S. E. Hinton

 Susan Eloise Hinton (born July 22, 1948) is an American writer best known for her young-adult novels which she wrote during high school. Hinton was 15 when she started writing her first novel, The Outsiders, and 18 years of age when the book was published. 

Hinton is a brilliant example to aspiring writers to not be inhibited by age or inexperience.

The Outsiders, her first and most popular novel, is set in Oklahoma in the 1960s and was inspired by people at Hinton’s high school. It details the conflict between two rival gangs divided by their socioeconomic status: the working-class “greasers” and the upper-class “Socs” (pronounced ‘soshes’—short for Socials). Hinton wrote from the point of view of the Greasers, showing a desire to show empathy for the underdog.

Since it was first published when she was only 18 years of age, the book has sold more than 14 million copies and still sells more than 500,000 a year. 

The Outsiders is told in first-person perspective by teenage protagonist Ponyboy Curtis. It recounts Ponyboy’s relationship with his two brothers, his tough oldest brother Darry and the easy going and likeable Sodapop in the wake of their parents’ recent deaths in a car crash. Ponyboy’s soft and poetic nature is set against the harsh environment of his gang world. When fleeing the authorities after a gang death, Ponyboy cuts and dyes his hair as a disguise, reads Gone with the Wind to fellow fugitive Johnny, and, upon viewing a beautiful sunrise, recites the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost.

The novel is essentially a coming of age story of disaffected youth, and its enduring popularity is testament to the young writers voice.

A film adaptation was produced in 1983, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring many of the top young actors of the ’80s including Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, and Rob Lowe. The film grossed $30 million from a $10 million budget and Coppola followed it the next year by adapting Hinton’s sequel, Rumble Fish and featuring many of the same cast and crew.

When the book was first released, Hinton’s publisher suggested she use her initials so that book reviewers would not dismiss the novel because its author was female. For a 15 year old female writing about her teen experience of the 1960s, Hinton’s work is a reminder to all aspiring writers to tell our stories without inhibition. You never know what enduring legacy the story you tell, might have.

Apocalypse Now

In Saigon of course stories of war come to mind.

One thinks of the musical ‘Miss Saigon’ and miserable war biopics such as ‘Good Morning Vietnam’, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and the Coppola classic, ‘Apocalypse Now.’

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The city, now Ho Chi Minh, alive with young people, neon lights, night markets, food vendors, taxis and tourists barely hints such a sad history existed, but then  museums and battle field tours remind.

My tour guide fought in the war and took our bus via the obligatory Centre for Victims of War. His presentation of life for Viet Cong surviving in tunnels while U.S. Bombers swept napalm and Agent Orange through fields and jungles, was sobering.

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Many soldiers lived 12 years under ground, if not killed blinded by the eternity of hiding. Children of descendants of the war still suffer deformities from chemical weapons.

In Laos, 80 million unexplored munitions still lie live in farmlands -very real risks to villagers and children. A poor country efforts to clear the land is painstaking.

While much propaganda of the time focused on the evils of communism – Coppolas film ‘Apocalypse Now’ is more self exploratory.

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Using Joseph Conrad’s modernist classic ‘the Heart of Darkness’ as inspiration, Coppola points out the hubris of American imperialist intentions.

 heart of Da

The ‘heart’ of darkness is not the savage land explored by intrepid men, nor the corruption they seek to wipe out,  but in fact the ‘heart of man’ exposed there once up-river as far as can go.

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There most keenly this madness is epitomised by Kurtz – a soldier, seeking worship from the locals and decorated with the skulls of his conquests.

Instead of bringing ‘justice’ through righteous war as governments would have us believe, the narrative explores the darkness at the seat of the human soul-  a darkness war does not create, but sanctions.

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Kurtz’s final words before dying articulate the tragedy, “the horror, the horror.”