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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Bridget Jones, Allegiant, and Fans

I confess:

what 300x300 Bridget Jones, Allegiant, and Fans

When I heard the news about the most recent Bridget Jones book — that Mark Darcy was dead — I felt pissed and betrayed.

Darcy dead?!?! Bridget a widow?!?!

How dare Helen Fielding? How dare she?

Destroying a perfectly good romance! For no good reason! I complained and groused on Twitter and in person.

All this without having read the book.

Darcy dies years before the book begins. It’s not a true “spoiler”, in that the entire book is about Bridget’s life now, after Darcy. I’ve had the chance to process the shocking news, and I’ve gradually come to a point where I’m ready to read the latest Bridget Jones. I placed my hold at the library.

As a reader, I don’t see anything wrong with being angry that what I thought of as a romance, complete with Happy-Ever-After, being ruined by, well, taking away that HEA. I’ve had time to readjust my thinking, true, to look at Bridget as a comedy with romance, rather than a romance.

I’m still a bit annoyed, to be honest.

This is a bit different, to be true, than some of the disappointed reactions to the ending of Allegiant, the final volume of Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy. I haven’t read Allegiant yet; I’ve tried to stay away from the spoilers. It’s not the first time that the ending of a story has disappointed readers. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins disappointed many.

It’s perfectly OK for fans to be disappointed in what they love; to be disappointed in how that story ends.

I’m a fan of many things: movies, TV shows, books. I get it, that investment and disappointment. The rants I could make on what did, and didn’t, happen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel alone. I am still not reconciled to the Cordelia storyline. On the other hand, when I heard about the Buffy/Spike pairing I thought it was the stupidest thing ever and it ended up being a pairing I enjoyed.

I’ll repeat: It’s OK to be disappointed.

What I’ll add, though, is what I’ve found, as a viewer and reader and fan, is to be open to the story. And to realize what the story is, or is not. To realize, for example, that Bridget Jones isn’t a romance (or at least the way I define romance, which is HEA), and to read Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy accordingly.

I’ve found that overall I enjoy the viewing and reading experience when I don’t judge the story on what I wish to happen, but on whether what does happen makes sense for the story and the characters. That can be hard to do, to be sure, especially in the moment of being in the story, of being so connected to it. And just because this is how I read, well, that doesn’t mean it’s how everyone should read. Reading is personal and unique.

Being a fan is about being “so connected”. So involved. It’s about caring. And being passionate.

As I said, I haven’t read Allegiant. Or the spoilers. So I don’t know the ending, and cannot say anything about it, or anything about the fan reaction, because I don’t have first hand knowledge. And, I’ve only seen the edges of the unhappy fans — I don’t want to be too spoiled about the ending!

But I do know this:

Yes, it can hurt when a story doesn’t end the way you want it to. And that’s OK.

What’s not OK: pushing that hurt and anger and disappointment out onto a person, that is, the author. Kit Steinkellner at  BookRiot has a post called Hell Hath No Fury Like a Superfan Scorned, and that headline tells you all you need to know about how some people are acting based on their reactions to Allegiant‘s resolution. (Spoilers in the BookRiot article! Major mega spoilers!) Steinkellner wonders, in part, why fans are reacting this way.

Is part of it that they are teen readers? I’m not sure, because some of the reactions I’ve read are from adult readers. Still, as a teen I remember thinking “oh, bad things never happen to main characters.” Side characters, family members? Yes. The first time I watched a TV show that killed off a person who was major in the storyline, I was shocked and appalled because it was against the rules. Again, I haven’t read Allegiant and have avoided major spoilers, but I wonder — is Allegiant the first time some of the readers have encountered a story that veers from the expected?

As people who work with teen readers, we can give them a place to vent. And cry. And get mad. We can also give them a place to discuss. A good discussion is more than complaining about what happened, but to wonder and explore and try to figure out why. Why something happened. What it means. Whether, as I noted above, it was realistic and true to the plot and story and characters. Because here is something, also — one can be mad and angry about what happens in a story, and still like the story. Or, one can be mad and angry and disappointed, and not attack.

What do you think authors “owe” their readers? What readers “owe” authors?

And have you ever been really, really angry at how a story (or show or series) ended?

 

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Annie says:

    The first time I remember being angry with a book’s ending was when I read “Of Mice and Men.” I literally threw the book across the room, crying and saying bad things about Steinbeck. I can only imagine what I would have done if I’d had Goodreads at the time. ;)

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I am STILL not pleased with how Cooper ended her THE DARK IS RISING series. Didn’t like it as a kid, or on any of my rereads, but still adore everything else about it and it remains a favorite. Other books or shows that have done that (and I think there is a recent one, I’ll have to look) get major attitude for me for what I think of as a cop-out ending.

  2. I don’t think authors owe their readers anything to be honest. It’s nice when they throw their fans a bone or two (I love Riordan’s dedication in House of Hades; it’s a great nod), but honestly, I would be more upset if a writer wrote the story to the fans’ specifications and not to where they feel the story should go. It’s their work of creation, not a collaborative effort.

