The Great Thing About LJS
Itís been my personal opinion for years that L.J. Smithís work is important, a great contribution to the world of literature. This though, is the first attempt I have made to explain WHY I believe this. Therefore, bear with me if I stumble a bit along the way.
First of all, in order for you to understand this I need to take you back to my first experience with L.J. Smithís work. It was either my last year of junior high or my first year of high school. I was at the bookstore and saw a copy of the first Secret Circle book. It sounded interesting, but I wasnít quite sure about it so I didnít buy it. I saw it later at a used book store, decided I could spare a couple dollars, and bought it. I loved it. The characters were interesting, the soulmate theory was neat since Iíd heard of it but had never read a book before that utilized it. And my favorite thing? It had backround. One of the worst things I think an author can do is to give the reader an unusual character or setting and expect them to buy it without any sort of explanations. Suffice it to say I was happy with the book and bought the other two. I wasnít exactly a full on L.J. Smith fan yet though.
At this time, when it came to books, I was heavily into Christopher Pike. I loved his willingness to be different (still do) and devoured books such as the Remember Me and Last Vampire series. I was actually looking for a Christopher Pike book when I stumbled upon the book that really turned me into an L.J. Smith fan, Dark Visions. I remember that I was getting frustrated because there werenít any Christopher Pike books that looked interesting that I didnít already have. Then I spotted Dark Visions, the collectors edition. The title was intriguing so I read the back. Psychics huh? I thought. Sounded like it could be good. I donít think I even realized until later that it was by L.J. Smith. I bought it. I read it pretty much straight through, stopping only when I absolutely had to, and finished it in two days (maybe a little less.) NOW I was an L.J. Smith fan. For one, she didnít give her characters unlimited power. In fact, by themselves each power wasnít incredibly impressive. When you put it all together though. . . Gabriel had my heart almost immediately. I kept thinking ďCome on Gabriel, itís all right. Just let down your defenses for one moment. Trust.Ē If I could have, Iíd have jumped right into the book. After that it was on to The Forbidden Game, the Night World series, and The Vampire Diaries. By now Iíve read all of them (except Heart of Valor which seems impossible to get) at least six or seven times. Iím still amazed.
The number one thing that I believe L.J. Smith does in her books that a lot of authors donít is the one I mentioned above, backround. If an author gives me an unusual character, such as a witch, vampire, shapeshifter, psychic, then I feel a certain explanation is nessesary. If theyíve plopped the characters down in a different world (like L.J. did in The Forbidden Game trilogy) then it should be taken for granted that the world and itís rules should be described. Fantasy is great but a lot of authors forget that the reader doesnít automatically know whatís going on or what to relate it to. L.J. Smith doesnít do this, and I greatly admire her for it.
The next thing that makes me love L.J. Smithís work is her creativity, her willingness to be different. Vampires and witches have been used in literature before of course, but L.J. Smith puts a new spin on it. With the Night World suddenly youíve got vampires that reproduce so that youíve got born vampires. Youíve got witches that are like regular people and arenít evil. Youíve got werewolves but youíve also got other kinds of shapeshifters (like Keller in Witchlight) In fact, youíve got a whole mythology thatís unique and interesting, from Maya, the first vampire, to how the witches put all the dragons asleep so that the shapeshifters no longer ruled. In The Vampire Diaries thereís a bit more sticking with the traditional vampire stories, but once again, the vampireís arenít evil (not all anyway.) She uses this creativity in all of her books, and itís refreshing.
One of the most important aspects of a book is itís characters. If the reader doesnít like the character or canít relate to them, chances are theyíre probably not even going to bother finishing reading it. You donít have this problem with L.J. Smith. Each character is interesting in their own way and while I have seen people comparing characters (such as Damon and Ash, Gabriel and Julian) it seems to me to be surface comparisons (which are rather easy to do with any books.) Dig below the surface and the characters suddenly seem strickingly different. The main reason for this is probably motive. Iíll use Damon, Ash, Gabriel, and Julian as an example here since Iíve already written an essay on them and know where Iím going. Now, all four of these guys have reputations as bad boys. Two of them, Damon and Ash, have reputations as ladies men. Two of them, Gabriel and Julian, donít seem to have much romantic experience. Here weíve already got a split. Now, as to motive for their behavior. Ash is a showoff, wants other vampires to think heís cool. This is Ashís motive. Next, Damon. Damon is a little like Ash. He does seem to like being the center of attention. Damon though, is also competitive. He doesnít seem to be interested in much until Stefan develops an interest in it. Damons main motive for things seems to be competition, especially sibling rivalry. Next, Gabriel. Gabrielís motive is fear, fear of opening up, fear of being vulnerable. Heís had tragedy in his life and heís afraid to open up, lest it strike again. Last but not least, Julian. Julian doesnít strike me as showing off, competing, or being afraid. Julian strikes me as simply doing what is considered normal where heís from. People seem to forget that Julian lives in a different world, a world in which his behavior is perfectly natural so that he probably doesnít think much about it. So, each of L.J. Smithís characters are different. They also, no matter how strong, assertive, or charming, all have flaws, flaws that the reader gets to see. This makes them more real, accessible. It makes the reader relate to the character, so that they want to see the character overcome obstacles and reach the end of the book. Character is extremely important, and L.J. Smith has it covered.
Next, plot. Did you ever notice that L.J. Smithís books seem to contain three kinds of stories, all wrapped up together? First, thereís the outer plot. This is where you have Julian bringing Jenny and her friends into the shadow world or Cassie joining Dianaís coven. Secondly, thereís a romantic plot. This is obvious in the Night World books with the soulmates and not that hard to notice with the other books (Cassies relationship with Adam, Kaitlyns relationship with Gabriel) Thirdly is character growth. Each character changes in some way, shape, or form in the book. Whether itís an obvious change such as Julian in The Forbidden Game or Gabriel in Dark Visions, or a less obvious change such as James in Secret Vampire (who seems to learn not to always hold himself in such tight restriction.) These three stories all work together and give the book a complete feel. It doesnít feel as if itís ďlacking something.Ē
Last but not least, the way that L.J. Smith approaches the evil vs. good theme makes me adore these books. She seems to rely more on balance than on a true good vs. evil. Many of the characters that seem evil at first turn out to be good at heart and even the good characters arenít perfect and can have violent thoughts (Kaitlin wants to hit Gabriel over the head with a rolling pin and splatter blood on the walls, sound nice?) or reactions (James throws Phil into a dresser.) I wonít get into this too much here since I intend to write a separate essay on this topic, but I love the balance that seems to go on in L.J. Smithís work.
Well, thatís about it. I hope youíve enjoyed learning why I believe L.J. Smith is such a wonderful author. Maybe itís given you some insights. Maybe youíve thought of some more reasons. In any case, this is the end of my exploration into this topic (at least for now.)
Reflections on LJ Smith