Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for perspective

One of the most interesting things about reading a popular book is realizing how differently some people view the characters.

Take The Hunger Games trilogy, for example.  I always saw Katniss as a strong character who did the best she could under difficult situations--particularly in Mockingjay, where her problems became less about her own life-and-death struggles and more about maintaining her humanity and sanity.

Turns out, some people thought she whined her way through the whole thing -- who knew?

One of my all-time favorite books is The Stand.  With literally dozens of main characters and exponentially more fans, there was bound to be at least one controversial figure.  But color me shocked when I realized the prime candidate for I Love Her/I Hate Her status was little Frannie Goldsmith.  (And I'm not even talking about Molly Ringwald's phenomenally bad portrayal of her in the made-for-TV movie.)

For those of you who haven't read it, Fran Goldsmith is a twenty-year-old college student who realizes she's pregnant about a week before 99.9% of the population is wiped out by a strain of super flu.  She's caught in a dysfunctional love triangle between Harold, a socially inept high school kid she grew up with, and Stu, a 30-something widower from Texas.

I say it's a dysfunctional love triangle simply because Fran is never into Harold--she finds him creepy even before he becomes one of the last men on earth.  He manipulates her, spies on her and is possessive of her.  Keep in mind, all this comes before he develops megalomaniacal, homicidal tendencies.

On the other hand you have Stu.  Stu is kind, respectful and loyal.  He doesn't try to coerce women into having sex with him just because it's the end of the world.  I can't speak for every woman, but I generally consider that a plus.

So Fran falls for Stu and Stu falls for Fran and Harold is left out in the cold.  It's life, in my opinion, and for what it's worth, a pretty obvious result.  Leaving out all of Harold's bad character traits and all of Stu's good ones, would you rather have a grown man or a teenage boy as the new step-daddy to your little flu-orphan-baby?

Yet when you glance over message boards on IMDB, comments on Entertainment Weekly, or other sites, it becomes obvious that there are people who think that Fran does treat poor Harold pretty poorly--and that perhaps if she had not, he wouldn't have (CENSORED FOR SPOILERS).

So there's the other side of the coin--Harold is, after all, a seventeen-year-old kid.  He was bullied in school, not particularly adored by his parents.  He's overweight and plagued with bad self-esteem despite being brilliant.  Everyone he knows is dead, except for his dream girl--his older sister's best friend.  He saves her bacon on more than one occasion, and what does she do?

She falls for the middle-aged, uneducated Texan, all the while making snide comments about Harold in her secret journal.

Now, obviously I did notice these things about Fran as I was reading The Stand, but they mattered less to me than they apparently did to other people.

Not to reduce this down to boys-versus-girls, but I imagine most of the people who are on Team Harold also have a Y-chromosome to their name.

From my perspective, Fran was about as nice to Harold as she could be.  She did not like him. What's more, he gave her plenty of legitimate reasons to hate him.  But even if she had liked him, who says that she still can't fall for some other guy?

But maybe to a boy -- who see things like Harold dangling off the barn roof to sign his and Fran's names so other survivors will know where they're headed as an gallant, romantic gesture -- it seems less forgivable that Fran is cavalier toward Harold's affections.

Or maybe it's not a boy/girl thing.  Maybe the Harold apologists were also bullied in high school, leaving them more sympathetic to why a kid like Harold might snap.  Whereas I just an average girl in high school, much like Frannie---liked, but nothing special.  From where I'm sitting, Fran was just a girl who made some bad decisions, some good decisions, but overall tried to do her best.  (And did I mention how she's pregnant, orphaned, 20-years-old, had to bury her father herself, and is occasionally threatened with rape?  OK, just wanted to be clear.)

Who are some other characters seen as polarizing in pop culture?  Both very popular and more obscure suggestions will be accepted - to get things started, I will add Bella Swan from the Twilight books, Patch in the Hush, Hush series,  Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer and sequels, Mikael Blomkvist in the Millenium-a.k.a.-Girl Who Was Generally Badass-Trilogy.


  1. The Ewoks in Star Wars spring to mind, as does Lando. Shane Walsk in The Walking Dead, Adrian Veidt/Ozmandias in The Watchmen, Gus McCall in Lonesome Dove, AC Slater in Saved By the Bell. Then there are the obvious choices like Henry Fleming in The Red Badge of Courage.

    Wow, I am an even bigger nerd than I thought.

  2. Colt - I see where you're going, esp with Shane and Adrian, but since when are the Ewoks controversial? I really want to know, the Fran Goldsmith thing blew my mind. I know they're cuddly and it's kind of ridiculous they managed to blow up the rebuilding Death Star (ahem ... briefly ignoring nerdiness ...) but other than that, am I missing some nefarious undertones to the Ewok nation here?

  3. I'm one of the people who kind of hated Katniss at the end of the triology so...yeah. She was kick ass in the first couple books, but that last one left me cold.

