So I just got around to reading Heartless by Marissa Meyer. TEN months after it was published. I know, scandalous right?
Anyway, this is not a review. Many people dislike Heartless for what I believe are unfounded reasons. In this post I aim to address these charges and vindicate Heartless.
I. Filling the role of “villain” with the Jabberwocky, which was not a part of the original Alice in Wonderland tale, is unoriginal.
II. Catherine evokes no sympathy in the reader because she is (and I quote) “…a spineless whiney girl…doing nothing.”
III. The important plot-lines of the story are entirely dependent on the theme of young love.
The first charge is easy to refute.
The Jabberwocky was invented by Lewis Carroll and the poem was featured in Through the Looking Glass which gives it every right to be associated with a book about Wonderland. Furthermore by using the Jabberwocky as her villain, Meyer is further cementing its place in the legend of Wonderland. She is connecting Lewis’s works in the mind of the reader, creating a whole picture.
The second and third charges go together and are a little more complicated.
Judging a book is all about perspective. To gain perspective we must first consider the author’s intentions. Now, I am sure that Meyer wanted us readers to fall in love with Catherine, to pity her, to wish her story would end happily. Personally, I did not love Catherine or pity her, and I had no desire to do so. So if we consider what Meyer was trying to accomplish, then no Heartless was not successful. But, and I think this is what matters when it comes to perspective, if we consider what I the reader, was hoping to get from this book, the unrepentant origin story of a villain, then Heartless did splendidly.
Catherine dislikes her situation and takes her sweet time doing something about it. When she finally does take action, her decisions are based mostly on her romance with Jest. Catherine’s actions have consequences that in theory she is willing to brave, but when things don’t end up the way she hoped, she whines and blames everyone else for her problems.
If Catherine were a hero instead of a villain, she would’ve mourned her losses and worked hard to get justice. Unfortunately, Catherine is a villain which means that she accuses everyone for the consequences of the risks she agreed to take and sells her soul, or rather her heart, for the sake of vengeance.
Throughout the story she is blinded, first by her love for Jest and finally by her passion for vengeance. Her love of Jest made her completely disregard her own dreams, and her passion for vengeance killed her love for her family and friends.
In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.” Catherine valued first Jest and then vengeance above all else.
So yes, I accept the charge that Catherine is an entirely unlikable character and that her story’s main driving force is young love.
Heartless is rather like Romeo and Juliet in that way. Some people claim that young love makes a beautiful love story that shows love is the only feeling worthy of being treasured. Others say it is an unrealistic and cliché story for depending on the theme of young love so heavily.
I disagree with both these camps. As I do with Romeo and Juliet, I regard Heartless as a cautionary tale to warn readers about what and what not to give power over their hearts. After all, Romeo and Juliet end up dead, and the characters of Heartless don’t fare any better. Murderer, Martyr, Monarch, Mad.