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On point of view, justification, and perfection - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
On point of view, justification, and perfection
I read Warriors: Bluestar's Prophecy yesterday--review later--and it was quite good to get back to the forest, before the series started getting increasingly odd. (Though of course it was written later.)

But to try and get my head straight about who's related to whom, I read the Wikipedia entry, and it had the oddest comment that the character of Fireheart/Firestar--hero of the first series--was for some readers "too perfect."

It got me thinking--there are a lot of things Fireheart did that could have been handled a lot differently. He snuck around behind his leader's back to solve a problem, he didn't trust his Clanmates much on solving another problem, etc.

Of course, within the text, we're in Fireheart's point of view, so we know perfectly well what thought processes lead him to these actions, and they make sense. He wouldn't take them if they didn't make sense to him, and so his point of view is going to present them as the sensible thing to do.

But does that mean it's actually right or the most sensible thing? Do people really need to be explicitly told to think about it? Or is it just that it's presented as "Something Reader X would likely do in that situation"? In which case, calling him "too perfect" is... how to put it... a bit immodest.

All decent narration is unreliable because every character--every person, in fact--is the star of his or her own little mental movie, and in his inner script, decisions all make sense and are done for noble reasons. (I guess there may be some aberrations who don't bother with the latter, but most people at least consider themselves "the good guys"). So in that point of view--if it's done realistically--of course everything is done exactly the way it needs to be done. In subsequent books, you get a different look at his actions... are his overtures to WindClan seen as an attempt to take over? Does ShadowClan perceive ThunderClan as morally arrogant because of Firestar? And so on. But in Firestar's point of view, he's just doing his thing and being the best Firestar he knows how to be. It's up to the reader to judge whether or not he's right.

Shrug.

I guess if I were to accuse characters in this series of being Sues, they would all be in the latter books, where suddenly you have Cat-siahs and the rise of the anti-Christcat, and prophets who see truly most of the time, and so on. The original Fireheart/Firestar books are just about a regular Joe (or a regular Rusty, I guess) who muddles through, making the choices that seem right to him. In a POV story, those choices should make sense to the audience as well. But does that make them perfect?

Not by a long shot.
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Comments
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: October 2nd, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wouldn't know, as I haven't read the books, but perhaps the perceived perfection is due to his sketchy actions not resulting in negative consequences? I know sometimes when I describe a character as being "too perfect" I don't mean that they never do anything wrong, but that when they do something wrongish it always turns out to have been the best way to get it done and all the other characters accept it as fine.
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 2nd, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, not really. His decision do work out all right--it's a standard hero's journey; Luke Skywalker can't realize that it was probably a mistake to leave the farm--but he suffers some pretty painful consequences in social ostracism and the loss of faith of a mother figure (who subsequently goes more than a little batty), and the best friend he covers for ends up exiled from the clan for a while. There are definitely consequences. He's usually on the right side of a moral question, yes, but there are a lot of imperfect people who strive to do the right thing!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 2nd, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
(Oops, that was me.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 3rd, 2009 01:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Odd, I never thought of him as perfect. Maybe I was a little too certain from the beginning that he was going to get "star" sewn onto his name and become the Great Leader - but if that was a fatal story flaw, how many stories would be left?

I'm not sure about people always trying to make the best choices they can. Surely we all do things from time to time that we realize we shouldn't have - and that we realize we had enough information at the time to see the right choice? But we were angry or excited or afraid or something that, at that moment, seemed to outweigh the better choice.

Of course, I read a lot of mystery novels. Half the fun of trying to figure out who did it is understanding why a particular crime would seem like a good idea to certain characters. You don't have to agree, but it does have to be a choice you can at least moderately sympathize with.

Although POV can cover a multitude of sins. Some literary debates are interesting because it's unclear whether a character is an accurate judge of events. On the other hand, I remember one book where I realized I was more sympathetic to a character when he was seen through someone else's eyes than I would have been if I'd seen him through his own. He'd been in wars and dealing with people trying to kill him since he was a kid. You would never be sure if he wasn't rationalizing his choices because he was never sure - or, at least, never sure that he'd made the best or the right choices. The other character was distant enough and had a strong enough moral anchor that you trusted her evaluation.

Ellen
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