Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Messiah Factor--Red Rising and The Hunger Games

The New Popularity Of Saviors In Fantasy And Science Fiction
Red Rising and Other Delights

Fiction, especially science fiction has always required its heroes. These larger-than-life creatures strayed upon the fabricated stage of authors’ settings a long time ago. Inevitably, they always alter the outcome of things, and almost always for the better. That’s what heroes do. That’s their job.

So what’s different of late? Have things changed? Yes. Over the last couple of decades, there has been an ongoing trend toward a hero becoming something more, something far more, and I don’t mean just a superhero in the ordinary sense of that term (Superman, Batman, etc.).
Now, they are demigods. I don’t mean this just figuratively. Many books, mostly those geared toward young adults, are actively creating literal demigods as their heroes.

Whether based on the old Mt. Olympus idea, (the “Olympians,” “Clash Of The Titans,” etc.) or those of fabricated myth and legend (“The Last Airbender”), or whatever, all of a sudden we have a rash of new heroes with godlike powers—demigods, if you will, by definition. Not just heroic powers, mind you, but godlike. Where did all this originally start? Well, that’s like trying to pick a moving target. However, I would say that the idea of the hero as a demigod really started with the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.

Here’s a boy who, even at birth, is clearly marked for something greater. His lightning scar is the sigil and sign of this. He is destined to be “more.” He has latent talents. Oddly, JK Rowling never quite realizes them as fully as I would have thought she might have. Harry Potter never became a superhero, not as we now see them. His latent abilities develop, but he was never capable of the wonders of our more recent heroes in the world of fiction.

Perhaps this was because the trend was still growing, and Harry Potter was just the beginning of it all, so he was not yet a savior in the full sense of the word, as in a messiah. Yes, we could point to even earlier examples of this phenomenon, but let’s be honest here; the Harry Potter series stands out in this regard, as well as do many others, but Rowling’s books were the runaway big hit of all time, it seems. That’s what I’m talking about here, the trend of “big hits in reading.”

Again, the trend is growing even from that point. The Twilight Series is another example. In this case, the heroes are both male and female, but the one with the powers is Edward (at least, until near the end). Young, prepubescent to adolescent girls have fallen in love with werewolf teenage boys, vampire teenage boys; well, whatever, just as long as they are teenage boys who have some kind of powers, and look good with or without their shirts on.

But it doesn’t stop there. The trend continues to grow. Now, this is no longer true of just fantasy. Science fiction has adopted the idea of demigods. Witness the teenager heroes of Chronicle, who develop extraordinary powers. This is just one of many examples of recent times. Moreover, this idea of the hero-as savior, the messiah, if you will, is gaining momentum, gaining traction. It “ain’t” just your standard superhero anymore.

Of late, this seems to be reaching a crescendo. No longer is it enough for the hero to be just a hero, a person who rises above the crowd, to lead people, right wrongs, and win the day. He/she now has become something more, much more. Heroes, whether male or female, are attaining the status of martyrs, of saviors of all humankind. In short, they are becoming very much like the Messiah, Jesus.

Does this sound like blasphemy? Am I way off base in saying this? I don’t think so. Look to the books that have been made into movies of late. Let’s start with the “next big thing,” after the Harry Potter series (not counting the Twilight Series, of course, which has been in play for some time now, and is another “good” example). I’m speaking, of course, of the Hunger Games.

In the Hunger Games, by author Suzanne Collins, we have our hero-cum-demigod in the form of “Katniss.” Although there are “boys” in the book, and they do much to help her on many an occasion, even saving her life, she is the undoubted hero.

She is possessed of more than average abilities. Her ability to shoot an arrow is way above the norm. Her ability to think fast in desperate situations almost defies logic. Not only is she the savior of herself and those she loves, stepping in for her younger sister to participate in the Hunger Games in her name, but she is, ultimately, the savior of civilization and the messiah of a new world order.

