No, I Have Not Read ‘Twilight’ (But I Will)

Just when we’re making some headway in The Secret Garden, I am asked about the Twilight novels. It’s a great question and deserves its own thread. Here is the question, my response, and an open floor for you all to say your piece. It won’t be the last time this subject comes up, I’m sure (I hope!).

MaggieMay: John, I know you have your hands full with Tales of BTB just coming out and all, but my daughter has moved full-swing into the Twilight series, so wondering if you have any positive thoughts about it? I’m reading it too, just, just to stay relevant… Since you had time/energy to bring up The Secret Garden, I would absolutely love commentary on Edward and Bella! thanks

MaggieMay, talk about hijacking a thread! Two quick Twilight comments before I get back to reading The Secret Garden and, more urgently, writing Harry Potter’s Bookshelf:

(1) I have been asked what I think of Stephanie Meyers’ books for several years and rather urgently the last few months in anticipation of the first movie. I haven’t given these novels much thought and I have not read them, though I plan to. Why? Beyond wanting to know what the fuss is about, I have been asked to by a very good friend in California who is involved in organizing a Twilight fan conference this summer. Here are my biases and preconceptions going in:

My first impressions are that it is a deconstruction of the Stoker/Gothic vampire myth of the undead and that it must be a double coding masterpiece (combining teen romance, paranormal gothic chiller-thriller, and international adventure a la Dan Brown) with postmodern themes of tolerance and admiration for the abused ‘other’ laced through it. That last bit is almost a given with any book written today but the deconstruction and double-coding are also postmodern essentials.

I’m assuming folks love Twilight — especially women? — because vampire stories are always ciphers for sexuality and the tension between sexual restraint and hedonism, and this one, I’ve read, features a guy who cares enough about his girl not to want to bite/deflower her. For a book to be this popular, Da Vinci Code aside, there has to be a clear vein of virtue somewhere in it, even if it is the titillation that is an obvious draw. Sacrificial restraint has to be a turn on for American women because, sadly, I’m near certain it isn’t their experience with single or married guys.

But I haven’t read the books so my opinion is just an uninformed guess! I am very curious, especially because the author has been quite open about her faith in the revelations of the Latter Day Saints church, about how that faith and her beliefs play out in the stories. Frankly, I am surprised we have not heard about these novels from a certain Harry Potter critic who has published several long ‘Mormon tell-all’ books: Twilight and the Bible: The Menace Behind the LDS Vampire? Look for it.

(2) Travis Prinzi is reading Twilight now and will be writing about it soon for another web site to which I am sure he will post a link on Hog’s Head.org. That will be your best bet for a thoughtful opinion on this subject if you still have questions. At least until I get around to reading them (when I will almost certainly write a thread here saying Mr. Prinzi was right).

Those of you who have read Mrs. Meyers’ novels, please let us know what you think of the writing, the themes, and what drives the popularity of these books as compared to the writing, themes, and popularity of Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories. I’ve already said way too much for someone not having cracked the cover of the books in question!

Comments

  1. Sorry I am having to split this up but here is my speed reading list of how Harry and Dracula have astounding similarities. And please read this through a Catholic Christian lens, because Stoker wrote Dracula with this theme.

    My list of Dracula Notes…Like speed reading! (Notes available by following link.)

  2. Dracula and Harry: How the use of memory and dreams were used to defeat Dracula.

    Dreams and Memory: The Weapons of Harry Potter (Essay available by following link)

  3. Red Rocker says:

    Actually, I lied. In the interests of honesty, I must come off my elitist high horse and confess that there was a period in my life – a time before most of you here were born – when I did watch one soap opera pretty compulsively.

    It was the soap opera Dark Shadows It was a Gothic supernatural set in present day New England. The saga of the Collins family, with a full coterie of vampires, werewolves, ghosts and witches. It started out as a typical Gothic romance – lonely female goes to a gloomy mansion by the sea and is terrorized by unknown forces. It changed focus once the producers realized how attractive vampires could be to soap opera audiences. Thus began the soap-reign of Barnabas Collins, the vampire, his reincarnated love, Rachel, and his vengeful ex from Martinique, Angelique, the witch. Sort of like Jane Eyre meets Dracula. Once Barnabas ran out of steam, they introduced a pair of ghostly lovers, a la Turn of the Screw. And once they were disposed of, they brought back the sexy (and younger) male lead to be the family werewolf.

    What can I say? The set – what little there was of it – wobbled. The cast flubbed their lines all over the place. The lines themselves stank to high heaven. The plot was entirely derivative – nay, it was entirely derived. And being a soap opera, it followed the formula of always building up to a crescendo on Friday afternoon, when the hero/heroine would be put in an impossibly dangerous or awful situation, only to be resolved rather tamely on the Monday.

    Been there. Done that. Enjoyed it a lot. Got over it.

