1. Travis Perry says:

    I think our society has gone through some very rapid changes in the past 60 years or so–and those changes were in part fueled by generational differences, younger generations disagreeing with their elders about what is right and wrong. It’s debatable to what degree our recent changes have been good, but they definitely have been a reality.

    So now the idea has entered into our culture that the older generation, instead of being wise and loving mentors, are at best out of touch and at worst deliberately manipulative and exploitative of youth. These kinds of stories, I would say, simply reflect the kind of culture ours has become.

    • I understand how they could reflect the culture, as well as the personal experience of some authors. With the staggering statistics about how many adults have been victims of abuse as children, it’s hardly surprising that some would grow up to write fiction laced with cynicism. However, I believe those of us who write for young audiences have some responsibility to offer our readers a more hopeful worldview. Yes, there are undoubtedly some adults who are not trustworthy, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is untrustworthy.

      • notleia says:

        Well, why? Why is that a responsibility, to implicitly promise them help that may or may not ever come? That seems like the more likely way to make a bunch of nihilists.

        I think the more helpful thing would be to give them resources, like strategies on how to cope and survive.

        • I believe one of the strategies young people need to be armed with is to ask for help when they are in trouble. I feel the message being implicitly sent in these stories is that you are a pawn and will always be a pawn, so don’t bother to seek help. Not only is that a despairing message, I don’t believe it’s true to reality.

          • Haven’t read a ton of popular dystopian fiction, but even in the Hunger Games, there were genuinely good people that wanted to help. Those instances were rather touching, in fact. Haymitch, I believe his name was, seemed to care about Katniss and Peeta at least to an extent and want to help them, in spite of being way less than a perfect person. Or, there was the guy who didn’t know Katniss but did her makeup and costumes and was willing to die for the cause she represented because he believed in her.

            • I felt the film versions of the Hunger Games mentors, including Haymitch, were much more sympathetic and well rounded than in the books. Even Effie, in the film version, winds up expressing a desire to see Katniss find the life of a victor, while in the books, she seemed obsessed solely with advancing her own career.

              • Maybe. It’s been a while since I’ve read the series, or seen the movies(in fact, I didn’t see all of the last movie).

                I think I liked the books better from the standpoint that the characters felt more complex, though, and it was easier to feel how hard their lives were. So, from that standpoint, Haymitch felt more complex in the books, and it was easy to see exactly how much pain he was in and how he wanted to help Katniss because of/in spite of that pain. Maybe some day I’ll reread the trilogy and rewatch the movies again to see if I still feel that way about them.

                Who someone sees as more sympathetic will probably depend, though. To me, sympathetic doesn’t always mean blatantly nice. Often enough a character is sympathetic if they are highly imperfect, yet trying to be a decent person/fighting for a goal/trying to help and protect someone.

          • notleia says:

            But ASKING for help is not how the stories go.

            Obi-wan and Gandalf show up without having to be asked. Harry only had to wait for Hagrid to show up, he didn’t have to ask him. Merlin and Mentor didn’t have to be asked, either.

            So we need to tell the stories when the kids DO ask for help.

            • I would argue that Obi-wan is summoned, though not by Luke. Leia is the one who risks everything to send the message, “Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

              However, I think you make a very good point. In my own YA science fiction novel, there are several mentors who come into the main character’s life by accident or coincidence. However, the major turning point in the book is when he actually cries out for help and gets an answer he never expected.

      • PhiLiP SchMidT says:

        My dear lady:
        I daresay that you have understated the case.
        A more hopeful worldview needs to be presented to ALL audiences…..
        Not just young ones.
        PhiL >^•_•^<

  2. Excellent point! I would argue that there is someone (or more than one) who lightly hints at such a figure but they are lacking the development of a full mentor.

  3. Part of it is the age range these stories are being marketed to, and part of it is the genre. Children are the protagonists and thus need to be proactive, and the easiest way to do that is to give them tons of responsibility, reasons not to trust people, etc. That said, there ARE trustworthy adults/helpers in at least some of these stories. If I recall correctly, the guy who did Katniss’ costumes and makeup seemed kind, for instance. We just don’t notice as much since he’s not a main character, or a blatant mentor figure like Gandalf. Maybe the lesson in that is there are good people out there, we just have to work harder to notice and treasure them.

    As for genre…well, it sort of reflects some things that happened in real life. Thinking about Nazi Germany, etc., friends and family turned on each other, yet other times there were complete strangers willing to help each other for various reasons. Not everyone encountered such helpful strangers, though, and thus things felt bleak and hopeless for some.

    That is reality, and to a great extent that reality is reflected in dystopian stories. What these tales might get wrong at times are the details, like maybe when and where certain threats may come from, or the implausability of some dystopian scenarios. The point of all that probably isn’t ‘Trust no one, never seek help,’ though. It’s probably just mainly there to make the story exciting and take advantage of a popular genre.

    If there is any lesson to be gleaned from the lack of trustworthy people in dystopias, however, is that good discretion needs to be developed. Trust and asking for help is necessary at times, but it is important to know how not to become a victim while asking for help.

    Maybe, as time goes on, parents shouldn’t necessarily be worried about dystopian fiction, but instead change the conversations they have with their kids about it? Instead of telling kids ‘This story is saying that everything is bleak and teaches kids not to ask for help’ (which will increase the chances of the kids actually learning that lesson from the story) Tell them things that are true about dystopian scenarios. Point out the good, helpful characters, however rare they might be. Tell them that it is often important to find trustworthy allies in life, but that it is necessary to make sure those people are actually good before trusting them completely, etc.

