Monday, September 17, 2012

"The Other Man:" Getting it Square about Love Triangles

Welcome back and I hope everyone had a good weekend.

I had a very uneventful weekend. Friday night I said to myself, “Self,” (just kidding) “I want to read some urban fantasy.” So I set out to find some good urban fantasy that didn’t focus on vampires. I’m not big on vampires.

I discovered Cassandra Clair’s “Mortal Instruments” series, which I dove into after seeing the quote before part one in “City of Bones” was from “Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” I took a class on “Paradise Lost” during my undergrad, and I have a soft spot for it. I finished “City of Fallen Angels” last night and plan on starting “City of Lost Souls” tonight. And then I plan on reading the “Infernal Devices” books also by Cassandra Clair. What can I say? I’m hooked with the angels and demons thing.

But I’m not going to review Clair’s work today. I’m still in the initial read phase. I’m reading for fun, not to analyze, though stuff does jump out at me every so often. No, today I am going to talk about something that Clair made me realize—the “love triangle issue.”

WARNING: This post will give spoilers for the following series:

-“Mortal Instruments”
-“The Stephanie Plum Novels” – Janet Evanovich
-“Twilight” – Stephenie Meyer
-“Fever Series” – Karen Marie Moning
-“The Hunger Games” – Suzanne Collins

DISCLAIMER: I am not a romance writer. And before anyone asks, yes, these are all female writers. Yes, these are all stories that involve two-boy, one-girl love triangles. I’m talking specifically about these types of stories. I’m not discriminating.

Let’s go back to the “Mortal Instruments.” Clary (the protagonist) starts out the story at a club with her best friend, Simon. As the story progresses, she meets Jace—a strikingly handsome and reckless shadowhunter. As things continue, it becomes apparent that Clary would be safer with Simon. She should be with Simon. Anybody with a sense of self-preservation would go for Simon.

Clary wants Jace, and I wanted her to end up with Jace.

This got me thinking about those three classifications of heroes—alpha, beta, gamma.

To put it out there real quick:

-Alpha – the self-sufficient, macho man who can do it himself
-Beta – the softer guy who is caring and often what the alpha is turned into by the end of the story
-Gamma – sort of a mixture, the “I can do it myself” guy who cares about people

Simon is a beta. Jace is an alpha. Clary would be better off with Simon. Most girls would probably be better off with Simon. I like Jace better. And so far, she is with Jace.

So this got me thinking that I go for alpha males.

Except, I don’t.

To illustrate this, I now move to “The Fever Series.” Mac Lane protests her growing attraction to Jericho Barrons—the definition of alpha male—for most of the first four books. Barrons fights for her affections against V’Lane—a deadly erotic fae prince—and Christian MacKelter—a devilishly handsome young Scotsman. In the end, Mac ends up with Barrons. I never really liked V’lane—least of all after he was revealed to be the over-arching villain Cruce—and characterized him as another alpha. Christian, on the other hand, I rooted for. I wanted Mac and Christian to end up together. Christian—the gamma.

So much for my alpha love. Now I was after the gamma. I wanted the heroine to end up with the Gamma, and she didn’t. Even though Barrons sort of turns into a gamma by the end of the books, I still wanted Mac to be with Christian.

I experienced the same feeling when reading “Twilight.” Yes, I read “Twilight.” Don’t judge me. I don’t like the books, but I wanted to be able to say I read them and be able to back up my reasons for disliking them. I can do this, but will not today. Maybe in a future post.

Back on topic, I hate Edward Cullen. I’d define him as an alpha with serious beta “problems.” I would not define him as a gamma. Jacob Black is a gamma, who is very in-touch with his alpha side. I like Jacob better. I wanted Bella to end up with Jacob. All right, this was mainly out of my deep dislike of vampires and my desire for Bella to wake up and realize her own self-worth. But she disappointed me and went with the vamp.

K, so far we have me liking two gammas and an alpha. We also have me agreeing with only one of three matches for my heroines. I have a thing for gammas.

Or do I?

Next we have the “Stephanie Plum” novels. In these books, we are presented with Joe Morelli—a definite gamma—and Ranger—a definite alpha. Stephanie—the situationally challenged protagonist—is in an on-again-off-again relationship with Morelli throughout the series. In her “weaker” off-again moments, she finds herself in Ranger’s bed.

I had to read the eighth book in the series for class last semester. In the online discussion, someone pointed out that “Stephanie belonged with Morelli.” Maybe it’s my pigheadedness, but from that moment on I wanted her with Ranger. Blame my 20th Century upbringing.

