My Gollum self moans, “Noel, enjoy a story as a story for once and forget about Ideas With Troubling Consequences that pop up in the narrative. We’re reading YA, for goodness sake.”
I have tried to ignore them. But Smeagol always wins.
Graceling has fangirls in the living room and committee room alike, appearing on many reader-favorite lists, as well as the 2009 Morris shortlist. It tells the action-packed story of a girl born with the burdensome Grace—extreme skill—of killing. As such, she is the king’s hangman, whether she likes it or not.
Did I stay up until 2 a.m. to finish Graceling? Yes. Did I close it feeling satisfied with the story, as a whole? Yes. Is that all there is to it? No.
Katsa is adamant. She will never marry. She will never bear children. She knows that marriage, even to the man she loves, would change her as a person. Would, in fact, transform Katsa into someone else entirely. And so, she makes the difficult decision to become Po’s lover, but never his wife.
This choice is presented as the logical, reasonable, acceptable choice. Not easy—Katsa and Po realize that such a relationship would not be without heartache—but they believe it is the right answer. “I’m not going to marry you,” says Katsa, “and hang on to you like a barnacle, just to keep you to myself and stop you loving anyone else.” Their friends and family don’t understand this unselfish love.
Perhaps because it isn’t unselfish, after all?
The most unselfish act a person can perform is giving up their self (duh?). Putting someone else’s wants and needs above their own. In marriage, two individuals become one, lose and gain until they melt into a single united being. Together, they become someone else entirely. They love each other that much.
Graceling tells a compelling story, but the drama is ultimately distorted. It shows a world where a girl should never value anyone more than she values herself. This world doesn’t stop at the edge of the Seven Kingdoms, however. It’s the world we live in today.
Ideas do indeed have consequences, even when found in YA fantasy. Our society is so messed up in the romance department because we’ve forgotten that true love means sacrifice. True love means, you love, therefore you willingly become someone else. Only then is it true love.