Janii Yazon ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Over the last decade, there have been many series that have caused questioned morals, abandoned faith, and strong rebellion. There have been authors whose eloquence and sensibility leave readers speechless. There have been characters with whom we soon fall in love, despise, aim to become. Anthony Horowitz and the Alex Rider series fail to fit into the first two groups. But there is no doubt that ten-year-old me was (and a part of eighteen-year-old me is) terribly in love with the eponymous character, Alex Rider.
Alex Rider was only fourteen (a rather lovable age: mature enough, but not unattainable) when recruited by M16 to become a sort of teenage James Bond (I blame him and this series for piquing my misguided aspiration to work for the CIA.) The first book in the series, Stormbreaker, was published in the UK in 2000, and in America a year later. The next thirteen years would see nine new additions to the series, most of which follow Alex on deadly missions that take him around the world, such as Cuba, Russia, and Australia. To elementary schoolers who had barely been outside of their state, let alone their country, Alex’s adventures showed parts of the world known little of and even less about. But there was something special in the space between a child in their school’s library reading of these places and the boy in yet another foreign country who wanted nothing more than to be a normal student.
The plot of each novel has been criticized for its impracticality; Alex’s situation sits closer in our society’s judgment to child endangerment than exhilarating adventures. Its writing offered nothing special or praiseworthy. But none of that matters to children. It isn’t that young readers don’t understand danger or even mortality, but that they instead interpret those concepts differently. While an adult may reason that, for example, going into a revolutionary space hotel in order to prevent the kidnapping of a billionaire’s son (shout out to Ark Angel) is something that should be left to the professionals, children conclude that the excitement, novelty, and possible bragging rights justify the imminent consequences. And it isn’t that children can’t criticize bad writing because there are plenty of times where metaphors just don’t read well and imagery slides right over their heads. It’s that most children can’t tell the difference between a dynamic, rounded character, and a static, flat one (at least, not consciously.) There are only ones they care nothing about, ones they hate, and ones they love. Alex Rider undeniably falls into the last category for most readers. There are many reasons that the character of Alex Rider — and everything he stood for — has survived the years as an unforgettable existence.
You see, Alex Rider felt fear, but never let it control him. He’s strong — physically, of course, but also mentally and emotionally. He’s compassionate and empathetic. And most of all, he feels the effects of what he’s done and what he will do. Too often do children’s novels have a durable protagonist who changes the world around them, unwittingly painting an image of Good vs. Bad. But Alex changes along with the world. He changes neither for the better nor the worse, but in response. One of the great things about Alex Rider being a series is that readers get to see his progression outside of one novel. His boyish good looks from the first few books slowly become more solemn as he sees more of the evil in the world. And though he never loses his attractiveness, the optimism gets replaced by wisdom, the willingness to responsibility.
Another reason Alex Rider has such longevity is the emotional connection readers easily form with him. Too often do people shame young people, especially young girls, for falling in love with fictional characters, as if its impossibility somehow invalidates the emotions. But there’s nothing quite like falling in love with a fictional character, exploring something as complex as interpersonal relationships within the safety of a novel. Readers watch over Alex in a very mature way: hoping for his safety, becoming proud of his accomplishments, sympathizing with his pain, rooting for his relationships, getting frustrated when they disagree with him.
And much like the love for him, the life of Alex Rider never came through like an actual possibility, like most children’s novels with unfeasible happenings. In retrospect, readers probably don’t wish to become a spy. It’s understood that participating in missions to prevent a criminal organization from murdering schoolchildren (Scorpia) or to stop a mad scientist from cloning rich boys (Point Blanc — my personal favorite) is ridiculous. But the creation of the Alex Rider universe — one where 14-year-olds could impact the world so strongly— gives young readers somebody on an equal level that also invites idolization; a goal, not too far out of reach, but just far enough, that encouraged as much as it entertained.
Alex Rider probably isn’t most writers’ source of inspiration, nor is Anthony Horowitz praised for changing lives drastically. But Alex Rider’s prevalence in readers’ minds and hearts vouches for the fact that books create worlds for their readers, open up countless possibilities, and let kids wish for something more than they’re given.