Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bothersome character developments

Speaking of things in fiction that bother me, here's another: characters who are not adventurous enough, but through the story learn to be more adventurous.  A classic example is The Hobbit.  But other examples that come to mind are Anansi Boys, which put me off from Neil Gaiman entirely, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which I know I wouldn't like based on the previews.

Like my previous complaint, it comes down to the limitations of fiction as a medium.  We like stories about the interesting or unusual.  So in a story, adventurous often means going on this dangerous adventure to kill the dragon.  We also like stories where the hero wins.  So of course they defeat the dragon every time despite the one in a million odds.  Doesn't that just show the virtue of being a risk-taker?

Even in a more realistic story where there are no dragons, it's all about living life to the fullest, according to whatever writers think that means.  Inevitably it's something that's fun to read about but doesn't sound like fun to actually experience.  More exploiting the limitations of fiction as a medium.

Maybe it just annoys me on a personal level, as I've met innumerable people who discover that I'm not into one thing or another, and think it's such a travesty that I should try it over and over until I like it.  Geeks are especially bad about this, with all their shows and movies that they think I should watch.  I like to enthuse about webcomics and blogs, but I don't operate under the illusion that everyone else would like them too if only they'd try.

In discussion with my boyfriend, he said this didn't really bother him.  Instead, he's bothered by a different kind of character development, wherein a member of the upper middle class discovers that money can't give their life meaning.  Specific examples include The Great Gatsby and American Beauty.  I think he has trouble sympathizing for those poor poor wealthy people.  I think that doesn't bother me as much though.


SusanB said...

This is a very interesting point! A lot of fiction promotes the "value" of adventuring or taking risks by showing us a person who took those risks and was happier for it, but where are all the people who took similar risks and didn't come out ahead?

Although I recognize this trope, I guess I'm not that bothered by it too much since it means I get to read stories about people having adventures, which I do enjoy.

The only example I can think of in which a not very adventurous character has a great big adventure and does NOT develop a lust for more adventure is Ursula Vernon's Digger. The main character spends most of the story looking for a way to get back home and at no point ever decides the adventure was worth it for its own sake.

miller said...

I read Digger, I liked it.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

Digger is great.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

And Bilbo is hardly better off for his adventure, and, after he returns,, lives a very unadventurous life.

Another good example of a character who learns other things than risk-taking by adventure is The Prydaine Chronicles (sp?) by Lloyd Alexander. In the first book (The Book of Three), Alexander goes to some length to gently satirize Taran's (the protagonist) longing for adventure.

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...
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