Books · Movies

Off To School

At no other time in the year does time change as dramatically than with the first day of school. Complete abrupt life change. No more lazy mornings, pool afternoons or road trips. Alarms are set, clothes laid out and a sort of focused intentionality barges in and takes over. Children seem to age overnight with the tug of a backpack and snap of a photo.

7th and 11th grades
7th and 11th grades

Speaking of school (segue anyone?), this summer during my turn at driving across the state of Kansas on our way to Denver, Harry Potter was playing in the back seat on the DVD screen. Somewhere around Hays, the Hogwarts Express took off toward school for about the fourth time. I found myself wanting to pull over just so I could watch the train pull up to the majestic castle on the mountain, the make-believe boarding school called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

I have always been intrigued by stories set in boarding schools, surely the main hook for me with Mr. Harry Potter. The whole idea of leaving your family as a child and moving somewhere to live and go to school seems mysteriously exotic, strange and almost unfathomable. This concept was and still is completely outside my realm of experience.

My only brush with boarding schools was back in high school. Growing up in New Mexico, I heard tales of high school boys who were “sent” to NMMI (New Mexico Military Institute) in Roswell. Our little high school would play them in sports occasionally and there always seemed to be a whispered hush around WHY those boys had to be there. Exotic. Mysterious.

So books and movies have primarily informed my impression of boarding schools. Not sure if that is a good thing or not. To qualify to be “sent” to a boarding school, it seemed to me that you either had to be an orphan, have incredibly wealthy/too busy parents, or be a real troublemaker.

Ah, such soil for a good story to be told. Here is a short list of my favorite boarding school stories:

  1. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – I used to think Madeline was so lucky. “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines …”  I was fascinated by the thought that all those girls would actually live away from their parents together in one big room.  The nuns gathering and nurturing them added to the mystique.
  2.  A Separate Peace by John Knowles – Read first in high school, this classic book was my first serious introduction into the world of boarding school life. Filled with coming of age themes set in the summer of 1942 on the brink of war.  Man, those boys got in a lot of trouble.
  3. Dead Poet’s Society – Who doesn’t have this movie on a favorites list? Seriously. I have no words to describe how this story speaks and I never get tired of this scene! 
  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Not entirely set at a boarding school, but the portion of the novel where Jane lives at the Lowood Institution, teaches us about friendship, compassion and the ability of the human spirit to overcome horrific conditions.
  2. Harry Potter by J.K.Rowling – The Hogwarts School is a character within itself in the story of these children growing into adults under its roof. The long marbled turning staircases, the magical dining hall and the four different houses along with the classrooms become integral to this MAKE BELIEVE story.
  3.  Regarding Henry – Another favorite movie starring Harrison Ford and Annette Bening (Aren’t they a terrific pair on screen?) The classic boarding school setting comes only at the very end of the film and  is one that personally, I can relate to most as a parent. If you aren’t familiar with this movie you need to rent it!

As interesting and captivating the boarding school story is, I’m glad my only experience with them is through story. Even though the shock of school starting completely transforms our lives, I truly cannot imagine sending my below age 18 children away to school. It’s hard enough to do that with college. But as this exercise reminds me, a story told well, helps you gain experiences vicariously. Such a gift.

What are some other great stories told from the campus of a boarding school?

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