Why is it that books about vampires, werewolves, and children killing children are so stinkin' popular these days?
Most of the time I am a nonfiction/poetry snob, I admit it, mostly because my job requires it. Occasionally, I miss reading for fun, though, and I have several friends who eat up fiction, both YA and adult. I also really like reading what is popular or what is making a splash so that I can give an educated opinion of it. So, I gobbled up the vampire romance series Twilight. And I finished The Hunger Games last night around 1 a.m.
I was thoroughly entertained. In both instances. But if you ask me to describe what the books are about, I sound a little nuts. "Well, there are these good vampires who try to fit into society, and then there are these people who turn into werewolves when there are vampires around and they defend people against the bad vampires, but they have a truce with the good vampires. And there's this girl who finds herself attracted to one of the good vampires, wants to become a vampire, and is friends with one of the werewolves."
Or, "Yeah, I really liked this book! It's about children killing other children in a contest."
The popularity of these books says a lot about our culture, and I don't mean in a "those books are from the DEVIL" way. The first-person narrator in Twilight and The Hunger Games is a strong, young, beautiful, courageous female who doesn't seem to know that she is strong, beautiful or courageous. It's a Sammy Kershaw kind of "she don't know she's beautiful" thing that is exactly how we all want to be viewed - beautiful but not vain, attractive but not slutty, desired and adored.
At the same time, there's a mysterious, kind, attractive male who is head over heels for the girl but she can't tell, doesn't believe, him, etc. even though he'd do anything to protect her or save her. I know it is sappy, but I'm pretty sure I really want to be rescued most of the time, even though I might look like I want to be in control and take care of myself. I buck against the damsel-in-distress idea because I know that I'm strong enough, but even though I am strong enough, sometimes I really just want to be taken care of, adored, and delighted in. So love unrequited in novels like these speaks deeply into the desires of young girls and, let's face it, grown women who feel taken for granted, who don't feel desireable anymore, who miss being pursued, romanced, or wooed.
In both of these series, there's also the female character's conflict between two guys. I don't know that this will surge up in the sequel to The Hunger Games, but it looks like it could do so. The friend and the romantic interest, and oh, they both love her. If we don't know the tension from being pulled by two desires out of our own personal experiences, we can feel the heartbreak and are moved by that conflict of emotion.
This is why we (women young and old) are drawn to these stories and why they are so insanely popular. It isn't the vampires or the werewolves or the wizards or the dystopian society's crazy annual contest to kill off 23 children in order to keep the districts in line and obedient to a system (which is all very 1984 and Brave New World-ish); it's because our hearts are aching for this kind of adventure, desire, and passion. We want to feel this kind of love. We want to be protected and fought for.
The authors of these books get that, and whether or not it is the most amazing writing doesn't matter - it's a good story that speaks to the heart desires of women everywhere. Just like every romantic comedy, Harlequin romance, or Nicholas Sparks novel or movie. The main character is just like me, a human with character flaws and passion, who finds herself loved, pursued, and desired by another.
I've oversimplified the story line in both series. There's actually a lot more going on in both books besides this theme, but my guess is that this theme is the one that the majority of readers are caught up in. Including me. Onward to Book Two!