Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Percy Jackson and the problem of PC novels

from FT: best literature/book review sites.

don't ask me. The last book I read was Percy Jackson (Ruby bought the series).

Actually, usually I find novels boring: when I peruse the latest stuff, they all seem to be "belly button gazing" stuff about the third sex's problems, or similar pc dilemmas by intelligent yuppies, who all think and act like NYCity elites (even if they are illiterate Mexican immigrants living in Great Bend).

Yes, people do act that way but my point is that the novels often assume that everyone acts that way: few give insight into the problem that people actually think and act differently, and that people from other times and culture really do make different assumptions about the very basic things of life.

So an elite can ask "what's wrong with Kansas" without recognizing that he is making basic cultural assumptions of people living as isolated individuals who rely on government in times of trouble, whereas in Kansas, if you need gas money or money to buy food until the end of the month, you ask your relative or neighbor to lend you money, or go to the church food pantry. They are enmeshed in a web of relationship" s to sustain them in times of troubles.

And I find it amusing that new data shows a lot of "20 somethings" are living with their parents now because there are no good jobs. Forget Obama's "julia" or the "girls" of MTV: think the Waltons.

Historical novels sometimes get these things right (and sometimes wrong: The Other Boleyn sister ignores that her brother was bisexual and Anne well versed in the pregnancy sparing sexual habits of the French courts, but that by the time she was supposed to commit incest, she had become a good protestant and would never have done such a thing. The kid she miscarried was probably from Henry's giving her syphillis, something that probably spared Elizabeth, but that's another story altogether).

You can learn a lot of stuff from historical novels, but when they think and act like yuppies, I am ready to scream. Yet how do we overcome the ability for modern readers to understand what's going on?

Well, one way is to be a very very good writer: Kristin Lavransdatter is an example.

Another way is to have a "mediating" character, who thinks like a modern but can explain and help you understand the other people who seem to be thinking a bit differently.

Frodo Baggins is one example of this, as is the main character in the Angelique series (of all places).

This goes too for Percy Jackson:  Percy thinks and acts like the nice Jewish boys in my neighborhood in the US (although the gods act like the ones portrayed by Homer, which pleased me, and not like New Yorkers).

Well, that's one way for kids to learn about the greek gods and heroes.

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