Part 1: On Recent Incidents of Reader Outrage

February 9, 2014

The wanderings of a mind that is wont to ponder. Check out past Between Bookends posts here!

FAIR WARNING: This post contains definite spoilers for those who haven't read Allegiant. Also, this is going to be a long post, so consider yourself warned.

Somehow (I suspect it has something to do with the frugality of the time I spend wandering the Net), I'm always the last person to hear about things. Take for instance the two huge Goodreads things that happened (one was the policy change, and the other I dont remember, but I remember that I didn't hear about it until well after everything settled down), the hubbub over The Fault in Our Stars movie poster, or the more recent commotion that Kathleen Hale's (No One Else Can Have You) opinion on negative reviews led to. With all of them, I was kind of the last person to know about it. I know, I know, it doesn't speak well of my ability to 'keep abreast with the times', etc. but, oh well. Would you believe it if I said my head's stuck so far into a book that I hardly ever keep up with real-time? :D

But, for the first time in a long time, I learnt of something pretty soon after it went on the Net. Not surprising, considering the absolute hailstorm it triggered. So the fact that I'm in on this early on, and that I actually have an opinion I want to share, has culminated in this post.

Readers taking umbrage with the way stories are written is no new phenomenon, but since I became active on the Internet I've seen only three that sparked outraged brouhaha (though they're not precisely related to the way stories are written, they are book related, and thus relevant) - the Allegiant ending, the TFiOS movie poster tagline, and now, the J K Rowling interview.

Since I'm all about organised thought (ahem, right.), lets go about this systematically, shall we?

Veronica Roth's fall out with her readers
First of all, there were so many things that went wrong with Allegiant (scroll to the bottom for parts of Allegiant that went right). With a brilliant debut in Divergent and a not-perfect-but-still-great follow up in Insurgent, I don't think I'm alone in saying I was expecting Veronica Roth to give us a finale that was just as (if not more) remarkable as it's predecessors. But Allegiant's plot progression was staccato at best, with things picking up only towards the end, the dual narrative was a massive fail (in my personal opinion) owing to the lack of distinction between the two voices, and there was a lot of disillusionment (for me) in the entire book, giving a generally lacklustre feel to the whole thing. So, for some readers (not me, though), I think Tris' death was just one thing too many gone wrong, given it's almost an unwritten rule that you don't kill your leads.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the fact that Roth killed Tris. I get that she was at the end of her journey and that she'd accomplished all she needed to. Also, while reading, I kept questioning Tris' final destination and where she would go from there, and kept feeling like she wouldn't find a place for herself in the new regime, when it came. During her examination of herself and of the world around her, she keeps coming up short of what she wanted. So her death made sense, and she died peaceful, so I think it was a pretty logical conclusion on the author's part.

But.

The way Roth delivered Tris' death did not leave me very impressed. I actually wasn't even sure she had really died until the very, very end, when they scatter her ashes. Setting aside the logical holes in it (she could withstand the other serums. So why not this?), the whole thing felt contrived and artificial. I don't have a problem with Tris' death itself, but I do with the way it was carried out.

Being the awesome person that she is, Veronica Roth has taken the time to address the issue on her blog. Kudos to her for that! (thanks, Anne, for reminding me!)

The Fault In Our Stars Movie Poster Outrage
The tagline that did it all - One Sick Love Story. (full image)

I love love love the poster itself. Not only is it beautiful from an aesthetic point of view, but it's great how they haven't shied away from showing Hazel's tubes, but placed it in prominence, and how both the leads share equal space on the poster (just like Divergent! *sarcasm*). But that tagline? I wasn't happy when I read it. It appeared glib and flippant to me.

But then when I got over the shock of it, I got the point, and it started to grow on me. John Green couldn't have elucidated it any better (like always) when he said,

“I found [the tagline] dark and angry in the same way that Hazel is (at least at times) dark and angry in her humor. I mostly wanted something that said, ‘This is hopefully not going to be a gauzy, sentimental love story that romanticizes illness and further spreads the lie that the only reason sick people exist is so that healthy people can learn lessons.’ But that’s not a very good tag line. I like the tag line because it says, literally, the sick can also have love stories. Love and joy and romance are not just things reserved for the well.”

But what I'm dubious about is whether or not the people who haven't read the book will get the tagline. We get it, because we know the kind of humour these characters use, but what about the others? I think it all depends on how the actors portray the characters, because if they do it well, people will hopefully get it. So while I'll never be completely comfortable with that tagline, I understand it, and even like it to an extent.

When J K Rowling Committed Heresy
"I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment... For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione with Ron... It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility... In some ways Hermione and Harry are a better fit... I felt this quite strongly when I had Hermione and Harry together in the tent!" 
(You can read the full transcript of J. K. Rowling & Emma Watson's conversation on Hypable)

I hate that she said this. I would've been better off not knowing. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

I for one don't agree with her. Not because I'm a Ron-Hermione shipper, (the love interests in Harry Potter have never really been of much concern personally) but because I think their relationship was beautiful and they were both perfect for each other. Although we don't see much of their lovey-dovey interactions in the book, from what little we do, it was clear that they made each other better versions of themselves. Also, their relationship's origins can be traced back to The Prisoner of Azkaban. So it wasn't something that happened over night. As for Harry and Hermione? I think the idea generated solely from the movies (Goblet of Fire tent scene? Deathly Hallows tent scene? God, what's with these directors and tent?!), and even then, *barf*.

Oh, and can we take a minute to think of how completely unsuitable and unexciting and out of the blue Harry & Ginny's relationship was? For the first five books the only thing we see of her is her hair (she kept hiding from Harry, remember?), and then suddenly, BAM! We're reading about pangs of jealousy and her being the only one to comfort Harry when Dumbledore's died. Really?

Separate from the synergy of Ron & Hermione's relationship, is Harry and Hermione's completely platonic relationship. How rare is it we see a protagonist and a best friend of opposite sex not fall in love? Hardly ever. Rowling could've chosen Harry & Hermione over Ron & Hermione. Or she couldn't turned it into a full fledged love triangle. But she didn't. Instead, she gave us one of the most beautiful friendships we've ever seen in YA literature, and to have replaced that with a love story would've been a great loss, I think.

But whatever she or anyone else says, the fact remains that Rowling wrote Harry Potter the way she did, and that's the way it's staying. So after we all air out our protests and grievances, at the end of the day, let's appreciate Harry Potter for what it is, and not for for what it could have been.

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I just realised how interminably long this post is becoming, so I'm stopping here. I shall continue my thoughts on reader expectations and authorial intent & responsibility in a later post.

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What I loved in Allegiant:
In short, how the author spun the growth of every relationship except Tris' and Tobias'. In particular, how Christina and Tris become so very close, stepping out of the shadow that Will's death cast on their friendship. There's also a lot of inner dialogue in the book, with both Tris and Tobias contemplating several concepts with a philosophical bent. I always love it when this happens in books, and Allegiant is no exception.

This seems like a miserably minuscule list, but I sure there were more things I liked about Allegiant. I just dont remember them right now.


So, tell me, tell me, tell me! What did you think of all these incidents? Agree? Disagree? Feel free to chop off my head in the comments! ;)


P.S.: Would you believe that this is my third discussion post in a week? It appears that I am on a roll.