Katniss abhors decadence, in particular the decadence of the Capitol and the President. She detests slavery, and the cruel treatment of the weak, the downtrodden workers of the world. Very Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in her philosophy of “Workers of the World Unite. Katniss wants not only freedom for herself, but in the process freedom for all. Does she have doubts? Does she worry about what she is causing to happen? Of course. Katniss has her own private Garden of Gethsemane with which to deal, as all would-be saviors must. Let’s be honest here; it makes for good reading. Nobody likes someone who is perfect, even if they do border on the all-powerful.

And like Jesus was at one point, Katniss is sometimes (actually, most of the time) an unwilling savior. She doesn’t want the crown of thorns that is being placed upon her head, and whether she likes it or not. Even so, Katniss must grow and transmute into something special, whether she wills it, or no, and she must become something more. First, she is a symbol, then a hope, then a prophet and finally a savior.

Like Moses, she comes from a similar source, a people who are virtual slaves, as with the Jews under the Pharaoh. And like Moses, she leads her people, step by step, out of bondage. And like Moses (Jesus?) she practically performs miracles in the process. Her emblem, the Mocking Jay, becomes the new crucifix of her times, one by which her people are freed and led to the “light.”

A revolution in the political sense, but also in the moral sense, takes place. Wrongs are righted. Justice is delivered. And the meek, and the not-so-make, inherit the earth. Of course, it takes much sacrifice, and three books to reach this state. Katniss, by the end, has been transformed first to a prophet (and undoubtedly a “profit,” as well, for the author, publishers, movie producers, etc.), and then to a messiah. She is the harbinger of a new kingdom of peace upon the earth, and in many ways, Katniss is its literal savior.

Am I being a little sarcastic and mocking here? Yes, I am. It’s my nature to be, and why should I have to damp it down in my own blog? Also, I am, admittedly, a little jealous—what great ideas for novels! So yeah, I’m a little on the sarcastic side and for good reason, I feel. It’s called envy and bitterness.

However, this doesn’t mean I didn’t love the books, or enjoy the movies. I did and still do. But that doesn’t make me blind to exactly what the books were really about. They are about empowerment, for young adults, especially young adult females. Our children, it seems, don’t just want the same rights as adults, but they want to supersede them, be more. One can’t blame them. After all, the books appeal to many adults (me included), as well, and for much the same reason—empowerment and hope.

But, as many infomercials would have it, “there is more!” It isn’t just young adult females who enjoy this sort of thing, but young adult males, as well, although admittedly their predilection is for something a little bloodier, a little gorier, even than the Hunger Games were. Although, mind you, they enjoyed that trilogy very much, as well as young women did.

Now we are coming to a whole new flock of books that are becoming popular, and probably will end up as movies in the foreseeable future, too. As my main example, I’m referring to Red Rising. This book by author Pierce Brown, and is gory in the extreme. There is a lot of blood in it by anyone’s standards. I would even go so far as to say it borders on the pointless mayhem at times. Just my opinion.

But it is popular. It is near the top of the charts at Amazon, for one thing, and has been there for some while now.

Is it a good book? Yes, it is. Although, the editors, or at least the editing, is often deplorable. Seldom have I seen such a major work of fiction have so many typographical errors, so many editing mistakes. Repeated words, sentences accidentally switched partly around, the misuse of punctuation (major misuse, not minor), borders on the rampant in this novel.

No, I’m not talking about some ivory-tower editor type of mistakes here, ones which the average reader wouldn’t notice, or more particularly, care about. I’m talking about major editorial mistakes, ones that disrupt the sentences, and sometimes even make them meaningless. They are the kind of mistakes that causes the reader to back up and have to re-read the sentence twice (or more). I’m not sure who edited the book, but they definitely could’ve done better, in my personal opinion. I say this because the book is above average in its error ratio, and annoyingly so for me. Again, just my opinion. But then, I’m jealous! Despite these problems, the book is a great success! Damn it!

