Tuesday, June 28, 2011

villains Or journeys?

It’s all about the journey… or is it?

Villains vs. Journeys

There are two types of books in YA; there are books about the journey, about a character thrown in a situation and experiencing personal growth until some sort of conclusion (Jellicoe Road). Then there are books where the heroes battle the villains (Harry Potter). Of course, there are always the books in the middle with bad guys disguising a book about personal growth (Blood Red Road), and personal growth disguising the good vs. evil battle (The Iron King).

Well, that’s how I would categorize things (as in super simplified).

And so I’ve been thinking... if you had to choose, which one do you prefer? Books about the personal journey of the character, or the epic battle against the villainous antagonist?

First, yes, you can say that the best books have the best of both worlds, and I would agree with you. But I'm just saying if you stripped it down and had to choose one or the other...

Perhaps the greatest work of YA fiction, Harry Potter (girl, don’t judge me) is a good versus evil battle. It’s the battle between love and hate, between the good guys, death eaters, and the people residing in the gray zones. It’s the experience of supporting Harry and his attempts to defeat the darkest wizard alive, thus creating a tense, thrilling and fantastic adventure spanning seven glorious books.

A thing I love about these battle books is the final showdown. I’ll call your bluff if you said your heart wasn’t racing and your palms weren’t sweaty when Harry walked into the Forbidden Forest and I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t lurch every few pages when another scene broke my heart.

I find books with a central theme of good guys vs. bad guys are “large scale,” as in “go big or go home.” Just think of Vampire Academy, it’s the Guardians vs. the Strigoi. It has an epic, action movie feel to it as Rose and her friends fight tooth and nail to be victorious. It’s the adrenaline rush you feel with these types of reads and the ones where after the final page is over, you slump back and think “Wow”. Divergent? Tris vs. the big bad faction (-ish. I think Veronica Roth hates me for what I just wrote.)

So obviously there’s a lot, and I mean a lot, to love about these exhilarating battles, but what about the journey books?

I notice in reviews of books I love, I stress about the journey. I stress about how it’s the journey of the character that breathed life into the book, and it’s about the experiences and hardships that shapes the character and changes him or her from the first page to the last.

I also realize that these ‘journey’ books are much more common in contemporary YA (my favourite genre).. coincidence? I think not. Where She Went. The Piper's Son, Like Mandarin. books by Sarah Dessen, John Green... they're all books about characters.

Because for me, it’s the characters that give meaning to a book, it’s the characters that can redeem a bad plot and the voice that can push me past boring scenes. Between the pages, character growth is vital to a book and it occurs because of experiences that don’t necessarily have to do with a ‘bad guy’. So for me, I don’t need the villain— the antagonist— to be a person or cooperation. I’m happy with reading the internal struggles, motivations, and heart of a teenager just trying to figure out what the heck life is throwing at her.

I’ll always remember this quote and pretty much my inspiration for this post.
I remember asking, “What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?” and my father said, “Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand.” - On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I’m a journey kind of gal. What about you?


  1. Great post, and tough question!

    I think I like a combination of both. Especially where the character doesn't want to journey and the villain shows them that they need to. If that makes sense :P. I'm thinking like in Outside In.

    But to decide between them both, one-or-the-other, I'd probably take villain. Even though I rarely come across a really OMGGOOD villain story (I want realistic motives!), they're my favourites when I do.

  2. Skye- Ohh, that's a really good answer, because it's totally true. It seems like I read a lot more non-villain books which is probably why I prefer it, but if a villain book that is OMGGOOD (hehe love that!) it *does* become an absolute favorite. Quality over quantity, maybe? Thanks for the comment!

  3. Excellent post and a thought-provoking topic. Hmmm, I think I like both, but if I HAD to choose, I probably prefer the 'journey' story in general. I seem to read more of them and enjoy them more - perhaps because I can relate to them with more ease than a villains story. That said, you can't go past an epic good vs evil battle for a fun read.

  4. Tough question! I like it when there is a big battle/confrontation after an adventure/quest that has forced the character to grow - which is a journey in itself lol.

    I guess thats both and therefore kind of avoiding the question. I think it depends what mood Im in.

    But if I had to choose - I'd go for hero fighting the villain over a journey book...

  5. This was easy for me to pick. I am a journey girl (isn't that a 80's band?...sorry getting off track there). Anyhow, like you the characters are what makes a book for me. That connection with them.

    Awesome post :)

  6. Journey girl through and through :) The characters make the story.

    Although i would argue that the Harry Potter books are both ~ I think Harry grows a lot over the course of the books and his journey holds equal weight with the good v evil battle.