Why did I want Stephanie with Ranger, though? No really, why? It couldn’t just be because someone said she belonged with the other guy. I hunted around in my head after reading some more of the books, and it dawned on me. Morelli was over-protective. He’d sooner lock Stephanie in his basement than let her face anything. Ranger, by contrast, let Stephanie do what she wanted and was there to clean up the mess he knew would be in the aftermath. That decided it. I wanted Stephanie with Ranger because he wasn’t a control freak.

But now back to “Mortal Instruments.” Jace is very over-protective of Clary. He lies, cheats, steals—basically does whatever he has to do to keep Clary out of harms way.

Here’s the kicker. For some stupid reason, I don’t mind the protectiveness from Jace. I think there are two reasons for this. One, Clary does what she wants to despite what Jace says. So did Stephanie, but the difference is that Morelli got pissed. Jace just deals with the fact that Clary is her own person after a while. Two, “Mortal Instruments” is young adult. This doesn’t seem like a real reason, but it is. There’s behavior I’ll accept from teenagers that I won’t accept from adults. Over-protectiveness is one of them.

Where are we now? I like alphas because they’re not over-protective.

Now I’m really going to mess with your heads—“Hunger Games.” Gale is an alpha. Peetah is a beta. Someone told me at my Seton Hill residency this past June that it was Peetah that Katniss ended up with. Peetah is exactly who I wanted Katniss to end up with from the beginning. Even in “Catching Fire” when Katniss states her preference for Gale—even in “Mockingjay” when Peetah comes back from the capital seemingly gone from the tracker jacker venom, I still want Katniss to be with Peetah.

Let’s look at this, Peetah is not an alpha. I already said that. He is, however, fiercely protective of Katniss. I think that’s the difference. I didn’t say over-protective. I said fiercely protective. There is a difference. He always volunteers to protect Katniss. He goes back into the arena to protect her. He doesn’t like letting her go off on her own. But he’s not Edward Cullen.

In “Catching Fire” Johanna Mason slaps Katniss across the face. If it were Bella in Katniss’s place, Johanna would have been thrown across the arena and possibly skinned and sucked free of blood before Bella could say “No, Edward.” Johanna Mason slaps Katniss, and Peetah does nothing. I know what you’re thinking. How can I think Peetah’s a good person/lover if he won’t stand up for Katniss when she’s been hit? He knows Katniss can take care of herself. He comes to her rescue when she needs it. Later in the book when the Jabberjays torture Katniss with the desperate sounds of her loved ones, Peetah reaches her and brings her back from the hell the birds left her in. He will do whatever he must to protect her but only in situations where she needs protecting.

K Mary, rein it in.

Where am I going with this? For me, the love triangles only work if the female is as strong as her two male counterparts.

I read somewhere online before reading “Mortal Instruments” that “if you loved Twilight, you’ll love Mortal Instruments.” I did not love “Twilight.” But I can admit where the love triangles from both are similar—specifically Jace and Clary vs. Edward and Bella. I like Jace and Clary. I hate Edward and Bella.

Here’s why. Clary recognizes her own self-worth. She politely listens to Jace’s protests that she stay safe and then promptly ignores them. Bella, with perhaps an exception or two, does whatever Edward wants her to do to stay safe and doesn’t object. She drives a freaking armored car for him. That’s a bit over the top.

Mac is the same way. She ignores Barron’s orders. Stephanie Plum ignores Morelli’s insistence that she stay locked in the house and safe. Katniss—she just takes care of herself.

Alpha, beta, or gamma?

Answer—the Daily Double. (Just kidding.) It doesn’t matter. There’s a reason Stephanie Plum is on and off with Morelli—he smothers her. And he’s a gamma—not an alpha. Barrons controls everything in his life—including Mac at points. He’s an alpha. The strongest love triangles are the ones where both the man and woman grow. What’s important is that people change.

Edward doesn’t change. Bella doesn’t change. The love triangle didn’t work for me. Love triangles shouldn’t be about the girl choosing the hottest guy. They should be about choosing which one makes them feel safe, which one they love and would protect into Hell. It’s about what they can do for each other, not just about what he can do for her.

So back to my personal issue of hardly ever wanting the heroine with the guy she ends up with.

One of two things is at play here. Either I’m a terrible writer/person and don’t understand love at all. I’m hoping this isn’t the case.

Or it’s the product of growing up in a 20th Century home where my parents encouraged me not to “just settle” for someone. “Find a guy who is worthy of you.” In taking this advice, have I set my bar too high? Now I’m even disagreeing with fictional men.

No, it’s just that I’m more like Katniss. I don’t see it right away, but when it happens, I’ll know. I’m glad I figured this out. I was seriously worried about my ability to tell good fiction from bad. But no, I just want my heroines to pick the guy who will most let her be herself and that she would be happiest with. As is seen here, that person is different for everyone.

Lesson—love triangles require three strong characters to work. At least, that’s my opinion.

See you out of the box,

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