    That said, I do think readers’ reactions are valid. (Though death threats — is that what Roth’s getting?? I’m coming to this late, and without all the information because I’m trying to avoid spoilers, too. — are unacceptable.) I wasn’t happy with the direction Mockingjay took, though I understood why Collins went there. I thought Deathly Hallows could have been grittier, darker, but in retrospect, I understand why Rowling wrote the book she did. I bring my hopes and expectations to the book, and it’s natural to be disappointed when those hopes and expectations aren’t met. And endings are always hard. But, how we react to the book is more indicative of the kind of people WE are rather than what the author wrote.

    FWIW, I was kind of disappointed Darcy was killed off, too.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Melissa, yes, yes, yes. One reason I’ve been much less involved in some fandoms than I used to be is I was seeing some of this — insistence? is that the right word? — that expectations had to be met. I’d read “the only way that this story can be resolved is x y z” and people getting very angry when those usually very specific things did not happen. There will be certain hopes and desires, there will be certain disappointments, that’s just the nature of following and reading a story created by someone else. I also don’t think there is anything wrong with that — as I noted above, not everyone shares those same expectations of what should happen in a story. Someone is always going to be disappointed.

      • Yes, I think insistence is the right word. And it’s not only for books, I see this for TV shows as well. At what point did we, the fans, decide that we had a right to dictate how the things we are fans of come out? (That sentence was a bit awkward. Sorry.)

        And, true, someone is always going to be disappointed. But I think it speaks loudly to our culture that disappointment translated into violence, or at least hatespeak.

  3. Electric Landlady says:

    Cecilia Dart-Thornton’s Bitterbynde Trilogy was fantastic right up until the last page, which made me want to scream and throw things. I still don’t think it was necessary.

    I’m still not reconciled to Bridget Jones. ;) I agree, the author can write the story she wants to write and doesn’t owe the reader anything. Sometimes she owes the story something though. Mockingjay worked for me – it was the ending the story needed.

    Sorry for the half-formed thoughts, I haven’t had my coffee yet. ;)

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I’m actually one of the people who thought the ending of Mockingjay worked very well, and made a lot of sense for what the series was about. Haven’t read Bitterbynde yet, will add it to my list.

      • Lara says:

        Liz, yes! I agree. I might not have been doing back flips over how MOCKINGJAY ended, but it totally fit within the universe that Collins created. It also didn’t take away from how well-written the series is, either.

  4. Alys says:

    I’m with you on the “but it’s against the rules!” reaction the first time. I refused to re-read Bridge to Terebithia for YEARS because my initial reaction was so emotionally unpleasant. It was so unexpected and out of nowhere. My ten year old self was gobsmacked. It is, of course, part of the point of the book, that death can be random and pointless and completely unexpected. But having only ever encountered death when it happened to a side character who was sacrificing him/herself nobly for a cause, or was so ill that it was almost a release….I had a very intense reaction to that book.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      I had NO IDEA that was coming in Terebithia. None at all. I can still remember the “what. the. hell.” reaction in my kid-head. Added to it I picked it up during my fantasy phase believing it was a real, actual fantasy book. Yet? Love that book.

  5. I have been angry about endings as well, as an adult. I was so disappointed in the ending to The Namesake, I did throw it against the wall. I’ve continued to read Jhumpa Lahiri and I enjoy her work so much that I teach it (not The Namesake, obviously).

    I feel like the ending of books are often about wish fulfillment and when that’s frustrated, the reader can get frustrated too.

    As a writer, I struggle with endings because I know the reader wants wish fulfillment, but I do need to be honest to the story and where it leads me. If the ending isn’t as authentic as the rest of the book, then I think it does the work a disservice.

    Now when I finish reading a book, I feel like I understand the story the writer was trying to tell and sometimes that matches with what I wanted and sometimes it doesn’t. But as long as its authentic, I resolve myself to it.

    Maybe this is a just a long way of saying, “yes, I agree. I second.”

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Swati, there are certain books I tend to avoid — ones where it’s not so much where I don’t think I’ll like the ending as I don’t think I’ll like the overall message (“and we are all unhappy and will always be unhappy”.) I guess one could argue that I self-select already to those where the ending will be wish fulfillment? But even then, I want an authentic ending, as you note — but it looking at my reading choices, I guess I want authenticity in a universe that is more hopeful than ‘life sucks.” Some of the adult genres I love — romance and mystery — I love because I will get what I think of as the authentic ending in each that in other genres may indeed be wish fulfillment: a HEA in one, a mystery solved in the other.

      I guess I’m trying to work out that bit about authenticity v wish fulfillment, which sounds almost the opposite of “authentic” in that if it’s about making a wish true, isnt’ that already defined as not-possible?

  6. Joy Piedmont says:

    These two books have been hot topics of discussion around my school recently.

    Karyn, another colleague, and I had a lengthy discussion about Darcy and Helen Fielding’s decision to make Bridget single again. I like to think that our opinions were completely grounded in literary discussion (we did talk about how there are narrative arcs that can’t be explored now, and how this changes our reading of Darcy as a character) but I know a large part of my personal annoyance is that I just really enjoyed Darcy; as though I’ve actually known him for all these years. I trust Helen Fielding and think she can do whatever she wants with her characters and her story, but I’m still going to deal with her literary decision as though it were a personal loss, because I am emotional about Bridget Jones. Bridget feels like a friend.

