symbolism in ya paranormals: auto club version

Monday, November 23, 2009 |

I was zooming through the latest YA paranormal sensation, Hush, Hush, when a certain scene and description brought me up short. It wasn’t about the bad boy’s gorgeous features or an egregious error in judgment by the flawed-but-lovable heroine. It was the introduction of Patch’s motorcycle. Or should I say, his ‘prop’ automobile. The attention given by the character to this form of transportation (brand new and shiny, by the way) just brought a lot of random and seemingly un-related thoughts together into a still random by now slightly ranty mess (which you see before you).

Out of this confusion, one clear question emerges: What the heck is up with the symbolic and totemic rides in paranormal teen lit? I have three examples in mind when I say ‘paranormal teen lit’ – Twilight (just the first book – I didn’t read past that point), Shiver, and now, of course, Hush, Hush.

Twilight: does it need any introduction? NO. How about Edward’s Volvo? Also NO, especially with the debut of the new ads featuring Robert Pattinson as vampire + car. That Volvo screams intelligent, discriminating, tasteful and foreign. But what about Bella’s vintage (nice way to put it, don’t you think?) truck? It might symbolize stability, strength, tradition. Unchanging attitudes. All traits which could be applied to the guy who gave her the vehicle – Chief Swan. I’m just going to put this out there – he was my favorite character in the film version. And that’s…something. I’m not even going to go into the cars driven by the other vampires. There’s some serious car lust bleeding through the pages, Ms. Meyer…

A less explicit example is Grace’s selection and purchase of a Bronco (it IS a Bronco, right? I’m not making that up?) around mid-book in the werewolf love story Shiver. Any old SUV really, but a especially a Bronco, conjures up images and references: solid, rangy, ready for adventure and/or disaster. Maybe a little bit like a wolf?

And my current read, Hush, Hush, with Patch’s motorcycle and the girls’ Neon and Fiat. Can I just point out that ALL THREE of those vehicles are several ticks past impractical for a story set in Maine? The motorcyle is easy and cliché – daring, danger, energy, image. The Fiat is history and danger (in a completely UNsexy way). And the Neon? Newish, impractical above all, and kind of vanilla despite the purple paint job.

Anyway, these vehicles actually play large parts in the stories – as retreats from trouble, as shining steeds for the proverbial teenage white knights or rebellious mounts for the bad boys, and as possible thrill-inducing (negative AND positive) experiments. I mean, I know that learning to drive and getting a car are seminal American teenage experiences. But to grant (intentionally or not) these machines their own place and character in the story is a very interesting phenomenon. It’s not as if these are stories about cars, after all. Can you think of more examples? Is this a recent trend or something that’s been happening for a while? And is there an appreciable connection between car obsessions and paranormal novels in particular? Just some food for thought.

*Feel free to insert jokes about the driving skills of sparkly white vampires here.*


Rhiannon Hart said...

I never made it past Twilight either! Um, cars...The whole branding thing rather than just "a car" is kinda annoying. Though I did put a 1969 gunmetal gray Mustang in the urban fantasy I'm currently writing. Not owned by a teen though. (And really, vintage isn't product placement. Right? BTW I don't know if this car actually exists--I plan on fact-checking later whether mustangs were made in '69!)

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Great post! I hadn't made those connections about transportation in Twilight yet. I haven't read the other two books, but I plan to! (I'm at my wit's end with Twilight madness.)

Unknown said...

Very cool, nicely thought out! I wonder if the particular-vehicles-in-YA thing is because teens really do spend a lot of time thinking about cars? I certainly did, and a lot of the people I knew did, too. I used to pick out vehicles I wanted to have (a Jeep, actually) and thought about what that would say about me. I still think about what my car says about me (beige Corolla = something blander than a soccer mom, sigh) but it's not as important anymore.

Last thing before I wrap up the rambly: One problem I do have with naming brands of anything, including cars, is that it can really date a book. Neons aren't going to be around forever, and certain timeless books are made less so by their naming of brands, and that always seems like a shame to me.

KIKA said...

LOL dido to the "witts end with Twilight madness" probably just because I wasn't crazy about the books and therefore can't participate in said madness.

I really liked your post! it got me thinking and saying "hey, yeahhh" LOL and I agree with what Kiirsten said. Sometimes when authors get too brand name happy it drives me crazy and detracts from the story--sometimes revealing more about the authors wants than the actual character. LoL I loved your line "There’s some serious car lust bleeding through the pages, Ms. Meyer" Great post, thanks!

Tales of Whimsy said...

Coool question. I hadn't considered this before. Definitely standing symbols.

kayerj said...

interesting observations.

J.T. Oldfield said...

O.K., not a book, but how about Dean's attachment to his car on Supernatural?

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