First of all, I’ve been a writer for a long time, and a reader for even longer, and I have rarely, if ever, heard the word trope. I only read it recently on a blog site when I was researching dystopian novels–I’m a compulsive researcher–and then it was in relation to the love triangle.
At the time I didn’t know that love triangles had become cliché (which is the definition of trope in this instance). I never read *Twilight, which from my understanding, was pretty much the beginning of this overuse. I’m not really a fan of vampire romances, because I can’t get past the blood-drinking thing. If I were to read Twilight I’d be rooting for the werewolf, and he loses out in the triangle, so why bother?
Another reason I never read it is because I’ve never really been a fan of love triangles. I am irritatingly (to me) sensitive and the idea of reading a book in which one of the major characters, one that I would become attached to, has his/her heart broken sounds like pain. Why would I do that to myself? So I’ve never read books with triangles and I sure as hell wasn’t ever going to write one.
Then I saw The Hunger Games.
To be honest, I had very little idea of what my husband and I were walking into when we went to that movie. I’d heard some hype about it, and the notion that a bunch of kids were put in an arena to fight to the death and it was televised was appalling to both of us. Still, it was out, we needed something to do on one of our few date nights, and it sounded intriguing, so we went.
Our reactions were as you’d expect. We were disturbed and eyeing other movie goers as we walked out of the theater. The children were very excited; they connected with the main characters. The adults, mostly parents, had the same stunned expression on their faces that I’m sure we had on ours. For all that, though, I wanted the next movie now and part of me secretly wanted to be 16 and learn how to shoot a bow. And, naturally, I really wanted to know what was going to happen between Katniss and Peeta and Gale.
The funny thing was, though, the triangle didn’t upset me. If someone had told me about it before I saw the movie (never mind reading the books a few months later) I would never had gone to it. I don’t think I really processed the love triangle (never mind the “trope” part) until I read the books. The truth is I really, really liked it, so much so that it was part of the reason I wanted to write The PostPlague trilogy. I didn’t really question it until now; I just went with it.
The question I have is why didn’t it bother me? Why doesn’t it bother a lot of people like me? Here are my conclusions:
1)The situation in The Hunger Games trilogy is so dire that the notion of who-loves-whom is pretty minor in comparison to the anxiety over who will live and who will die. Yes, we’re cheering for one relationship or the other and forming *teams” but in the end, we are mostly following the games and the plot and wondering mostly about how the characters will survive and how the rebellion can possibly win. I do love the romance, but it is part of the story, not anywhere near the whole story.
2)Katniss’s attachment to Gale and Peeta comes to her, she doesn’t seek it out. In other words, she’s not involved with one of the boys and then goes looking for another guy. At the beginning of the series, she’s actually attached to neither; Gale is just a friend. While I, personally, sometimes felt like she was behaving selfishly toward Gale and Peeta, my irritation was minor, and I never disliked her for it like I would have if she’d sought a second love interest. She didn’t want this problem and it tortured her as much as it did Peeta and Gale.
3) The books are written in first person. If I had been put into either Peeta or Gale’s head, I would have felt their pain and frustration, and would have been angry with Katniss. The first person point of view choice takes that away from the reader. Although we can sympathize with the two heroes, it is sympathy based upon what Katniss tells us. Mostly we are concerned with her.
Granted the movies allow us a little more incite into the triangle, in that we see Gale watching Katniss in the first movie. We see the anguish and sadness on Peeta’s face in the second movie after the scene with Gale in the square. Even then, though, the movies mostly follow Katniss. We rarely see the boys alone, and never are part of discussions over how they feel abut her.
In essence, Collins not only creates a strong, believable love triangle that gives us something other than Katniss’s goals to cheer for, but the triangle is essential to the story. It may not look like it at first glance, but without Peeta’s love for Katness, it’s unlikely she would have survived the games in The Hunger Games or Catching Fire. I believe that to some extent Peeta’s feelings for Katniss motivate Haymitch to work hard to keep her alive (you may recall that in previous years, he spent the games drunk). That romance also helps convince people to put up money to send Katniss the parachutes. Without the burn balm she most certainly would have died because she would have been in far too much pain to escape from the tree. Also, Peeta (more notably in the book) manipulates the careers and later fights them to keep Katness safe.
The necessity of Gale’s love is pretty evident. Without him, she’d never have learned how to be such a good hunter, or how to set snares. Also, Katniss could never have done all she did if she was worried about Prim or her mother. Knowing Gale will take care of them sets her mind at ease and allows her to focus on her own survival. He also saves her family in Catching Fire. If she’d lost them, she could never have been The Mockingjay?
You might question whether or not Gale needed to love Katniss (romantically) for all of this. Maybe not, but I believe that the many readers would have had difficulty believing he’d make that much effort on her behalf without love. Frankly, we would have assumed it, so it made sense just to put it in the books.
In part two, I’ll talk about when I believe the love triangle trope doesn’t work (I’ll be using The Maze Runner series as an example, which, for what it’s worth, I really liked)
*The whole team philosophy was my first introduction to Twilight. When I first got on facebook, there were still these cyber bulletin boards with pins you could stick on it. I saw pins for Team Edward Cullen and teams for whoever the other is–I still don’t know–and was very confused. But not so confused that I looked it up or read the books. Which I should do, I know, but I’ve got lots of writing to do and a list of other books I want to read. . .so I’m not sure when I’ll get to those.