Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oftentimes Misunderstood Villain-Heroes?

It is rare that an author successfully pulls off a character who remains ambiguous until the very end. I was discussing the character Severus Snape, from the Harry Potter series, with a friend, and I began to think about the art behind his design.
Hopefully you've read the final book in the series, or this will ruin it for you. (so stop reading)
Snape was ambiguous throughout all seven books, convincingly corrupt, misunderstood, or innately good at various times. How does Rowling pull this off? There was hardly a moment that I felt I could predict Snape's actions or explain his often odd behaviors. I want to know how Rowling accomplished this literary feat. It's impressive, don't you agree? So I thought about other questionable characters in YA literature.

JRR Tolkien's character, Golem, is in the same boat. You want to trust him, but at the same time, want the hobbits to be on their guard around him. The reader is hoping for his redemption and turn over, but knows deep down, that both are impossible as long as the ring exists. He gives into temptation in the end, but arguably plays the most crucial role. He is unintentionally the destroyer of the ring.

What about Roscuro from Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux? He only wants to live in the light, despite his role as a rat to stay confined in the dark, hopeless dungeons. Due to an unlucky accident, he is banished from the light, forcing him into the life that he had always avoided. This incident causes him to become resentful of everything associated with the world of light and give into his bitterness and rat-stereotype. Yet, his desire for truth, purity, and most of all light must still be lurking in that rotting mind somewhere. You never know quite what to expect from him.
These rare characters share a common bond. They all found themselves in the midst of the worst evil they could imagine, and they had to face the difficult task of escaping it. Some succeeded, others did not. While they do horrible things and cause immeasurable grief, the reader still has a faint hope that they will return to the light in the end. To me, these are the most believable villains.
All of them played the supposed villain at some point in the novels, and I think their threats are the most convincing. They know exactly the cost of suffering and still choose to allow it. Or they know the cost of their redemption and are always tempted by it.
They are obviously torn characters, and this is why the reader is torn when making an assessment. Life is not an easy recipe to sort out, so why should novels make it easy on us to organize into simple categories of good and evil? We need an occasional ambiguous character to throw us off of our prideful "reader thrones" and make us struggle a little.
I believe that Rowling knew exactly how Snape would turn out, and designed the books to lead to the very appropriate ending. Unike Golem, Snape died a hero. Not many stories would follow the path of a seemingly weak, oftentimes cruel outcast all the way to his victory over the worst evil. Yet, that was the perfect ending for Severus Snape. I am still in awe of her craftiness to surprise me with Snape at the very end, but that is ehy we love these characters.
You never know what to expect from these unlikely villain(?)-heroes(?).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mr. Markus Zusak

I fell in love with Mr. Zusak's style last spring (when the trees were in bloom), when I read my first novel by him, The Book Thief.
I can't even begin to describe this novel's influence over me and my overall idea of what constitutes "young adult" literature. His writing style disabled me from continuing reading during a few delicious moments because I could hardly believe what he was accomplishing with black and white script. His metaphors were utterly mind-blowing, and his descriptions were nothing short of extraordinary and deeply insightful. There were a few pages that I wanted so badly to crawl into his head to try to get a glimpse of his view of this world we live in.

The plot alone would set this book apart from the thousands of other WWII era YA novels, both in character choice and setting. Not to be insensitive to this category, but many of the novels start to blend together. Not this one. Written from the view point of Death, who is imbued with human emotion and unfailing compassion, this story progresses slowly when looking at the actual time span. Yet, the richness and potency of each seemingly insignificant moment in the young girl's (main character) life pulls the reader along hypnotically.

Don't be misled by this first post, I am an avid reader. This book still took me by surprise, and I was glad to be shocked by the quality and originality this author displayed with every one of the 300-400 pages.

He joined the ranks of my current favorite writing voices, Kate DiCamillo and Neil Gaiman.

HOWEVER, I just finished I Am The Messenger, another Zusak creation, and found it ordinary in comparison to the previous. I believe it was one of his earlier works, and there are definitely moments of his unique writing flavor, but they are much more rare. Whereas The Book Thief is a collection of intriguing figurative moments, I found I Am The Messenger to drag on a bit.

Both novels are highly awarded and reviewed, and I Am The Messenger is used in classrooms around the country.

On its own, I would have found this novel to be interesting and unique. Interesting plot, resolved ending, good writing style. Period. Maybe even almost extraordinary. But it sadly pales in comparison to The Book Thief, which I would label Zusak's masterpiece thus far. If you haven't read either, go to the library.

I could write a thesis on The Book Thief and still barely touch the depth of Zusak's artistry. Perhaps I'll try eventually. This novel just asks to be poured over, dissected, pinned, and studied.

Currently reading The Book of Three, the first of The Chronicles of Prydain. Slow start on that one, but it's highly recommended.

Also, I am reading V for Vendetta (Graphic novel, and not necessarily YAL) and listening to The Golden Compass on audio book, narrated by Phillip Pullman himself. Excellent car entertainment. Highly recommend for car trips-but only if you've already read the novel.

Log Goes Forth

I originally meant this to be a blog for almost-legitimate academics, such as myself, as a means of naively reviewing and discussing young adult literature.
Recently, I've noticed that spot is overly filled in the blog networks. Lots of very knowledgeable people are already writing very knowledgeable reviews and thesis' over young adult literature. No more room in that boat.
Then, I decided I would just keep a log of what I'm reading and my opinion of it. Very open for comments, of course. Just a chance to share thoughts on books from a fresh perspective, hardly influenced by courses and grander opinions (for now). So, being an unrecognized student of young adult literature, this is my reading log.
Don't mistake this for an invitation to debate facts, it is all based on impressions and insights.
Don't scoff at my uneducated opinions, but feel free to contribute your own.
And finally, this is not intended to make me rich, famous, or to gain easy access into the literary world. It's just a chance to write all the thoughts bubbling over in my mind as I cruise through an endless list of YA books.