The Dark and Sophisticated Turn of Young Adult Fiction

Of late there has been something of a spring of lucrative franchises emanating from the unlikely arena of Young Adult Fiction. From this corner of literature, usually scoffed at, treated poorly, or generally regarded as “kid stuff”, we have been provided with—if not bombarded by- some of the most pervasive pop culture icons in recent memory. From J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise (now in something of a graceful fade-away with completion of the movie series) to the damnable (IMO) Twilight Saga from Stephanie Meyer, Young Adult Fiction is on the come up. With the looming release of the first movie in the Hunger Games Trilogy it is increasingly apparent, within said genre, that there has been a recent turn to more sophisticated and darker subject matter.

The gradation from seemingly innocent kid stuff into a darker more sophisticated realm is well illustrated by the evolution of the tone within the aforementioned Harry Potter series. Rowling has been quoted as saying that it was always her intention to grow up the maturity of the themes in the series as the rambunctious wizards aged—whether or not this is so is immaterial, it has proven to be not only an interesting convention in fostering relevance across the series (which is arguably formulaic otherwise) it allowed the initial audience to grow older as the books were released while keeping their interest. Perhaps, it is difficult to assert which is the true motive—artistry or business, or perhaps some dastardly chimera of the two—it is effective regardless. The franchise has earned billions between merchandise, box office sales, and—oh yeah—book sales.

The stuff of Rowling’s novels slowly turn from your normal childhood wizard coming of age tale as it begins to deal with the ideas of deception, murder, espionage, war, self-sacrifice, and vengeance along with isolation, feeling different, angst, first kisses, and the normal faire of the genre. As such it allows readers of all ages to grasp on to some piece of the story and the marketability of the franchise transcends age demographics.

In accordance with this, once inspected, Meyer’s Twilight Saga starts at a somewhat higher level in the sophistication department (taste notwithstanding) in dealing with  unrequited love, making the hard choice between two love interests, breaking barriers and misconceptions, and love conquering…not to mention the understandable desire to have sex with the undead. While I don’t personally feel that vampires turn into disco balls in the sun (alas, I’m old school and believe their curse to but the less dazzling ball of fire and screaming ash), the idea of a dhampir (a child with a vampire father and human mother) eating its way through its mother’s uterus is fairly grotesque and is surprising to find in the chapters of Young Adult Fiction.

While Meyer’s Saga doesn’t have the depth of the imaginary world Rowling created it has been nonetheless uber-successful in drawing in (particularly) women and girls of all ages and has spun the entire series of books into movies (with the last one being split in twain in order to grab as many dollars and cram as many scenes as possible). A particular note of success must be put on the branding and merchandising of the characters and plot elements in the Twilight Saga (what with girls getting into street fights and rumbles over Team Edward versus Team Jacob turf disputes and such).

In the past year I had heard rumblings of a series that, at first, I dismissed as being unlikely to possibly live up its synopsis in the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I avoided this series like the plague after first hearing about it but upon a strong suggestion by Mrs. Jo Beth Roberts (the librarian at the High School I work at) I read the first book of the Hunger Games at the end of last month. I quickly devoured the other two books without delay. Having finished the trilogy so quickly, I found that it struck a chord within me that neither the Harry Potter nor the Twilight series could manage to do. I found the story to be action filled and smart Science Fiction/Fantasy that, in many ways, is mislabeled as Young Adult Fiction.

Set in a dystopian future, children in the nation of Panem between 12 and 18 are put in a lottery from across 12 geographical districts in the last remaining habitable environment for man to live after nuclear holocaust. Two from each district are chosen—one boy and one girl—making for 24 teenage combatants set to fight for the death . While Collins heavily borrows from 1984 and the Running Man particularly in her world building the characters are entirely her own and the story is nonetheless compelling for children of 11 and adults with MFAs alike as it deals with very sophisticated themes of survival, starvation, subjugation, revolution, and sacrifice.

This dark turn in the young adult genre, it could be argued, is indicative of the faster world our children live in today—that with all the technology and mass media that is in their face and at their fingertips, along with the relaxing of our moral fiber has created a market of young adults that are ready to receive teenage murder-by-archery and blood thirsty fetuses—and additionally that a population that is continually bogged down with bills, doom, and bad economy that the books we choose as adults to escape into are increasingly easy to read linguistically while dark and gloomy thematically. It could be argued that way. Then again, one could assert that this is a smart relabeling of books that might otherwise be considered horror or sci-fi/fantasy and some brilliant publishing marketeer simply decided “kids will eat this up”. It’s hard to tell and probably moot at any rate. Regardless, what we are left with is a clear change in course for a genre that had previously been dominated by Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys—with all due respect.

How does this bode for “See Spot Run” and other early reader texts? Only time will tell, but when we see spot running from zombies we’ll know that there’s no going back.

Advertisements

Lost Hope: Now Twice a Week!

As our Facebook and Twitter friends learned earlier today, Lost Hope is now going twice a week! Filling the void left by Tricks and Stones on Fridays, the sci-fi thriller will be pulling double duty for the entire month of March with plenty of action and intrigue to go around.

If you haven’t gotten lost in the world of Lost Hope, there’s never been a better time – so get started HERE today!

Child’s Play: The Legend of Zelda

Verdant and shadowy alms line the pathway down a grassy lane hidden deeply in foggy and dangerous woods. At the end of aisle a single golden beam of light descends from the entangled finger like branches and lands intently upon an enchanted stone sheathe. Resting in that stone–inscribed with a prophecy from a language so ancient that nary a tome remains to decipher it–is the blade that has been described as the bane of all evil, a weapon that only the destined hero of time, the avatar of courage may claim at the foreseen moment: The Master Sword. Upon that mythical mystical blade is emblazoned the symbol of the Triforce–the corporeal gift from the three goddesses that promises power, wisdom, and courage to the land of Hyrule.