  7. Hmmm, I think I'd have to go with the villains books. I totally agree with you that the characters make the story, but I think there's a lot of potential for depth in crafting a villain. Like Skye pointed out, motives are crucial...the worst kind of villains are the flat stereotypical types that make you want to go *headdesk*. Getting the reader to understand where the villain is coming from (and perhaps even empathize with them briefly) is essential. In some books I'd say the villain may be more interesting than the protagonist! :D

    Also, in terms of reading experience, I find that most of the books I'm really immersed in and unable to put down are ones that have a good/evil showdown happening. Books solely focused on the journey tend to have a more relaxed reading pace for me, although of course there are exceptions.

    Great discussion question!

  8. I think it's always characters who make the book a SuperRead, but I really appreciate when it's the villain's journey that is the subject. Especially when it's done in a unique way. take The Book Thief - Death is considered a traditional villain, but Zusak managed to humanize and really make him the protagonist, even more so than Liesl. I love a good redemption story, so believable with the villain as a protagonist is always a must read for me.

  9. I agree, Harry Potter is one of the best books of ALL time :)

    I think that the journey of a character is infinitely more meaningful to read about, while having a villain and all makes things really exciting.

    You know what'd be perfect, though? If authors somehow managed to incorporate both. Harry Potter had both bady guys AND personal growth, right?

  10. Belle- I think the thing with the good vs. evil books is that it's just so much more.. *FUN* you know/

    Amy- Haha of course I'd definitely go with both if I could :p Yay for heroes!

    Nic- Haha, we're similar like that :P Except I have Tom and Adam and you don't. *ahem* moving on... xD Yes for characters!

    Alexa- I think HP is definitely a blend of the two (which is why it's so, so, so amazing!) I just felt I should categorize it completely haha :p

    danya- Oh my gosh, stereotypical/stupid villains can completely ruin a book for me~ they should be one of the best parts of the book, I think. Ahh, I see where you're coming from, I agree, those adrenaline-filled villain books make it hard to put down, right? :P

    Linds-Great answer! For The Book Thief (ohmg, first let me fangirl) I wouldn't even count Death as a bad guy.. he's just a complex character like you pointed out.

    Rida- HP! <3 I think tons of authors incorporate both-- which is why there's tons of awesome books out there! I think you need a good foundation of good guys vs. villains, then add in healthy doses of personal growth, yeah? :)

  11. I think what's great is that there are many books that incorporate both elements. Some writers are more successful than others but for the most part, I think it works. It also depends how likable the characters are!!

  12. Wow ummm this is difficult. If I look at my favorite books (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hunger Games Trilogy, Harry Potter) then you would automatically think "Ohhh villains!" but I've always also been very journeys oriented too. I'm like you. Characters make a book for me. Even if the plot is great, if the characters are bad then I'm not going to enjoy the book. I also find myself noticing that I always mention character growth and all that in reviews. So I guess I'm in the middle. I love grandeur and excitement, but without the character's journey then I'm not gonna love it. Its like movies. Do you like Transformers where its all about the action or Little Women where its all about the journey? I think that the best books of all can have both the villains and the journey. :)

  13. Now that I'm a top commentator (I knoww...I don't know) Hm. I feel like it's a duty to answer to your question. This is so tough.
    Journey: Helps me a lot, in my life, to become a zen person.
    Villains: Helps me to fight.

    And if it was the end of the world and only one genre can win and I had to choose, well Villains? I would learned how to be bad ass. So I could survive.

  14. Doooooooooooood, how old are you again? Audrey, you are so wise beyond your years... a very good thing. I love your discussion posts, especially the ones that get the old and rusty gears in my head turning.

    I guess it has a lot to do with the type of genre you read, or at least, that was the case for me.

    You know, last year, I didn't really think of myself as a contemporary fiction reader. I didn't really start reading it until late last year. And all the stories have been about the journey and the struggles and the personal triumphs and sometimes it really resonates with me. I'm loving these types of books, which has surprised the heck out of me.

    Perfect quote!

  15. Jillian- I know! And those tend to be my favorite books (well, HP is, duh :P) Totally agree, and yes for likeable characters!

    Julia- Hehe Transformers! Total brain mush, eh? And really, there isn't much plot, just 'splosions xD But yes, when books have both villains the the characters, and it's well executed they turn out the best, methinks :)

    NeuroHormone- haha thanks for all the comments <3 Great answer!

    Missie- awhh *blushes* You have converted! YES! :P I love what you said about how conemp YA has surprised you, I think I started out reading really eclectic YA, but I've just gravitated more and more towards these journey books and these contemp books, and it seems like sometimes my favourites rub off on you! YAY! :) Thanks for the comment!


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