Alright , don’t judge me. I’ve just finished reading The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks. Yes, I said it, Nicholas Sparks. Before you go all crazy and start doubting my judgment as a literature teacher, let me just say that I found little to know literary value in this book. However, there is some. Was it predictable? Yes. Did it follow the same plot line as every other Nicholas Sparks book? Yes. But, was it entertaining? Yes, it was. I’ll say one thing for the guy, he’s nailed down a formula for romance novels that works. So why did I pick up this cliché chick lit book? Well, every year I try to complete the 40 book Challenge, and every year I get stuck trying to find a North Carolina author to read, and well, the book was available at the library so I checked it out.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading Nicholas Sparks before (and sadly, I’ve read my fair share), I’ll go ahead and give you the plot line of this book (and for that matter, basically every other book he’s ever written). Mysterious vagabond, Logan Thibolt (pronounced Tebow) arrives in the small North Carolina town of Hampton with his German Sheppard, Zeus. Thibolt’s arrival in Hampton causes lots of questions. First, he claims to have walked all the way from Colorado with only his dog and his backpack. Second, he has a photograph of Elizabeth, and no one knows why. Elizabeth has lived in Hampton all of her life. Elizabeth has a son, Ben, and a jealous ex-husband, Sheriff Keith Clayton, who’s continually running off any men she tries to date. Thibolt has come to Hampton in search of Elizabeth after he found her picture on his first tour in Iraq. He thinks the photograph has kept him safe and he wants to thank her. Predictably, he meets Elizabeth and they fall in love, but he doesn’t get around to telling her why he’s come to Hampton. Clayton finds out and drama brews. I won’t spoil the ending, but, if you’ve read any other Sparks’ novels you can probably figure it out.
So, this seems like the perfect time to have a discussion about archetypes, what they are, and why authors use them. Archetypes are characters that you come to know because they play the same or similar roles in every story they are in. For example, the trusted side-kick such as Batman’s Robin, and Sherlock’s Watson, play a very similar role in both stories. They are there to assist the hero and keep him or her out of trouble. They always have the hero’s back. I’m sure if you think about it, you could come up with a long list of trusty side-kick characters. That’s because that character is an archetype.
Nicholas Sparks is a big fan of using archetypes in his writing. Almost every story he writes has the mysterious or misunderstood newcomer whose arrival sparks controversy and upsets the status quo. There is also the jealous/violent ex whose presence in the story serves to provide the main conflict. Generally because said mysterious newcomer falls in love with the sweet-natured, but also internally suffering all-American girl who happens to be the ex of the jealous/violent ex character. Now, not all of Sparks’ novels use these archetypes, but enough do that it’s safe to say he likes to use them.
So, why do author’s like Sparks use archetypes in their writing? Well, to be honest, it saves the author a lot of time in the novel that might otherwise have to be used to explain these characters. As readers and consumers of stories, we’ve subconsciously started to expect these archetypes and when they show up in a story, we already know a lot about them. We don’t question the trusty side-kicks loyalty because we’ve become accustomed to this character and his/her role in the story. We inherently know that the jealous ex-boyfriend is going to be the villain because, well, he always is. Therefore, by using these archetypes in their stories, authors save a lot of time on having to explain backgrounds and plot points because they are generally understood.
So, while not necessarily a book I’d recommend to all readers, I will say that if you like Nicholas Sparks books, you’ll like this one too. While slightly predictable, and similar to other’s he’s written befo