    I agree about the Ewoks. Some people thought they were cute and cuddly. Others thought they were cheesy and annoying and ridiculous. Wouldn't it have been so much better if Endor was entirely populated with Wookies like they originally planned?

    The first thing I thought of was Sleepless in Seattle. I think Meg Ryan's character is a horrible person. She's engaged to Walter and they're happy - and then she leaves him for some guy she heard on the radio. She totally stalks the radio guy, too. But it's supposed to be some great love story? Puke. Meg Ryan's character is a psycho.

    And what about Éowyn in Lord of the Rings? She pretends to be a man so she can fight in the army. Lots of people love her and see her as the epitome of Girl Power. But...dude, she whines about Aragorn all the time! She drove me INSANE! He loves someone else! Get over it already!

    Wow. This comment is really long.

  4. The Ewoks divide fans of 'The Wars" between those who think they are cute and cuddly, and those who think they are a Jim Henson invasion from Saturday Morning and were the front runner to the universally hated Jar-Jar Binks.

    Not to mention there is a pretty strong contingent that maintains they were there solely for the toy market, and showed the selling out of Lucas. This was evidenced by the atrocious two follow up movies featuring the Ewoks.

    And then my nerdiness was magnified X10.

  5. Also, Bill O'Riley compared them to transgendered people, sparking a controversy no one but Fox News could create.

  6. Such a great topic!

    I felt the same way about Katniss. I saw her as strong, but reluctant. If she was whiny, it was the teenager occasionally peeking out, which was rare in the course of the books.

    I had no idea there was so much controversy over Fran! I loved Fran and thought it was obvious that Stu was an infinitely better match for her than Harold. Even if it wasn't that obvious, the heart wants who the heart wants. And her heart didn't want Harold.

    Other characters...I'd like to include Dobby from Harry Potter. A lot of people hate Dobby and thought he was annoying, but there was something so endearing about him. He wanted to protect Harry, whom he'd never met, because Dobby saw the big picture. It wasn't just about Harry's hero status. It was about stopping Voldemort long before anyone knew he could come back.

  7. LOVED the stand. Both my husband and I have read it several times. Helps that they used one of my favorite actresses for the lead... even though the movie departed a bit.

  8. Yeah, my best friend saw Katniss as semi-comparable to Bella. And I thought Katniss was awesome and strong, if a teenager. I still don't understand where she was coming from.

  9. Nikol - so agree on Meg Ryan. I never got that. I like to think that in You Got Mail, they realized how unlikeable she was in SinS, so they threw in that whole scene where she and Greg Kinnear are like, "I don't love you!" "I don't love you!" "Let's not live together!"

    As if anyone moves in together BEFORE finding out if they're in love. Sheesh.

    Karen - Dobby is such a solid suggestion. I remember hating Dobby when he showed up in book 2, but then over the course of the series, he totally grew on me. But my favorite ended up being Kreacher (Who knew? Thought I was going to strangle that little bastard with my bare hands after book 5. Oh JK Rowling, how you love to turn the tables on us.)

    Jolene - there are parts of the TV movie I really like, but a lot I hate about it. Weirdly enough, the two things I hate most are the clothes (Seriously? You're traveling cross country in an off-the-shoulder Sears catalogue dress, Molly Ringwald?) and the lighting. Yes, I know it's summer - BUT THERE WAS AN APOCALYPSE! Every sunshiney scene with birds chirping kind of drove me up the wall. I hope the movie that they're making now is super dark and gritty.

    Di - I'm gonna say it, your friend is weird. I can sort of see where the people who though Katniss was too passive in book 3 are coming from (though seriously - how well would you have done balancing a war and political intrigue at 18?) but BELLA? I don't even hate Bella, but literally all she did was cook and trip.

  10. Simply put, Harold and Frannie are both horrible people. Harold is obvious. If he doesn't get his way, he reacts selfishly. Frannie is new subtle about it, but is, essentially, just as bad as Harold. She is incredibly selfish. She also treated the father of her child the same way.

    Frannie is a horrible is Harold. It's a shame they didn't get together.

  11. Simply put, Harold and Frannie are both horrible people. Harold is obvious. If he doesn't get his way, he reacts selfishly. Frannie is new subtle about it, but is, essentially, just as bad as Harold. She is incredibly selfish. She also treated the father of her child the same way.

    Frannie is a horrible is Harold. It's a shame they didn't get together.

  12. Frannie sucks. Plain and simple. She's obnoxious to the extreme with all her insanely immature giggling. Maybe she needs medication for this? Her judgemental evaluations of everyone, finding fault everywhere. Writing down all of her oh so important opinions in a journal like an eight year old. She seriously needs to look in the mirror. I don't think King has written a more horrible female character ever. He kills off Larry Underwood and keeps this whiny monster around? Geez. And no, I have no Y chromosome floating through my veins.