I think it’s pretty common for avid readers to find themselves so immersed in a storyline that they start thinking in the voices of the main characters. It’s hard, for example, to re-read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and not engross yourself in the strong-willed Scarlett O’Hara’s exploits, to the point where you might find yourself slightly dazed, standing in front of a sink full of dishes and thinking Fiddle-dee-dee! Who wants to do dishes when there’s money to be made in lumber sales in post-Civil War Atlanta?
I find myself doing this with fictional characters on an alarmingly frequent basis. When I’m not Scarletting my way through the mundane trivia at home (I’ll do laundry tomorrow—after all, tomorrow is another day), I bring Hannibal Lecter to work with me. (I should note here that I have a very tolerant boss.) Hannibal has been with me for quite some time now—from 1988–91 he was Thomas Harris’s incarnation, brilliant, sophisticated, and above all, unapologetically intolerant of rudeness. (“I expect most psychiatrists have a patient or two they’d like to refer to me,” Hannibal would whisper in my head whenever someone irritated me.) This voice quickly morphed into Anthony Hopkins’s Lecter after the 1991 movie release. He’s with me all the time. When I’m editing a document, and I send it back to the author, only to have it come back with some (but not all) of the corrections made, it’s Hopkins’ Lecter saying “Clo-ser!” in a singsong voice in my head as I send it back again. And when my boss brings in cookies, so I find myself thinking about nothing else all week except those damn cookies, it’s Hannibal who explains my obsession to me: “We covet what we see every day.” Wise words, my friend.
In the garden, it is a fictional television character who accompanies me. Yes, when the woodchucks plow through my seedlings, reducing everything to leafless stalks except the potato plants, it is Mr. Spock (voiced in my head by Leonard Nimoy) who assesses the scene and confirms that it is simply not logical. (“Why not the potatoes, too?” I ask Spock. “It simply exists,” he answers.) When I have to thin out the cucumber seedlings so they don’t overcrowd each other, and I hesitate to pull up a perfectly healthy plant, it is Mr. Spock who assures me that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. And when I gripe because I’m tired of pulling up weeds, and figure the few that remain surely can’t do much damage, it is Spock who encourages me to finish the job.
“Without followers, evil cannot spread,” he says.
“That doesn’t even make sense,” I’ll argue with him. “Are you telling me if I leave a handful of weeds, they’ll spread all over again? You’re bluffing.”
“Vulcans never bluff,” he tells me solemnly, and so I push myself to finish the job.
Sometimes, when I study myself in the mirror before leaving for work, I worry that the fictional characters in my head might be indicative of psychological issues. But then Hannibal assures me I’m overthinking it—I’m perfectly normal. He’s a psychiatrist, so I figure he should know. And I can always count on him to throw in a compliment: “Love the suit.”