Angels in YA Literature (Part 2) – Closer to Godliness

An article in The Guardian, published April 2010, discusses Philip Pullman as a possible trendsetter for the current onslaught of angels in YA fiction. One of the voices of the article claims that “on the ladder that goes up from the mushroom to God, angels are one rung above us”– angels are seen as superior to vampires because they are superior to humans and thus, are “more fertile ground” for the inspired author and the greedy YA reader.

In the second book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Pullman introduces a pair of supernatural lovers in the form of homosexual angels, who meet with the tween protagonists in one of the parallel worlds featuring prominently in the trilogy. Whilst the angels are not major characters in the series, their presence is significant not only for the connotations to Milton’s Paradise Lost (Pullman cites the story as one of his major inspirations), but also because their description is a massive departure from previous religion connotations of winged beings. The ‘nouveau angels’ from Pullman’s books in their own unusual manner and description express a need for companionship, and feelings of desire and love – previously human-only traits.

Angels in YA literature, as touched on in Part 1 have become like teen humans, hormones-a-racing and usually with something to prove. It should come as no surprise then, that teen protagonists in these supernatural novels are now being written by their contemporaries – teens themselves.

On the homefront, Alexandra Adornetto, at the tender age of 17 has three books to her name from when she signed a publishing deal with publishing giants HarperCollins, and is now embarking on an entirely different journey with Halo, due for release later this year. The twist lies in the way the angels in this book are portrayed – they’re not the tortured, dark supernaturals we’ve come to expect, but rather have their own more ‘heavenly’ reasons for investing themselves in earth’s affairs.

But Alexandra’s not the only teen Aussie on the brink of international angel fiction fame. When I first picked up Charlotte McConaghy’s Arrival (Book 1, Strangers of Paragor) mid-2009, I’ll admit it was total cover lust, and not much else. It was only when I’d finished reading, and completely fallen in love with the characters and the world-building of Paragor, that I discovered the author finished writing the book when she was 16! The heavily-anticipated second book in the series by Miss McConaghy, aptly titled Descent, has been released this month. While angels play a fairly small part in Arrival, there’s the promise of more angel action in the later books, portraying angels as the hero messengers – not so far from its original religious context as one would expect from a teen growing up in the age of Twilight, Hush,Hush and Fallen.

The overwhelming feeling one garners from these books is that new Australian YA angels in fiction don’t fit the Edward Cullen mould. They seem, strangely, to be moving away from the tortured and tragic Byronic teen love interest. With Aussie teens themselves weighing in on the heavenly side of the angel craze, the character of the angel in literature lends itself to a new interpretation – is the craving for angel fiction in YA circles not in fact a generation looking for the new vampire, but rather the evolving natural rebellion of a generation in need of a character closer to God?

If Anne Rice Says It, It’s Gospel

Firstly, guys, apologies for deserting the blog for over a week…put it down to an incredibly hectic College of Law schedule. In case you’re wondering, I’m pretty sure I passed everything so I guess the sleepless nights, lack of socialisation and the mountainloads of chewed-up printer paper must have somehow been worth it (won’t someone please think of the TREES??)!

We should be back to our regular programme broadcasting now – I’ve been itching to discuss a bit more about angels, devils, and their current plan for world domination. And what better person to ask “Are Angels the New Vampires?” than the undisputed queen of contemporary vampire fiction – Anne Rice.

If you’ve just fainted in your chair with excitement, I hate to disappoint you, but I didn’t actually score an interview with Anne Rice (I mean, I’m good, but I ain’t THAT good). I did, however, notice that she’s been cornered by various journalists to give her point of view on the angels versus vampires debate.

Most of us who can stomach such bloodsucking stuff have seen that classic movie adaptation of Rice’s first book in the vampire series – Interview with the Vampire. Even now, I still can’t fathom the fact that they somehow managed to get Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas to all have a go at donning fangs on the same movie set. The mind boggles.

Being the trendsetter that she is, Rice created The Vampire Chronicles’ most fashionable character, the vampire Lestat, as a golden-maned Don Juan with a love of cravats that could rival Masterchef’s Matt Preston. Early in the series, Lestat has a go at the 80s rock scene, and many fans love him for the devil-may-care attitude he displays during these first couple of books. But my personal favourite, which shows early signs of what would be a massively new direction for Anne Rice’s writings later on, is Memnoch the Devil, published 1997. The novel represented the holy dilemma vampires face: how can vampires be a product of God? Are they naturally forsaken, or can they be saved?

Lestat meets a man in a suit, who introduces himself as Memnoch the Devil and spins a yarn Paradise Lost-style. Turns out there are two sides to every story and the Devil’s an angel who’s been misunderstood all this time. Lestat rides on Memnoch’s coattails (or should that be forked tail?) through Heaven, Hell and History, all the while experiencing inner conflict, as he struggles with his sympathy for the Devil versus the possible chance for redemption with a God he had never believed existed. The story of Memnoch the Devil can also be said to have reflected Rice’s own inner religious turmoil at the time (she ended up rejoining the Catholic church in 1998 after years of atheism).

So why did Rice continue writing books for The Vampire Chronicles, and why did she end them when she did (in 2004)?
She told Wall Street Journal:

“Vampires for me were always like feeling grief for my lost childhood faith, being cut off from that life. I reached the point where I didn’t have any more stories to tell from that point of view.”

At the conclusion of the Chronicles, Rice seemed to have made a decision to leave the doomed vampires behind and embark on a writing pilgrimage. Her last two books were spiritual stories about Jesus Christ, and while interesting, they didn’t seem to have the same passion of her earlier works. Imagine my excitement in late 2009 when she released Angel Time, a story of an assassin who is offered redemption by an angel for his sins (sound familiar?)… I haven’t got around to reading it yet: if any of you have, what did you think?

And whether you liked Angel Time or didn’t like it, I also want to know: what does Anne Rice think of her new direction ?

Being on the side of the angels, it feels much better than being on the side of the vampires. Vampires were tortured, tragic figures.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.