Lilo & Stitch, Katniss & Kim — How the Orphans Learned to Kick Ass

With KIM OH 5: REAL DANGEROUS FUN available now at Amazon, I’m on a bit of a roll — KIM OH 6: REAL DANGEROUS RIDE is already underway, and should be finished (I hope) in a month or so.

In a lot of ways, I suppose Kim and her brother Donnie seem like family to me — I hear more from them than I do from anyone in this, the supposedly real world. I enjoy spending time with them, and I’m glad when readers tell me they do as well. Every time I write about Kim’s adventures and her dogged determination to make a place for herself and her brother, it reminds me of how powerful this notion is, of siblings who look out for each other, against all odds. And how much we all wish our own lives could be like that.

Of course, the dramatic notion of siblings who form a mutually protective bond against a hostile and even lethal environment — “just the two of us against the world” — goes a long way back; you can find traces of it in ancient mythology. Richard Wagner mined it pretty deeply in Die Walküre, with his depiction of the embattled twins Siegmund and Sieglinde. In true operatic fashion, things don’t go to well for that sibling pair, maybe because they got just a little too close to each other.

I remember when I was a kid, back when old silent movies were sometimes shown on television, I saw the great American director D. W. Griffith’s 1921 classsic, Orphans of the Storm, and I’ve been haunted by it ever since. In some ways, it’s a forerunner of the modern dystopic genre that’s become so important in movies and Young Adult fiction, though the dystopia is the historical French Revolution rather than some imagined science-fictional future.

Henriette, played by Lillian Gish, goes through a lot of period melodrama to save her blind sister Louise (played by Lillian Gish’s actual sister Dorothy; this was the last Griffith film to feature the two of them together). The protectiveness shown by Henriette is pretty fierce — there are enough twists and turns in the story that Henriette nearly winds up going to the guillotine, being saved herself only at the last minute. That’s entertainment, as we used to say.

It’s a story of its own period, the very early twentieth century, and it reflects that time’s gentler notion of what female characters were capable of doing. Henriette is strong, and she’s able to save her sister, but her strength is that of moral goodness. We live in tougher times now, and if Orphans of the Storm were to be re-made by a modern action director — Michael Bay or somebody like that — Henriette would probably triumph at the end by pulling out an anachronistic rocket launcher and blowing up Robespierre and the Revolution’s entire Committee for Public Safety. I’m not sure if that’d be an improvement, though it would probably do well at the box office.

A more contemporary version of the mutually protective orphans theme is the 2002 Disney animated feature Lilo & Stitch.

The growling animal noises emitted by the younger sister Lilo is the real tip-off that the eventually redeemed alien monster Stitch is the surrogate id for both siblings. In Jungian terms, he carries the shadow for Lilo and her older sister Nani, performing all the violent, kick-ass action that’s needed to save the little “us against the world” band of orphans.

By the time you get to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, both the 2006 YA novel and the 2012 film based on it, it’s pretty clear that the world we live in has reached the point where a story’s female protagonist doesn’t need a Stitch-like surrogate. If somebody needs killing, the girl can do it herself.

Of course, the protective sibling theme is crucial to the heroine Katniss’ story — she sacrifices herself to protect her younger sister, entering the lethal games in her sister’s place.

My own Kim Oh Thrillers carries on the orphans-against-the-world mythos. Kim’s only family is her younger brother Donnie, and she begins fiercely protecting him at a young age, when she’s a child herself. She’s no Henriette from Orphans of the Storm; she’s perfectly willing and capable to dispense with traditional morality, in order to do what she has to. As one of the books’ reviewers on Amazon noted, the Kim Oh Thrillers address what he felt was still “the lack of female action heroes… without the usual formulaic plot goo of trite romantic subplots.” He’s right about this; even The Hunger Games folds in a rather standard boy-girl relationship, presumably designed to appeal to a readership of teenage girls. My Kim, for better or worse, dispenses with that; her kick-ass-ness is not just a matter of being able to bring the hammer down, violence-wise, but is also her emotional toughness. She has to deal with the consequences that everybody, female and male alike, have to deal with now, of putting their human natures aside in order to survive and protect their loved ones in an increasingly hostile world. We’re all orphans of the storm now, but being Henriette-good won’t save the day for us. If one of my readers looks at Kim and what she’s going through, and says, “Yeah — that’s me; that’s how I feel,” then I’ve hit my target.

Kim Oh 1: Real Dangerous Girl