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"He’s like a nine year old on a sugar rush… totally incapable of taking anything seriously!” Kate Beckett’s initial impression of Richard Castle is one that highlights his playful and childlike nature. Some people have speculated that Richard Castle suffers from the Peter Pan syndrome, which is defined as the supposed psychological phenomenon of immaturity among adults, who, like the fictional character, remain childish and fail to assume appropriate adult social roles and responsibilities.
If this was true, however, Castle would fail in both his professional life as well as his parental duties. Richard Castle is not like the “boy who refuses to grow up” – but that does not negate his need to embrace a childlike playfulness. Friedrich Nietzsche said that: “In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.” Richard Castle is, without a doubt, a real man. He is a responsible and loving father, a caring son, a protective partner, a talented and intelligent author, and a kind-hearted man… who wants to have fun as much as possible.
No one can argue against the fact that Castle believes in the importance of play and recreational activities. Castle noted that some of the best days of his life were when he “used to bring Alexis to the park… spring, summer, fall.” The relationship between Castle and his only daughter is extremely endearing as he encourages Alexis to embrace her inner child -- to not grow up too fast. He is adamant about spending quality time with her; they fence together, carve pumpkins together, build science projects together (the flatulent robot, the volcano), and enjoy father-daughter zombie time together.
However, the one activity that has defined Castle’s relationship with Alexis is laser tag. A game that started when Alexis was five years old… the first to reach one thousand points (and rule the omniverse with Voltar)… doing battle “on the field of honour” (or in the living room in the loft). In 'A Chill Goes Through Her Veins', Alexis and Castle engage in one of their many battles. “How old are you?” inquires Martha. In a matter-of-fact reply, Castle states: “Old enough to afford top-of-the-line laser tag.” Castle truly embraces the notion that you don’t have to necessarily be a child in order to enjoy play time.
However, his need to play is not limited to his quality time with his daughter. Like a big brother who knows exactly how to antagonize his younger sister, Castle is just mischievous enough with Beckett to not only annoy her but also intrigue her. Aside from the playful and witty banter that is constantly thrown back and forth between the two, one must also pay heed to Castle’s playful tone when on the phone with Beckett:
“Detective Beckett… did you call to tell me a bed-time story?”
“For Richard Castle, press one.”
“Who was murdered, and was it gruesome?”
“Yes, Beckett. Either there's a dead body or you just want to hear my sultry voice. Dead body it is.”
“Please tell me there's been a murder. Otherwise, I'll have to continue writing.”
“Guess who’s got a date with a prostitute!”
Albert Einstein famously said that “play is the highest form of research” and that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Castle has this in spades. Though he admittedly has a fantastic imagination, he is also quick to highlight the fact that he “also does a tonne of research” when writing his books. However, it is his imagination that often rears its head while at the precinct. He theorizes quite often with Beckett, and though some of his crazy theories seem far-fetched at times (mob hit of a spy or ninja assassins), quite often his wild imagination brings about other avenues in the investigation (“the quiet neighbour in apartment 8B”). Although, as Beckett says, “he touches things” (like the taser), his need to play with everything usually (and inadvertently) results in his helping to apprehend a suspect.
Almost every case that he helps Beckett investigate brings out his inner-child in some way, whether it is through witty remarks or further playfulness. In 'Food To Die For', Castle was inspired to play with liquid nitrogen – due to the death of Chef Wolf – freezing everything from apples to his wrist watch (“Hey, I froze time!”). Furthermore, growing up with a fascination for comic books, Castle has repeatedly revealed a longing to dress-up – to embrace an alter-ego. He resurrected his “Space Cowboy” costume in 'Vampire Weekend'; he held a party at which he dressed as Edgar Allan Poe in the same episode; he found himself a 1800s steam-punk outfit in 'Punked'; he embraced an Indiana Jones-like persona the moment he adorned a fedora in 'Wrapped up in Death'; he planned to meet Owen (Alexis’ first boyfriend) while holding a severed head in 'A Death in the Family', and thoroughly enjoyed disguising himself as a zombie in 'Undead Again'.
Also, not only does Beckett mention that, upon her first visit to the loft, she feels “like Alfred in the Bat Cave”, but Castle accentuates his fascination with the Dark Knight a few seasons later when he tells Beckett that if he could be any superhero, he’d choose Batman because: “He’s brooding, he’s handsome… and he’s got all the coolest toys!”
And Castle is not above playing with toys. In 'Headhunters', Castle is ‘occupying’ himself in his office when his mother enters. “Playing with dolls, are we?” observes Martha, to which Castle replies, “These are action figures,” when he is caught developing a Nikki Heat storyline using a Barbie doll and a Godzilla-like-dinosaur doll.
Even though his family and friends often tease and chastise him about his childlike nature, they also know that this is one of the elements that make him such a good and endearing man. In 'Rise', a very upset Alexis tells her father that he needs “to grow up”, but she later realizes that this would absolutely destroy what he is:
“Dad, don’t grow up too much, okay?”
“Hey… it’s me we’re talking about.”
However, the question remains: Why does a forty-year-old have such a strong urge “to play”? It was a defining moment in the series (and for the title character) in 'Undead Again' when Alexis refused to engage in a game of laser tag. A disappointed Castle exclaimed, “But who’s going to play with me?” In that moment, he looked completely lost – without his sense of identity.
It comes down to this. For Richard Castle, recreation is an essential part of living well… of living fully.
If one breaks down the term “recreation” to its core meaning, the word is re-creation. To re-create. When they first met, Castle may have been a source of child-like annoyance to Beckett, but over time, he became Beckett’s source of recreation in both senses of the term. Not only did he get her to embrace a sense of fun in her life (such as attending swanky galas, getting caught up in the Joe/Vera love story, humouring him with references to Ghost Busters and Scooby Doo, etc…), but he also helped to her to re-create herself. Because of his love for her, Beckett found within herself wanting more: “I want to be more than who I am.”
Beckett has a hard job, but having Castle around “makes it more fun.” Thanks to Castle, Kate Beckett discovered a love for life that she had long ignored. She wanted to be more because of him. She wanted to be more for him.
It is through playing that Castle helps people to see not only who he is, yet also helps them to see who they truly are. The world is so much simpler when you are a child. Castle’s sense of fun brings everyone back to that sense of simplicity. Metaphorically speaking, if life is a series of songs, his playfulness helps “all the songs make sense.”