Teenage Fantasy

Having recently dabbled into teen fiction, I thought I’d have a bit of a look around. I believe that children’s or young adult books can produce great literature as much as any other fiction ‘genre’.  There appears to be quite a sub-genre of dystopian fantasy. When I was a teenager I read George Orwells ‘1984’, which had a profound influence on my understanding of the world, it is one of the classic dystopian novels.

I love Science Fiction. I love to immerse myself into different universes. I believe there is value in using created universes to explore concepts and also to compare and contrast such societies with the real world. There is also the appeal of escapism and anything involving spaceships! I have also identified more with SF, as opposed to fantasy. The key difference between the two genres is that in SF the worlds strive to be coherent and possible within the universe, or possible with particular defined differences. With fantasy, anything is possible, which makes for great stories, however they are perhaps often less useful as social commentary, due to not trying to be possible.

Both SF and fantasy seem to appeal particularly to teenagers. If teenagers are defined as people engaged with discovering themselves, wider society and the process of fitting in with society. Perhaps due to the pressure of the process,  a desire to escape, to create a space outside of the process is sought. Fantasy fiction can provide this.

I was interested in exploring  contemporary teen dystopian fiction, from an older perspective.  I read ‘Divergent’ by Veronica Roth. I feel that is i had read this as a teenager i would have hated it. Hated, because it isn’t a coherent universe, the society described is not possible, as such as a teenager I would have struggled to make sense of it. However, transcending this incoherence and immersing with the story allows the reader to appreciate what the novel does say, even if a fantasy.

Spoilers. The society of ‘Divergent’ is a dystopia consisting of a society divided into five factions, which are purportedly stable, as each faction offers a way of avoiding conflict, though in the novel this stability is breaking down as the factions evolve away from their founding principals. The factions  are based on five  human lifestyle guiding principals: Knowledge, Honesty, Integration, Bravery and Selflessness. At sixteen members of this society choose which faction to join. However rarely, there are ‘Divergents’ who do not have a single dominant principle and divergents are alleged to be dangerous to the social order. This idea of rare ‘divergents’ is where the coherenece of the society breaks down , as the majority of people in our universe are divergent and value more than one thing.

Nonetheless the idea is appealing, perhaps particularly to the teenager, concerned with finding themselves, how to act in society and a fear of conforming to a disliked lifestyle. Indeed, much of the novel concerns the protagonist being initiated into a different faction from her youth, where the behaviours of the faction of her youth are discouraged and new ones encouraged. Essentially some aspects of the  individuals personality are encouraged and others repressed. Thus, individuals conform to their faction, which is what most people do in the real world. For the divergents, they learn how to act as members of faction do, rather than conform. So, the novel actually, effectively explores some of the major issues of being an adolescent. It is an enjoyable, fast paced, action adventure novel.

The lack of coherence of the world still irritates me, the fantasy, the unreality. This is an objection i have towards contemporary society generally. We are offered incoherent fantasies as opposed to balanced accounts of the world. From politicians, from the news media, from the internet and popular entertainments. To be fair, these problems were probably just as bad as when I was a teenager. Perhaps I am frustrated that the world hasn’t improved, so when I discover another fantasy, rather than a thought through coherent world vision, I am frustrated. This puts me into a cynical mode, so I see how in ‘Divergent’ the story panders to the teen ‘market’, rather than as a work of art.

It is very very sad, that the world is now so tapped into commercial culture, that art, books and music, have to be ‘commercial’. so much is there a compromise between quality and commercial appeal. Yes, artists need to make a living. Yes, many artists do an amazing job of balancing these two facets of their work in ingenious ways. The problem is that the pressure towards commercialism away from value seems to be increasing.

Maturity Lies

What is maturity? is it simply time or something that happens. Is it a consequence of acquiring responsibilities, such as looking after children? It is about living with decisions or transcending the necessity for such decisions?

I drifted into the ‘teen’ section at a local bookshop recently and picked up ‘We are Liars‘ by e. lockhart. It is a cracking read (slight spoilers to follow). In this short novel there is an argument between two characters about mottos to live by.

On one ‘side’ is the idea of striving to achieve peace with the world, the other ‘side’ is the idea of striving to achieve peace in the world.

The world is an unjust place, being fully aware of this is depressing and there is little you can do about it, kind of like going insane in the total perspective vortex. So, finding a way to cut this out of your life, to be more comfortable and happy, seems a good strategy and an achievable one.

On the other hand, fighting against the evils of the world seems a better strategy morally.  an involvement in a campaign, provides energy, rewards of feelings of solidarity and seems to separate the self from the problem. It should be noted that purely adopting this behaviour has a tendency to lead to extremism, for example by adopting a ‘moral code’ to justify immoral acts.

These two positions grind against each other in the novel. Being a ‘teen’ book, it suggests that a choice between these competing ways of being is to be made. The implication being that making the choice and committing to it is maturity.

There is also the issue of tradition, particularly family tradition. Instead of making choices for oneself, one can adopt the family position. The benefits are made clear within the family group, but it takes an outsider to reveal the costs.

It appears a scary choice, especially to the young. There is a fear that going down one path or the other will change you as a person, or affect some key cherished principle. This fear actually prevents such a choice being made. I used to be very fearful of making decisions, of making a mark on a piece of paper, kind of ‘uh oh, here we go, where is this going to lead!?’.

The novel and my personal view is that such a choice is not a mark of maturity, but rather an escape from the dynamism of life. Maturity, to me is not making the choice, but finding a way of being both, which is not in itself easy or necessarily simple. To an adolescent seeking concrete truths, this may seem a smeary and inconsistent answer. With age, comes a greater appreciation of time, the temporal nature of existence. It is possible to be happy, and unconcerned with the nastiness in the world, whilst in other parts of life, or at other times, to be fervently fighting injustice and striving the make the world a better place.It is possible to not linger but learn to rapidly switch between the two

Maturity is perhaps being free of the burden of choice, of allowing oneself to go on a journey, not being afraid and aware that steps can be retraced if it becomes apparent that a different course would be better. Not to eradicate a possibility, but realise that things can be left to one side and returned to. To keep options open and to realise there is no end point to decision making, it is simply a journey. Maintaining this balance, prevents the pitfalls of extreme choice  leading to  tragic ends.