"What's the best part about being a dad?" is one of my 10-year-old's conversational gambits to delay saying goodnight at bedtime. (Before getting to our relatively quiet "visit" time, her favorite activity lately is being tossed across the room to her bed - a miniature skydiver whooping from the pit of her belly and always wanting just one more time.)
I tell her every moment of it is my favorite thing, which is true, but upon reflection I know that among my most treasured memories of fatherhood will be reading the Harry Potter series to her.
It's been "all Harry all the time" for the past month, so let me assure anyone who has read this far that this column is mostly not about him. But if you read fiction at all and dismiss J.K. Rowling's books as just kid stuff, they have long since flowered into complex themes and intriguing characters.
Tragically, the mere idea of reading for pleasure is an increasingly alien concept to most of our countrymen. This means a lot of daddies and their boys and girls will never experience the snuggling closeness that comes with sharing imaginary adventures together.
(A decade-old report in the New York Times found Americans spent 1,100 hours watching TV and 105 hours reading books, a ratio that is certain to have eroded further since then. One oft-cited survey, which I hope is grossly incorrect, asserted that 58 percent of U.S. adults never read another book after high school and 80 percent of U.S. families haven't bought or read a book in the previous year.)
Perhaps any book that uses magic as a plot device will inevitably embody our culture's underlying archetypes, the traditions and stories that are so fundamental to who we are that they invisibly shape how we think about the world. Without diminishing Rowling's creative achievements, she clearly owes a great debt to English folklore, which her books - and those of J.R.R. Tolkien - have done much to enliven.
Here are a few examples, mostly cribbed from the delightful "Sutton Companion to British Folklore, Myths & Legends":
? Wizards: Until recent centuries, wizard was not a word often applied to male practitioners of magic, "he-witch" being the more common term. Unlike witch, which generally carried negative connotations in olden times, "wizard" literally means a "wise man" or a practitioner of wisdom. (A similar word is drunkard, though it is in a playful sense nearly the opposite of wizard. Likewise, the Middle English word sweetard has evolved into the modern sweetheart.) The students and professors at Rowling's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have more in common with what old English people called cunning men and women, adept at healing the sick, predicting the future and fighting evil.
? Boggarts: They are shape-shifting trouble-makers at Hogwarts School, but according to traditional lore, "Although Boggarts were often thought of as malevolent fairy creatures, some were so affable that they would sometimes help farmers to thresh their corn." One farmer rewarded his boggart with desserts of cream, but this supernatural farmhand turned against the farmer's son, who tried after he inherited the farm to economize by substituting skim milk. Eventually fleeing the boggart's noisy mischief in the night, he and his wife loaded their possessions in a cart and sneaked away at dawn. A villager recognized them and asked where they were off to. "Before they could answer the Boggart's voice came from a milk churn in the cart, 'Aye, neighbour, we're flitting!'"
? Broomsticks: These became linked with flying witches in the public's mind after publication of an illustration in 1612. Folk tradition had witches riding pitchforks, plant stems and pig-troughs, which might have made for funnier Harry Potter movies!
? Dobby: A friendly house elf for Harry, for our ancestors these were wild swamp creatures capable of controlling deer and prone to jumping on passing travelers.
? Giants: Legend says the island of Britain was once ruled by the giant Albion, whose entire race was exterminated by Trojan warriors who fled to Britain from Troy after it fell to the Greeks in about 1250 BC. (Albion also is the ancient name of Britain.)
In these and other ways, Elizabeth and I have been enriched and rewarded by Rowling's reminders of our deep cultural heritage. We still have several hundred pages to go - don't tell us how it ends!
Observer editor Matt Winters lives in Ilwaco with his wife and daughter.