    • Parents certainly should be aware of and engaged in discussion with their kids about the messages coming through in the stories they read. However, I believe as authors we also need to take responsibility for what we are offering our readers. Are we sending forth a view of the world that promotes cynicism and despair, or hope and redemption?

      • Authors certainly should consider the messages of their stories, but it’s important to note that stories revolving around cynicism and despair can have just as much importance as ones with hope and redemption. Sometimes, stories filled with cynicism and despair can be good cautionary tales, or teach people how to cope with bleak situations.

        From the dystopias I’ve read, I’m not even sure most of them are actually trying to get the reader to think the world is filled with nothing but bleakness and despair, though. Authors are of course trying to entertain, but they also seem to be trying to get people to think, or be brave enough to stand up against impossible odds.

        Katniss, for instance, takes her sister’s place even though she grew up in the dystopia and has a VERY good idea of how scary and awful the Hunger Games will be, and knows fully well that she will probably die. Showing that much love even in the face of overwhelming hopelessness and despair is setting a great example for readers. And, in a way, isn’t that what Jesus did for us?(Yes, he rose again on the third day, but he sacrificed himself even though he knew not nearly everyone would receive salvation.)

        A lot of stories that we classically think of focusing on happiness, hope and redemption don’t seem to express the weight of sacrifice as much(they’ll talk about it, but stories like the Hunger Games often do a better job of letting the audience feel that weight), which can be a big strike against them.

        Honestly, I write about all those things(cynicism, despair, hope, redemption), but how much I put in each story depends on the plot and characters. So I’m not trying to say that all stories need to be endlessly bleak. It’s probably actually healthiest for readers and writers to have variety, as far as how happy or unhappy their stories are. When it comes to children that read pretty frequently, they probably aren’t only reading dystopian, so they probably are having positive literature influence them as well.

  4. princesselwen says:

    Actually, given that Obi-Wan kept the fact that Vader was Luke’s father a secret from him so Luke would kill Vader without knowing it, does make him a manipulative character. Still sympathetic, but manipulative as well.
    I think that those two sides often co-exist in mentors because they have to balance their goals for ultimate victory with their affection for their student. Which is difficult because the student is having to do things like fight powerful evil beings. I think that what made Ender’s Game so depressing for me is that the affection was dropped and all that remained was the manipulation.
    And yes, The Hunger Games had Haymitch and Cinna (the costume guy), as well as Boggs (the squad leader in district 13), and Finnick Odair–who were all sympathetic adults who helped Katniss in many ways.

    • I agree that Obi-wan’s deception regarding Vader is troubling. The thing I find redeeming about him is his willingness to sacrifice himself in order to secure everyone else’s escape from the Deathstar.

      I’m totally with you on Ender’s Game. There was no one who really cared about him except his sister, Valentine.

      I found the characters you mentioned from The Hunger Games far more sympathetic in the movie version of the series than in the books. I think perhaps the film makers realized they couldn’t leave us with as bleak an ending as the books did, even in a dystopia.

  5. Dona says:

    I think it’s because we have abdicated our responsibility of teaching our children. I know when I was in school, I started to believe that my parents were ignorant and that my teachers were far smarter than my parents. I believed that they were as ignorant of the ways of the current world as they were of “new math.” My mom had some issues that made it impossible for me to go to her for help and my dad was off “making a living” and unavailable physically and emotionally so, between that and feeling like the world had left them behind, I felt that I could only rely on myself. I think family dysfunctions, two working parents, and schools make kids feel that way now too.

    When my daughter was starting 6th grade, her band teacher over rode my statement that my daughter had too much homework and other responsibilities at home to be learning to play two instruments, by asking my daughter whether she thought that was true. I was incensed! Because she was just starting the year, she did not have the wisdom necessary to understand the load she was going to have in the classes she was taking or the wisdom to know what was going to be required of her in her home life that year. The same thing happens now in Colleges, where students are asked their opinions on what classes the colleges should be offering, instead of the experienced and wiser adults telling the students what classes will be necessary for their success in the future.

    God teaches us about authority and power structures. Unbelievers teach children to question authority, follow their hearts, be all that they can be, and that the answers are inside themselves. They simultaneously teach them that they are a power unto themselves and that they are part of a tribe or collective. God teaches respect for elders and that parents are to teach their children. The world teaches kids that they, their friends, their teachers, the government, or the internet has all the answers. Parents really aren’t necessary. We are not living as God made us. No wonder our country is so confused.

    • notleia says:

      So you’re more worried about the locus of control than about the kids learning to function.

    • Remember that most college students are over 18, and thus adults themselves. People should respect their elders and get their advice, but at the same time, college students are at the age where they need to learn how to make decisions on their own. Getting advice from parents is good, but a parent’s word shouldn’t always be the end of it.

      I have two parents that are good people and pretty present in my life, but there have still been times as an adult where I’ve noticed they’ve been blatantly wrong about something, or overly controlling of my decisions(Like completely blowing up when they heard I’d be willing to consider moving to a city a few hours away from them some day. They aren’t that bad anymore, but I was over 18 at the time we had this argument, and it wasn’t for them to act like I was obligated to stay in the same city as them. I didn’t even actually have plans to move at that time, they simply asked if I would be willing to and I said ‘maybe’.)

      Parental advice is great, but there’s a point where adult children need to be allowed autonomy. Otherwise, it undermines them in front of the people they date and eventually marry, and any children they have some day. If I had to act like I always had to bow to what my parents wanted, even if it wasn’t good for me, what kind of message would that send to any children I had? Or to a spouse? It would make it appear as if my opinions and decisions can be looked down on and ignored as inferior.

  6. sheryl Kelly says:

    Well said!

What do you think?