Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra raaaa.
I spent Saturday and Sunday reading the last two Harry Potter books for the first time. It was as heavenly as it sounds. By somehow remaining unfanatic in recent years, I'd avoided all spoilers and thus had the pure enjoyment of discovering the action right in sequence (all through the most productive hours of the day, which is one of my great pleasures). Since I am still dealing with laryngitis, this was perfect recovery activity and a great run-up to the actual holidays. Give it up for vacation!
As a result of my reading, my thoughts have been full of the YA fantasy tropes I've noticed over the years (I am part nerd, but you knew this already).
1. The hero isn't the smartest or the best. The hero is fundamentally ordinary, incredibly human, and achieves greatness because he or she chooses the right friends. (This is true in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Prydain Chronicles, The Dark is Rising, etc.)
2. The hero's origins ultimately are not important. Blood family might play a role, but more often the hero is an orphan. The friends that the hero collects on his or her journey are pivotal. The message seems to be that family is crucial but created. Ties of friendship and loyalty always trump accidents of birth.
3. Evil is never eliminated but the good never, ever stop fighting it, no matter how hard it is or how hopeless it seems.
4. A wise white-bearded man guides and mentors the hero (without ever giving the hero any real answers). It's the Merlin archetype and it seems to be inescapable. (A notable subversion happens in His Dark Materials, but those books are more explicitly about religion and the man with the white beard is notably absent for most of the series.) I'm sure the Merlin archetype came from somewhere else, too, but I haven't read back that far.
5. The end of enchantment is another big one, though obviously it's not part of Harry Potter, since magic is sort of like the matrix in those books. In most other fantasy series, though--finite series, where things are tied up at the end--a big theme is that magic withdraws and the passages between worlds close up. Why? Because those who are left behind, the ordinary who answered the call to be extraordinary and do extraordinary things, now know and understand their own capacity. And they must also do the hard work themselves because no one else will do it for them.
I like these themes very much and they're part of the reason I keep reading these kinds of books. They are also very apropos during this season of celebration, which has at its foundation this one idea no matter which traditions you observe:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Merry Christmas everybody! Take care of your friends and fight evil.