A quick note on the ending of Treasure Island—it’s not Jim that lets Silver go, but Ben Gunn. This makes a lot more sense in terms of the story (Gunn is afraid of Silver, so is unlikely to stand up to him). I suspect a lot of adaptations make it Jim instead because they’re playing up the disreputable-mentor relationship between Jim and Silver, and that moment of “I don’t agree with your life choices, but I’ll give you a chance to have a quiet retirement” puts a nice cap on that. Anyway…
What I really want to mention is the Divergent series, so there are potential spoilers in the remainder of this post. Having seen the first film, we decided to read the books*. I got in first, and have currently read the first two, but Rose Red leapfrogged me and has finished the third. She looked unhappy about it, but was unwilling to say more until I’d caught up, so I’d better get a wiggle on.
It’s an interesting case where in some ways the film was better than the book (or at least the first one—I can’t say yet about the second, or the obligatory 2-part-finale). The training process was clearer, especially with how Tris needed to treat the simulations so as to do well, but not reveal her deviance. Also, the finale worked a bit better given the showdown with Jeanine. Minor details, but they seem to help. I’d probably put it down to the author being an inexperienced student (boy oh boy is it inspired by Psyc101) versus experienced filmmakers.
Most seem to view it as cookie-cutter young-adult fiction, entertaining in places but not worthy of examination. For the most part, I would agree; Harry Potter or The Hunger Games are much stronger thematically, and more worthy of analysis and discussion. But what am I if not someone who thinks too much about things? 🙂
I rather like the idea of the factions as being reactionary based on minimising what each thought was the flaw in society: Abnegation and selfishness, Amity and discord, Candor and deception, Dauntless and cowardice, Erudite and ignorance. Through the books/film each faction shows both the benefits and the weaknesses of this: Abnegation deny themselves, harming interpersonal relationships; Amity follow the majority rule, even if individuals are harmed by the decision; Candor tend to be rude, nosy and blunt; Dauntless are ruthless and bullying; Erudite are dispassionate, lacking in empathy.
What’s more interesting, is that the flaws and mistakes of each faction are in many ways an example of the trait they are trying to remove. Abnegation are passive-aggressive, treating all information on a need-to-know basis, but pridefully assuming they know who needs to know. Amity will enforce peace, even at the cost of subjugation. Candor are in denial about the potential costs or harm from the truth***. Dauntless are afraid of showing any weakness or vulnerability. Erudite are unaware of life from other perspectives (other factions or the factionless). And all seem to have a signature serum tied to their perspective (well, except Abnegation, so far).
I can’t help but be reminded of the start of 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the languages of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (from the NIV)
The factions are trying to fix people, but are too focused on the letter of the law rather than the intention of it, hence rigid enforcement of “Teh Rules” when a more nuanced approach would (potentially) be better.
In many ways, the big reveals at the end of Insurgent (the Factionless want to dismantle the Faction system; the whole society is a breeding programme for “divergents”, though how being divergent helps is still unclear) are not surprising. There is plenty of foreshadowing in terms of people forming alliances but having their own agendas, the wall designed to keep in rather than keep out, many things seeming real but turning out to be a simulation, etc. What is bad about the ending is that it feels like it’s missing a chapter or two: between-book cliffhangers need to be given a little more padding. The story should still be self-contained, and feel like it’s reached a conclusion. The end of the first book achieved this: we knew there was still a lot to be resolved, but if no sequel had eventuated, it still feels like an ending.
This seems to be an annoying habit (mainly recently, but there’s probably several older examples as well) of the middle book/film in a trilogy. Fade to black. “To be continued”. Come back next year. I guess it’s a likely outcome given advance deals, but it could still be done better. The Empire Strikes Back is rare example of getting it right. Imagine if George Lucas had been run over by a submarine, and Return of the Jedi never happened; sure, we’d want to know how things worked out, but the film doesn’t feel incomplete. It has an ending, albeit “things are bad, but we’re quietly hopeful” rather than triumphant. Hopefully the filmmakers have done the same with Insurgent (I’ve heard it diverges from the book quite a bit, anyway).
So, off to read Allegiant (probably swiftly followed by being vented at by Rose Red).
** Bearing in mind, we thought the Matrix sequels were okay. Not mind-blowing like the first one, but acceptable don’t-think-too-much-about-it entertainment.