Yesterday, I talked about Shannon Hale’s apparent attempt to make a mainstream success of a novel staring a character who was not “white, male, able-bodied, straight, not too young . . . and not too old“—you know, what we all expect a protagonist to be here in these United States. We discussed the basics of the plot and posed this question:
Does Dangerous succeed at making us identify with Maisie Danger Brown, its home-schooled, geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan female protagonist?
Sure. Of course it does. Humans are humans, whatever, no problem. Maisie is fine and we, excepting Klansmen, like her as much as we would a white male two-armed protagonist.
But what’s interesting is how much the novel hedges its bets on our openmindedness—it seems to be a little lacking in confidence that the audience will accept her.
Consider the team of five teenaged superheros: We have a redheaded, overly tall, Louisiana girl. We have a nerdy black boy. We have a Korean girl who only eats slushies. We have Maisie. And we have the sexy WASP guy straight off The CW.
On their way back from their first going-out-to-save-people, Maisie says,
With relief I fell into my position in Wilder’s web. . . . It was like he was the nucleus, and without him the four of us were spare electrons, bouncing around without purpose. (91)
This white guy Wilder is the nucleus and they have no purpose without him. Of course, we’re only 91 pages in and it’s too soon to be sure we’ve found the novel’s hidden core.
Wilder’s alien superpower-bestowing token makes him the Thinker, and the other tokens—including Maisie’s—drive their bearers to be with him and so, no matter how far away Maisie may be, her colonial master (if you will) is still “reeling [her] in” (175).
In the end though, as we discovered yesterday, Maisie must throw off his shackles and become the novel’s true hero. Yay!
Only to discover that this was only possible because Wilder was selflessly willing to die in order to make her that hero. Huh.
Of course, she does save the world. Yay!
But saving the world wears her out, and Wilder has to fly up and save her. Hmm.
But he saved her using a jetpack based on her own designs! (Yay?)
While we can make the argument that this give and take proves we all need each other, the novel’s most important and visibly heroic character is being saved by the novel’s most visibly white-normal character. Which seems to contradict the novel’s public position.
As she was falling to Earth (before he saves her), Maisie thinks through her time with Wilder—the kisses they shared, “when [she]’d lost him, and when [she] almost had him again” (380).
And thus she learns that “Falling in love and falling to your death feel about the same” (380).
I’m not sure what to make of that line, frankly. Does this mean that love and death are equally bad? equally good? equally value-neutral? equally significant in some way that does not imply good or bad? I don’t know.
What I do know is that after life returns to (a near facsimile of) normal, Maisie enters public school for the first time since kindergarten where she receives her ultimate reward: Wilder is in her Chemistry class. They go to a movie and they kiss.
Saving humanity from an alien invasion, Dangerous seems to say, is so impressive it makes even a one-armed, half-Paraguayan worthy of a WASP boy’s love.
I know, I know, I know. I’m playing lit-professor games and Ignoring Authorial Intentions, but ultimately, I found Dangerous disappointing. It only sorta did what it set out to do. I’m not complaining about the kiss at the end—I certainly don’t mind a little romance in my fiction (clarification: I rather crave a little romance in my fiction)—but for a girlpower diversityfest to end in Non-Normal Qualifies for White Boy!!!!! seems to undo everything I thought Hale was attempting. And that makes me sad.
====Shannon Hales :: Dangerous====
Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (intro)
///// August 13, 2014 \\
Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (post)
///// August 14, 2014 \\
A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous
///// August 15, 2014 \\
2 thoughts on “Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (part two)”
This reminds me, tangentially, of my reaction to The Actor & the Housewife. Should I be upset about all the places where Hale holds back on the Mormonism, where not holding back would improve the story (and even do so for non-Mormon readers, imo) or be amazed and delighted that she managed to get as much in as she did for a book that’s from a national publisher? I suppose the answer is both. And, of course, we don’t know just how far Hale can push the diversity (Mormon or otherwise) and that’s not the type of thing that she could/should share (unless she turns her back on national publishers, which seems unlikely and likely foolish).
In the end, I fall more in the applause/delight category. No current LDS author is doing what she is doing at the level she is.
I despised THE ACTOR & THE HOUSEWIFE. So much immature behavior, so much promise, so little (zero) payoff, so many moral questions (re adultery–is it REALLY cheating if you’re just besties who can’t stay away from each other?).
And in the end, immature little Becky somehow manages to emasculate her husband AND her boyfriend.