Adrian Graham

Killing Floor book cover

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels

Jack Reacher is a fusion of the contemporary and the traditional hero. He works with people like a contemporary hero, has romantic relationships like a contemporary hero, but his skills and judgement is almost superhuman, very much like a classical hero. In some ways he’s more capable than James Bond (Ian Fleming’s Bond not Hollywood’s Bond). His strength and intelligence is on the scale of Doc Savage.

Reading a Jack Reacher novel in first person is a bit like playing a first person shooter computer game in ‘god mode’, you know that Reacher is invulnerable. Part of the fun is finding out how he outsmarts his opponents. He’s as sharp witted as Sherlock Holmes.

Reacher is a fictional hero with contemporary and classical traits. He’s selfless, helping others, exposing lies and injustice. He’s not materialistic and has no interest in getting rich. He is free of society’s ills – greed, vanity, and bullshit.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels have two different beginnings. The first begins with a subdued normalcy. It’s just an ordinary day. But it’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong. What? When? The second type of start is the running jump, which goes straight into the action. The narrative is basically a good old mystery story (sometimes with hints of Alfred Hitchcock). It’s carefully presented not to confuse the reader. The narrative goes from a mystery story – unanswered questions (the sleuth deciphering clues) – to an action adventure.

In the action adventure phase, Reacher takes the initiative by confronting the baddies. In the first person stories the reader gets to experience Reacher’s thoughts as he works things out for himself. We only know what he knows. We experience the discoveries as he uncovers them. The action has to always be where Reacher is. Things that happen away from him are either unknown or have to be reported back to him in some way, usually through the dialogue.

The third person stories provide more storytelling flexibility. They allow the reader an insight into what the baddies are doing covertly, behind the scenes. They can also link up different elements of the story, during it, rather than through some kind of wrap up at the end, through hindsight, or through an end-of-story confession by an antagonist.

The Hunger Games

It’s weird to think that The Hunger Games was published in 2008, that’s twelve years ago. Legend has it that Suzanne Collins got the idea for the trilogy while she was channel surfing between a game show and footage of the Iraq war.

The story unfolds through the first person, present tense narration of Katniss Everdeen. Her story quickly reveals the hardships and injustice of living in District 12, which exists in a 19th Century-like state where the coal mining industry is the main employer. In comparison to their extreme poverty the elite in the Capitol live idle lives of decadence.

The story is a brilliant example of a writer constantly putting the protagonist in harms way leading to a sequence of reversals of fortune. Threats are followed by narrow escapes, and this formula is repeated, again and again. The pattern creates a series of tonal peaks and troughs, tension followed by relief, emotional ups and downs.

The story has many of the tropes of Ancient Greek mythology (citizens being sacrificed as tributes, tests, and the spectacle of combat being played out in front of an audience (the Greek gods, and the elite of the Capitol).

The Hunger Games is also a retelling of Cinderella. Katniss is the hardworking overlooked girl chosen to transcend her lowly status. Her mentor Haymitch Abernathy is the fairy godmother. He arranges for her to be transformed by wearing her spectacular fire dress. Peeta plays the role of the handsome and chivalric prince. Their time in the combat arena is akin to them dancing at the ball. They get to know one another, find trust and learn to work together. The fairytale roles, especially the interaction between Peeta and Katniss, have been updated and changed to make them more relevant to a contemporary YA audience.


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