But let’s get more specific about Red Rising. All the blood and gore aside, we have yet another dystopian future set before us. This one takes place on Mars to begin with. Although the premise did bother my willing suspension of disbelief to some degree, I did ultimately buy it, and I enjoyed the book.

Would it make a good movie? Undoubtedly. Anyone who likes fast action, blood, gore, and a plot pace that whips right along, will enjoy this book as a movie. I know I will.

And again, we have the hero as Messiah and Savior. Again, he comes from the lowliest of origins, a virtual slave race. He is brought up from the depths (literally) into the light of the day; one he did not know existed on his world. Through great trial and sacrifice he is transmuted, transmogrified into something more and that is a “Gold.” (See, “demigod,” here.)

He is trained, physically altered to have incredible strength, and other abilities. So even by the standards of the ruling race, the Golds, he is a force to be reckoned with, even amongst them. It is his ultimate task to bring down a solar-system-wide tyranny. Can he do it? You bet he can! And again, all willing suspension of disbelief problems aside, and there are some (for instance, what resistance movement would bank everything on one completely unknown “Red?),  he must make sacrifices on his way, just as any savior, or messiah must.

I don’t want to give away too many details of the book, because again, it is a great read and despite the typos, but let’s just say that someone who is very near and dear to him must light the way by the sacrifice of their blood. In other words, again, we have his personal Garden of Gethsemane, with which our hero, if he is to become a messiah, must go through. As with Jesus, he is tempered by this, and resigns himself to his fate, that he is an instrument of a greater (God’s?) will than his own. Yes, he rails against his fate, but he accepts it.

Thus, we have a new savior born, a prophet “up from the mud,” and an ultimate savior, one in which humanity embodies all its hopes for the future. The trouble with “the meek,” seems to be that rather like yeast, they keep trying to rise!

This isn’t the only book in this vein. The formula is now clear. Authors create dystopias. They then create someone who rises from the lowest classes of the society in those dystopias. These people are usually young, not yet twenty. They may be male or female, and seem more often to be female of late. Through dint of circumstances, and often despite themselves and their own desires and dreams of a more humble, less public life, they are forced into the unwilling position of being the new prophet (again, “profit?”), the savior, and the messiah. All of them have their talismans, whether it is a petal of a blood blossom, a brooch with the Mocking Jay upon it, or crucifix, they are destined to be the saviors of the human race.

One might say, with regard to the crucifix, that it’s been done, and better before. Yet, that doesn’t stop us authors from rewriting the story over and over. Why? Because readers enjoy them, that’s why. Authors are prostitutes of a sort. We can’t just write whatever we want and be successful. We have to strike a chord with our readers, we have to give them what they want, much as Pontius Pilate did with the mob in Jerusalem.

Am I commenting negatively upon all this here? No, I’m not. Instead, I’m about to jump on the bandwagon. I’m writing a new book even as we speak, tentatively titled, Gray World. And yes, it is set in a dystopian future, will feature a hero/savior/messiah. Heck, maybe two. More is better, right?

As long as readers want to read them, authors, including me, will write them. So I will write my Gray World. You see, for one thing, I like dystopias. For another, like most people, I like heroes. I even like demigods and saviors. Why not? They are the stuff of our history, legend, and religions. They are an integral part of what makes us human, I think. Even if they didn’t exist, and some believe they don’t, the very idea of them aids the human race, gives us hope, and a sense that everything will turn out well.

Moreover, in fantasy and science fiction, they are the current trend, what is invoked, what is most popular. And why not? After all, the meek will inherit the Earth, won’t they? And even if they don’t, it’s what keeps us going, the belief that someday, they just might.

Being one of those believers, I’m all for this new trend. The more saviors, messiahs, and demigod heroes, the better, in my personal opinion. I intend to add to that ever-growing crowd. Why not? After all, there is profit ("prophet?") to be made.

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