    And just yesterday, three of our ninth graders came bursting into the library to talk about their rage (I’m not exaggerating, these were angry children) over Allegiant. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I told them to spoil the book for me so I could hear why they were so angry and when they were done spoiling and making their case I completely understood how their feelings.

    I don’t think Veronica Roth, or any author, owes their audience anything; she should feel creatively free to write her own story, but these are 14-year-olds who have a lot of emotional investment in these characters and the world so I get why they had such strong reactions. It really is a personal thing when something happens that they don’t like. They vented and raged, but they’ve also thought about why they disagree with the author’s choices. They pointed out plot holes and character inconsistencies. These are kids who spent a lot of time with the text and don’t just have an emotional investment, but really have done some close readings. Of course, some of them are just mad because not all stories end the way we want them to and that’s a hard lesson to learn when you believe that you’re in a “safe space” with a book you love. I hope I can encourage them to think critically about their anger. It’s a skill they’ll need as readers and as people.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Joy, I feel like I need to reread Bridget 1 and Bridget 2, because I think my viewing of the movies has colored and changed how I interpreted the books. And, accordingly, why I reacted so strongly to the news about Bridget 3. Is it Mark Darcy or Firth as Darcy that I mourn?

      My niece has not yet finished Allegiant. So far, no one at her school who has finished it has spoiled it for her. I cannot say how strongly she loves this series and Tris. But, she’s not someone who cries at either books or tv shows or movies. So I’m not sure how she’s going to react to, well, whatever it is that people are upset about.

      And I love that your students have a place to process the emotional investment and their reactions. And I agree — books and fiction can be a safe place for things like working thru anger, etc.

  7. Maureen E says:

    What a fascinating post, Liz! I think it’s a complex issue, because of course (as others have been pointing out) there’s the emotional reaction and then the critical response. But then the two are often bound together–I was very disappointed in Mira Grant’s BLACKOUT because I felt it was sloppy writing that effectively retconned the first book, while at the same time one of major problems for me is the way the characters I had grown to love were being changed without a lot of rhyme or reason.

    And of course, within any fandom and especially a huge one like Roth’s, you get fans who don’t necessarily have the tools (or desire?) to engage critically with a text. And they can be the loudest voices in the room. On the other hand, you can certainly be upset and critical at the same time, just as you can love a book and be critical. It’s more difficult (or it is for me, at any rate), but it’s certainly possible.

    The age issue is definitely a factor as well. I was SO upset over the ending of Silver on the Tree when I read it in middle school, but I could never have articulated it, beyond a burning but vague feeling of Not Rightness. When I re-read the series recently, I was able to come to it with an adult perspective; I don’t like the ending any better than I did, but I can point to specific things that bothered me, and articulate why they didn’t work.

    For me right now, a lot of my response to endings, especially of the killing of characters variety, has to do with how well the overall story is written, whether that death feels necessary and earned, or stuck in for shock value. I can think of recent examples of both.

    I don’t think either readers or authors owe each other anything. It would be nice if all authors delivered works of personal and internal integrity, and all readers engaged with texts thoughtfully and critically. But of course, that’s a utopian vision.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Haven’t read Grant but I know I’ve felt that emotion / reaction to endings of books it’s just I’m blanking, right now, on specific examples.

      What bothered me in SILVER ON THE TREE, personally, was the forgetting. It feels like a disservice to the reader and the character to do that type of memory-wipe. (I loved how Stephen King explores this trope in IT). Don’t even get me on how Doctor Who or others have also used this!

      The older I”ve gotten, the more I’ve been able to distance myself — but part of it is just having tricks. Like reading the end first to be less emotionally invested. It’s also why I try to focus on how an ending or plot point works within a text. Rather than do i like it / hope for it, is it “true”? Or is it sloppy?

      I respect that not everyone does that. And I can so remember just how deeply I felt these things.

      And still do. Despite reading the ends first.

      • Maureen E says:

        Oh, yes, it’s totally the forgetting. BOO! Such an annoying and clumsy plot device. However, there’s a wonderful fic I saw recently that I have officially made my HeadCanon end of the series.

        Rather than do i like it / hope for it, is it “true”? Or is it sloppy?
        I like that way of putting it.

        (And I hear you on the feeling these things! I actually like thinking critically about books partly because it gives me the vocabulary to express my emotions. So, I still feel things as deeply as I used to, but now I have the tools to be a little more coherent than when I was younger.)

  8. Julie Rhodes says:

    When I finished Allegiant this week, I felt sad, angry, and conflicted. I understand why these young people are having a hard time with the ending of this book. To them, these characters are real. They had an emotional attachment to them. This speaks to the power of the written word. In a sense, they are grieving. They are going through the normal feelings associated with the death of a loved one. They need a librarian who understands this to talk with them so they can deal with their feelings.

    • Elizabeth Burns says:

      Julie, I’m going to read ALLEGIANT for no other reason than to understand the emotions going on. Of course, this means I’ll have to read INSURGENT

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