Discussion Post: In Defence of John Green and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

First of all, for those who don’t know the definition of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, let the all knowing ~*~Wikipedia~*~ enlighten you: “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”.

A couple of months ago, a raging argument appeared on the interwebs, as they tend to, arguing that all John Green writes is MPDG- and to a certain point, I can’t fault that.It’s true- certainly his first 3 books are centered around a young male protagonist who becomes obsessed with a girl he barely knows.  However, I do believe that while it is a valid criticism, it is also one which occurs if you only look at the initial surface of Green’s characters…

The first John Green book I read was Paper Towns, back in 2011. I enjoyed the narration, and the characters although I personally disagreed with the main character and found Margo annoying and selfish and full of faults, which was fine, because that was the point. Some books, you aren’t meant to adore the characters- just like people in real life. Every person has their own goals, challenges and dreams, and some will go to horrible, selfish lengths to achieve those aspirations. Some people are manipulative, selfish bastards who really don’t give a rats ass what happens to those around them because of their actions. Again, this is not meant to be a “likeable” trait. We often see these mannerisms being used to portray teenagers, and indeed often actually portrayed by teenagers. Whether it’s because teenage behaviour is a case of nature vs nurture, that’s another discussion for another day., 

I then read the ever popular Looking for Alaska…my only gripe here is that it read a lot like Paper Towns (or rather, vice versa in order of publishing), in the basic plot line that the male protagonist is obsessed with some girl he barely knows, the girl wanders off, and the lads go looking for her- and there is not much of a story line besides that.  And yes, I found that annoying- once is okay but when two books by the same author read that similar with no greater story, you start to wonder why it got published for a seemingly second time- surely once is enough? But to be honest I still don’t mind, because it helped to ram home the understanding of the other. I picked up on the message I’d initially missed when first reading Paper Towns, while I was reading Looking for Alaska.

There is a great line in Paper Towns, which goes something like “What a terrible thing…to believe that a person is more than a person”. This is exactly the message of both Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, in my mind at least. As you read about the lads in the novels being obsessed with these girls, practically worshiping the ground they walk on- you can actually see quite clearly the flaws in both the boys and their “Dream girls”. Which is not unlike real life, it’s easier to grasp the situation clearly when you have no emotional ties to that person. How many times have you disliked your best friend’s currently boyfriend or girlfriend but your friend insists that they are perfect and flawless and not actually treating them like rubbish?

In both books, the main characters are obsessed with these seemingly perfect, flawless, powerful girls, and as the novels progress, it becomes apparent these seemingly invincible characters are actually the exact opposite. They are hopelessly flawed, and selfish and self destructive .. And to me, the moral of Green’s novels is more about how you perceive people through your own biased, and single perspective, without knowing whatever dark secrets they don’t tell you. You only see what people want you to see, and more importantly, what they let you see.

The Fault in Our Stars was a breath of fresh air, because it was so different from the others, especially after “An Abundance of Katherines”also read the same way as Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, (Abundance being my least favourite of his novels). TFIOS had a much stronger story line, in terms of direction and goals,  however, it still followed the same message about how we are flawed in how we perceive people.

This is a very long post which functions to say that, of all of the possible criticisms of John Green’s novels,  I do not believe that  Green’s novels promote this “manic pixie dream character” image or whatever the hell people are calling it.  The novels actually address this image and work to completely shatter it. They constantly ram home the point that nobody is perfect. The point is that if you love someone, you see past the flaws, and even better, you love them no matter what- flaws and all- and that could either be considered a foolish fault, or an incredibly human strength, depending on your perception.


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