humorous and a frightening thing.
It allows you to cast the book as you would cast the characters in a movie.
You hear the guns.
And smell the smoke.
You choose the wine.
And taste the kiss.
You are lost.
And when the final chapter rolls around, you feel as though you have a lost a friend, a lover, a hero, a family.
Your imagination hates to turn loose and let go.
Hollywood has tried.
Hollywood has failed.
The special effects that rise up within your mind far surpass anything on the little or the big screen.
That’s why you read a book, see the movie version, and then walk away and always with the same thought.
The movie’s good.
You preferred the book.
The theater in your own mind told a better story than the director’s mind did.
The author just gave you the words.
Your imagination made the story special.
The mind is magic.