Monday, September 29, 2008

Murdering Characters

In the film Stranger than Fiction, an author (played by Emma Thompson) meets one of her characters and finds herself unable to kill him off as she intended. Her novel would have been a masterpiece; however, because she could not bring herself to end her character's existence, the book ended up being mediocre.

I've come to the conclusion that being able to murder one's character-creations is the mark of a good writer and makes for better books. Harry Potter, for example: he has to struggle to achieve the end he needs and he loses good friends along the way. Some grumbled that perhaps Ron or Hermione should have died--and perhaps they're right--but the other deaths Rowling wrote were tramatic for her audience. That tragedy added something invaluable to the book. Tolkien was willing to kill off Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and some of the dwarves in The Hobbit. Lewis narrated the death of Aslan in a scene that made me cry in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. These deaths elict real emotion from readers, and forge a connection with a story that wouldn't happen without them.

(***WARNING: TWILIGHT saga spoilers ahead***)

So I finished Breaking Dawn, the last in the series of books I wrote about last week. I was dissatisfied with it. It ends all right, but the problem I have is that the main characters all get exactly what they want. Bella becomes a vampire without really losing her humanity, or even having to endure much of a struggle to not murder humans. Edward gets Bella as a vampire without sparking a war with the werewolves because he keeps her from dying instead of turning a healthy human into a vampire. Jacob--a werewolf--gets over Bella by finding his soul-mate with Edward and Bella's hybrid daughter. Bella and Jacob stay best friends, even though the werewolf nature is to destroy vampires. Occasionally, Meyer makes you think there will be difficulties for the characters, but then everything gets smoothed over perfectly. None of the main characters die. Meyer is unwilling to murder any of them.

What's so wrong with getting what you want? Because we know, deep down, that life isn't that simple. You aren't supposed to get what you want without at least a little struggle. It would have interfered with the story if Bella become crazed with thirst when she sees her father a short time after becoming a vampire, so Meyer makes sure that Bella has amazing self-control unheard of for a newborn vampire. No struggle.

Struggle is what makes for interesting narrative, the kind of story you could read again and again. Harry Potter would not have made me feel if Dumbledore hadn't died, if Harry hadn't had to struggle for a family and to find his place. The Lord of the Rings would have fallen flat if their quest to destroy the Ring hadn't been fraught with dangers and tragedy. Stories worth telling have deep struggles, and sometimes (like Frodo) the characters can't go home again.

Meyer's books are entertaining, but they likely won't end up on the same shelf as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or other great works of fantasy literature. In fact, my paperback copies of the first two novels are destined for Paperback Swap or Bookmooch.


bockstark.knits said...

Yeah, I agree, everything just magically worked out for everyone, which was a little over the top for me. I *did* however like her superpower!! :)

The Aimful Wanderer said...

I was hooked on the first three books. I had this crazy idea that they might actually be ABOUT something. I really thought that Bella was going to come to her sense and realize that love isn't about becoming something you're not to please some overbearing prick of a guy (I came to violently loathe Edward), but about being alive and happy with someone else with a nice warm body... even if it is a little furry at times. But no. I think it should go down in history as the biggest jumping of the shark to take place since, well, Fonzie jumped the shark. It was more disappointing than the last season of Buffy! What the hell was that? I could go on for HOURS about this, lol. It just pissed me off. It made me so mad I couldn't even finish. I lost the will to read. And the thing is... in the first three books, you kind of get the idea that the author is aware that Edward is a horrible choice for a human girl and that Jacob is the right one. And then she just throws it all away and makes her series about absolutely nothing. I wonder if she caved in to pressure from the Edward/Bella fanatics because she was afraid if she didn't make everything happy for them that she would no longer have lots of money. It sucked. I live in an alternate world where Bella left Edward at the aisle, ran into Jacob's arms, started the awaited war between the wolves and the vamps who are finally driven away from the wolves' rightful territory and then Jacob and Bella get married and one day when they are old enough after having many young and carefree adventures have a little of really cute puppies.

And I have put way too much thought into this for a 25 yr old straight guy, huh?