S. E. Hinton | Critical Essay by Gene Lyons

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of S. E. Hinton.
This section contains 742 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Gene Lyons

Critical Essay by Gene Lyons

SOURCE: "On Tulsa's Mean Streets," in Newsweek, Vol. 100, No. 15, October 11, 1982, pp. 105-06.

In the following essay, Lyons examines Hinton's works and career as well as the films based on The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and Tex. Lyons briefly recounts the plots of the three novels, maintaining that Tex is superior, and includes commentary by Hinton.

Quick, name the only American novelist whose books have inspired both the Walt Disney studios and Francis Coppola to adapt them to film? Clue: the author's first effort was written while she was a 16-year-old junior at Will Rogers High in Tulsa. Give up? If there's a teen-ager on the premises, ask the kid. Odds are good that S. E. Hinton is a household name around your place, whether you knew it or not.

Coppola's version of Susan Eloise Hinton's first novel, The Outsiders (1967)—a melodrama about gang fighting between working-class "greasers" and country-club "socials" in Tulsa in the early '60s—will be released in December. Coppola's Rumble Fish, her third book, will be out next year. Disney's Tex, from her most recent—and best—novel, previewed briefly in the South this summer. A bittersweet, coming-of-age story about two brothers going it alone in a small Oklahoma town while their father hits the rodeo circuit, Tex, because of its Disney label, may have been taken for the kind of movie Hinton says she feared when director Tim Hunter first called. "No thank you, I thought. I don't want to see Tex Rides the Love Bug." It was shown at the New York Film Festival last week and now is being released nationally.

The three movie deals have earned her a lot of money ("But I'm not rich by Tulsa standards," she says); another book, That Was Then, This Is Now, has been optioned as well. Now 34 and still living quietly in Tulsa with her husband, three dogs, a cat and a horse named Toyota, Hinton gave up her fear of Hollywood when she met the star of Tex (and of the two Coppola movies), 18-year-old teen heartthrob Matt Dillon. Like many of her avid fans, Dillon was "another kid who doesn't read. He told me That Was Then, This Is Now was the first book he ever finished." Recalls Hinton of her own childhood: "A lot of adult literature was older than I was ready for. The kids' books were all Mary Jane-Goes-to-the-Prom junk. I wrote The Outsiders so I'd have something to read."

The appeal of Hinton's novels is obvious (more than 7 million copies are in print, and all four books are currently available in Dell paperback). The narrator-hero of each is a tough-tender 14- to 16-year-old loner making his perilous way through a violent, caste-ridden world almost depopulated of grownups. "It's a kid's fantasy not to have adults around," says Hinton. While recklessness generally gets punished, her books are never moralistic—all manner of parental rules are broken with impunity. Hers are tales of honor, emotional kinship, loyalty and betrayal. "For a tough kid," says Rusty-James, younger brother of a heroic and doomed character in Rumble Fish known only as the Motorcycle Boy, "I had a bad habit of getting attached to people." Hinton has never read Hemingway and says she never will, because English teachers compare her style to his. But it's Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald she needs to avoid. Her young toughs are private eyes in training.

Hinton's mail has not changed significantly in 15 years. Usually her readers thank her for expressing feelings they didn't know anybody else had. Sometimes correspondents are moved to ask things like "Why did you make the Motorcycle Boy die?" or "Can't you write another book and get Bryon and Mark back together?" "But," says Hinton, "I think most kids are old enough to learn that sometimes things get broken and can't be fixed." She maintains that she writes about kids because "I just find them more interesting. If I can find some interesting adults someday, maybe I'll write about them." Her protagonists are all boys because "I never knew what girls were talking about. Their deal is to get a man instead of doing something for themselves. Anyhow, 90 percent of kids' fiction is written for girls. But girls will read boys' books, and boys won't read girls' books." For the moment, she plans to stay put in Tulsa. Right now, she says, "I'm doing everything I can to make the novel I'm working on unfilmable."

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This section contains 742 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by Gene Lyons
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