As lovers and providers of all forms of serial–be they written, video game, or hieroglyphic we strive to share these sequential stories with you. In the realm of video games, as is the mandate of Child’s Play here at Eat Your Seria, let us this time take a gander at a true masterwork.. Ah, The Legend of Zelda is another of those landmark serial games from the imagination of Shigeru Miyamoto and the halls of Nintendo. I remember as a young nerd in the late 80s I first experienced these games, uncharacteristically, from the second in the series. The Adventure of Link: Zelda II is something of an odd duck in the series (as sequels on the NES tended to be). It is a strange mix of RPG experience building, top down world maps, and side scrolling 2D action. This game was so amazingly fun for me and so unfathomably difficult that it remained a thrill and thorn in my side until I was 25 years old (when I finally beat it).

Held within a golden cartridge thar was adventure and excitement that would have a life-long impact on me. The towns and townsfolk (from the enigmatic Error, the wise men and their families, the old witches that replenish your magic, and the hookers that heal your life with filiation) to the dungeons and dungeon masters (such as Horse Head, the Skeleton Knight, and of course Shadow Link), this game did not fail to capture the spirit and imagination of the sword and sorcery genre in the tradition of dungeons and dragons. Some may call it the black sheep in the Zelda family–they are often the same ones who hate on SMB2–but some also like the twilight movies and wear jeggings.

I must admit that my exposure to the series was not followed by the original, ground breaking legend of Zelda (alas I would not give that game my fullest attention until my mid-teens) but was instead every Friday on the Super Mario Brothers Super Show. Excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, princess if you have something bad to say about this cartoon. Sure, it was watered down and aimed at a younger audience than the material could have been, but the use of the actual Nintendo music and sound effects, and at least some adherence to the conventions of the games–and the totally apropos choice of link’s personality being morphed into that of the slacker surfer dude–makes this cartoon one of the fondest memories of my pre-school days.

 

But then came the Super Nintendo. Lightning struck. Nintendo released the next in the series (and you’ll notice I left out the CDI Zelda as I never played them…and also because by all evidence they are a blight on humanity). The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is arguably one of the best video games ever made. This is the game all other Zelda games chase, the one they all aspire to be, and is in my opinion the definitive aesthetic and narrative of the series.

LttP is a crystallized moment of perfection for the series, genre, an industry. There is little praise left to give this game that it hasn’t been given 1000 times before except, perhaps, that it may be God’s favorite game (after skeeball on the jersey shore of course). Through the use of a double sized memory chip, and compressing many of the native 16 color pixels to 8, Nintendo was able maximize the capacity of the game cartridge to include a free roaming world–two of them in fact–where you could only be limited by your skill and, in some cases, a necessary item. The game was, for the most part, non-linear (despite some urgings from maps) which was a very liberating option. Certainly the original legend of Zelda provided this, but the world was not as large, or encompassing. A Link to the Past is, additionally because of it cartoony use of 16 bit graphics still pretty and good looking to this day.

 

Likewise I remember in 9th Grade when I pre-ordered Ocarina of Time. I still have the t-shirt. This was the first video game I ever bought for myself with money I earned from my first job that issued payroll. It was a hell of an experience–while the blocky, choppy, clipping error laden affair may seem somewhat limited now, I assure you at the time the third person 360 degree experience in a game that built a world of different landscapes and races and dangerous dungeons was nothing short of breathtaking, awe inspiring, and a million other trite descriptions. It was amazing. The jump between a child friendly utopian Hyrule and a post-apocalyptic adult one–one that you could affect with your actions via time travel–was unendingly annoying and created a high rate of replay value. Also it had a talking owl in it which is always fun and a chattering fairy (LISTEN!!!!).

 

There are a whole bunch of games in the legend of Zelda series and honestly they are pretty much all amazing—at least the need that I have played (which is not all of them). There is a lot of hoopla over the order of the games because the series weighs heavily on rehashing the story line and reinterpreting it from platform to platform. It relies heavily on the idea of reincarnation and the eternal struggle between good (pointy eared rock star elf link) and evil (oink oink Gannon). The themes are simple, the visuals always gorgeous and timely, and the characters are classic. While recent years have seen me with less time to play long RPG and RPG adventure style games I always try to at least own the most recent iteration of Zelda. It is a cross section of so much ass kicking nerdy that I cannot stay away. So much so that I have a replica Master Sword hanging in my office. So much so that I have had lengthy discussions about the proper game timeline (a discussion for another day). So much so that I almost want to abandon my toddler in the woods with a sword so that he might one day save us all (not really…probably). So much so that I’m gonna go play Link to the Past right now.

 

PS Zelda is the name of the princess, not the the main character. His name is Link (or Asshole if you want to have fun with the dialogue)

New Serial Next Wednesday: The Anarchist’s Girlfriend

Starting next week is the stunning new serial “The Anarchist’s Girlfriend” by Susan Weinstein. The ideas are as fresh as Occupy Wall Street, but the book was actually originally written in the 1970s – dealing with art, politics, mystics and megalomaniacs. It’s delightfully retro and powerfully prescient at the same time.

In “The Anarchist’s Girlfriend”, Dostoyevsky’s divine “Idiot” is reimagined as a Brooklyn Go-Go Girl, who’s psychic and makes clothes of the future. She lives with the Anarchist, who silkscreens posters for his organization, Food for Vendettas, and Sandy, a video-veritie artist/nihilist. The story is told through the compassionate yet worldly eyes of Wayne, a deaf mute journalist for the cultish “News World.” 

And as an added bonus, here’s the cover by acclaimed cover artist Cathy Saksa:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See you next week for the exciting first chapter!