Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hero by Perry Moore


Perry Moore is the executive producer of the Narnia films. This, his first novel for youth, bears some affinities to the C.S. Lewis saga, chiefly in that it belongs broadly to the fantasy hero genre. But the world inhabited by Moore’s characters is that of the classic comic book and its diversity of superheroes, not the fantasy world with its Christian allegorical symbols and characters that Lewis created.

Thom Creed is a young teenager who is the son of a has- been superhero. His father, Hal Creed, the former leader of the world’s superheroes is living as an outcaste from the League of Superheroes and has been disgraced in the eyes of the public at large for reasons that are only gradually revealed to us. He is forced to earn a rather poor living for his family in a menial job. Thom’s mother simply disappeared one day. Hal Creed forbids his son to even play with superhero toys in his childhood and hates any mention of the League of Superheroes. He has also made homophobic comments to his son. Thom is forced to deal alone with the growing realization that he is gay and also that he himself has unique superpowers that are beginning to manifest themselves, powers that are important to his sense of self worth and that he also feels morally obligated to use. He secretly joins the League of Superheroes.

It is evidently Moore’s ambition here to expand the literary world that young gay characters can inhabit in fiction written for teens, to move beyond the weary and redundant model of the “gay problem” novel where the realization about sexual orientation is accompanied by fear of a hostile family or social reaction and where often those worst fears are realized. So he has produced a novel where the traditional problems are a co-plot or a subplot and where the major action, which takes place in a world of superheroes, is the matter of central interest. We witness the trials of a superhero who just happens to be gay.

Does this mixture work? Has the author successfully done something that is transformative and somehow liberating for gay teen literature? The problem it would seem is that there are two substances here that as a matter of literary physics just won’t mix, that the task set was one that couldn’t be accomplished. Moore is never able to achieve the integration of meaning and action that Lewis did. One thread of the story does not comment meaningfully on the other. The “gay problem” subplot is conventional, but worse, any sympathy for the main character is largely eroded because the action of the story takes place in a world of superheroes. You can try to imbue a superhero with “real emotions” but real human emotions are not of very much interest or credibility to us in the superhero genre. Our interest in superheroes is largely centered on their lives of action. We don’t care much about the rest of their lives. The fantasy we live through them is that, unlike us, they are able to act quickly and effectively because they are unencumbered by the ambiguity and hesitations of our emotions, the things that make us human. Their motivations are fixed, exist apriori, and define along with their special powers who they are and must invariably be. Trying to integrate the two worlds results in places where dialogue and emotional reaction seem inappropriate to the world of real emotions and speech, however much they might be in keeping with what we would expect in a superhero comic. We are left wondering if we are supposed to accept these expressions as expected bravado or as humor, but we never are inclined to accept them as real emotion. The superhero elements seem to teeter at times on the brink of satire while the gay coming of age story seems thin, extraneous, and emotionally suspect.

The merit of this book is that, while it says nothing it seems of much interest to a teen about being gay, the superhero story is successful, so if you like that genre, well maybe this is for you. The novel in both its successes and shortcomings makes you think about what exactly is gay fiction for teens, the kinds of limitations that are perhaps inherent in such a genre, and how they might be escaped. A noble attempt to shake things up.


Perry said...

Hey, watch what you criticize. Unless you're a gay teen or have ever been one, lower your armchair literary criticism, and put your snoot on hold. This is a librarian post -- HERO won the LAMBDA Award for its deep effect on gay teens. Heck, from the thousands of letters I get, the book helps teens who feel different in any way.
So back off with your criticism. If you think you're so great, why don't you write your own book. Until you have another book with a protagonist who is a hero and who isn't defined by his sexuality, I strongly suggest you leave this book alone from your criticism.
Name a book that empowers a teen who may be gay more than this one. Go ahead. There are tons of young people waiting.
I'm from the South, and my parents taught me we didn't have to ride on the back of the bus.
So you can take your literary criticism, and share it with all the other homophobic book burners. Such a shame that you potentially turn away readers from a book that could 1.empower them, or 2. save their lives.
I don't expect you to understand. And hey, I know I'm no Dostoyesvsky, no Kafka, but I'd rather be a relatable author anyday.
If you think my book is such a poor mix, then maybe you shouldn't be a part of the AMERICAN LIBRARIAN ASSOCIATION (the ALA), who named HERO one of their top books, and one of their only top gay books for the year.

The ALA and LAMBDA honors are ones I hold dear to my heart. Get a new job. You shouldn't be a librarian. There are plenty of kids who need this book. And I'll fight for them as much as I need to.

I am horrified that you're a librarian.


Perry Moore

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