World War II-era toys depended on children’s imaginations to complete the illusion of actually driving a car. Our toys were made of wood. Plastics had yet to be fully developed and metal was reserved for real vehicles involved in the war.
The toy cars were no more than a chunk of wood carved into a rough approximation of a car shape. The toy cars of today – with motors and remote controls – were still several decades off.
By the time those realistic cars came along, I was half grown and more interested in girls, preferably those made of adorable flesh rather than carved out of wood.
But those rudimentary little wooden cars once served their purpose well. Pretending to drive a 1942 Christmas toy car depended on the strong imagination of the little drivers. But we rose to the occasion. We held the car with one hand, moving it ahead, using our voice motor, singing out in a boy soprano voice, “Vroom! Vroom! Vroom!”
How much better that is than sitting on a sofa today watching a $95 perfect plastic car run around the room on its own, proving scant entertainment except for temporarily terrorizing the cat.
Wooden toy cars, at the most basic level, were powered by one of our greatest human traits – imagination. And if you focus, you don’t even need a wooden toy. With the power of pretending, a child can turn a cat into a baby doll and an extended index finger into a cowboy pistol.
Imagination also plays a huge role in movies and plays. In fact, no such production could succeed without the audience playing its part. For instance, the first time I saw the stage musical “Man of La Mancha” (about Don Quixote and his loyal sidekick Sancho Panza), there was something weird at first about the horses they were supposedly riding.
The two main actors sat astride two tall sawhorses. And a pair of dancers wearing horse heads pranced in front of them as Quixote sang his guts out declaring “I am I, Don Quixote, the Lord of La Mancha; my destiny calls and I go.”
How can you listen to that and not hear your own destiny calling?
It was all a bit sparse at first, but a former kid who could turn a block of wood into a car and shoot villains with his finger quickly took control of the show on stage. Before I realized it, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and those dancing horses became magnificently real – so much so that, for the moment, I was up on my sawhorse riding with them.
But now the movies give us too much help. They fill the screen with intense reality and deny us our rightful role as a part of the cast – as partners in imagination with the actors on stage.
The same process affects printed novels. Some authors go so far overboard in describing characters in mind-rotting detail that they deprive us of the opportunity to identify with a favorite bloke in the story. They cheat us of our right to live for a few pages in the shoes of the hero or of the heroine.
After all, it is our nature, our pleasure and our growth as human beings to spend part of our lives riding sawhorses and singing in our hearts with great champions of justice like Don Quixote.Contact columnist Bill Hall at email@example.com or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.