  4. Red Rocker says:

    For purists out there, the name of Barnabas’ reincarnated love’s name was Maggie, not Rachel (I think Rachel was the female ghost from the Turn of the Screw plot). And there were a lot more storylines. I Googled it, and found references to Frankenstein (that would be Adam, whom I’d forgotten about), Jekyll and Hyde (vanished without a trace from my memory banks) and Wuthering Heights (which I think took place in a parallel universe with Barnabas reincarnated as Bramwell Collins). How inclusive is that?

    But perhaps the most interesting character was Barnabas’ side-kick, the middle aged doctor Julia (last name long forgotten) who played Igor to his Dr. Frankenstein, Scully to his Mulder, and carried the torch for him through every plot twist. She never got her man, of course, being plain and cerebral and not young and nubile. But her breathless adoration of her idol pretty well mirrors the teen-age phenomenon we now see in the topic of this post.

  5. Arabella Figg says:

    I had to dash out the door without properly finishing some thoughts about Twilight.

    I neglected Edward’s Nigredo period. He tells Bella that after being vamped by Carlisle and trying to abide by “vegetarian” bloodsucking for 10 years, he had “a bout of rebellious adolescence” re human blood abstinence and “went off on my own” for a time. After a few years he recommitted to Carlisle’s vision. “I thought I’d be exempt from the…depression…that accompanies a conscience. Because I knew the thoughts of my prey. I could pass over the innocent and pursue only the evil…then surely I wasn’t so terrible. But as time went on I began to see the monster in my eyes. I couldn’t escape the debt of so much human life taken, no matter how justified.” He was welcomed back “like the prodigal. It was more than I deserved.”

    Rejoined with the Cullens he is “white” by growth and choice. Again, I think there’s a Rubedo touch with his saving of Bella. Especially considering that he had intially feared if he didn’t save her from being smashed by a van early in the book, her blood (she’s “like heroin” to him) would drive him to a frenzy which would have exposed them them all.

    I don’t know what you’ll make of all this, John, but once I looked alchemically, I saw Edwar’ds as more than a poignant story.

    I’m up to page 163 (waaay too much dull exposition). There’s a lot of white in this book–skin, extra-white teeth, bleached-bone driftwood, snow, Clair de Lune ( a favorite song of Edward’s) Lauren’s pale, fishy eyes; it’s starkly contrasted a lot with dark. There is much wet and cold–rain, fog, moisture, Bella’s tears, the beach, river, contrasted with heat and sun. Bella considers herself in Purgatory early in the book, Edward say’s he’s headed for hell (literal? metaphorical?).

    The sun and clouds play a definite part, also dark and light, especially in a dream of Bella’s about Jacob and Edward. Sometimes at sunset. Blue sky is especially revered (of course, since you’ve lived on the west side of WA, that’s nothing new). If you’re looking for possible gay metaphors, note the Stregoni benifici (p.135).

    “Twilight” references: “the rain made it dim as twilight under the canopy (just as Bella figures out Edward is a vampire). At the end when Bella is disappointed Edward won’t vamp her, he muses, “so ready for this to be the end…to be the twilght of your life, though your life has barely started.”

    Ah, yes. Dark Shadows. After two weeks, this high-schooler got bored with the slow pace and quit. However, around the same time was the rise of the gothic romance which reigned for years (all book covers had young women fleeing brooding castles); I read plenty of those. The gothic devolved into the bodice ripper, which has evolved into more upbeat postmodern chick lit.

    Curious Black would be definitely interested in a chick…

  6. I am having way too much fun.

    John, I think your daughter is absolutely right about the influence of Romeo and Juliet over book 2. She certainly knows the play better than I do, so I’m sure she picked up far more than I can just trying to remember. But I do especially like the fact that there is some reconciliation between Edward and Jacob–from Edward’s direction, at least–after Edward and Bella have their symbolic deaths.

    Mrs. Figg, not at all–you picked up some important details that I missed! Silver Volvo? Absolutely. Gold eyes (eyes, no less, the windows to the soul) after self-denial? That’s beautiful. And I’ll look forward to hearing more of your hero’s journey thoughts; I haven’t really gone there yet in my mind.

    Red Rocker, you made me laugh. My only experience with soap operas has been utter amusement, though I never saw your Gothic one. Collins? That sounds a lot like Cullen. I wonder if Ms. Meyer saw that show.

    I will admit freely that Twilight is going to be a more difficult read for some than others, probably especially for certain types of men (although any woman for whom feminism is a great driving passion will likely spend most of her time with the books in a fury). The writing didn’t seem that bad to me, especially not consistently; it definitely has weak spots, but Meyer has her strengths too. Anyway, I’m the sort of (thirty-year-old) girl who sympathized quite naturally with Bella almost the entire time, so it was probably easier for me than for most adults to get through the books.

    I’ve been thinking about Orson Scott Card and his influence on Stephenie Meyer. These are just beginning thoughts, but sticking with Speaker for the Dead (the one Card novel I’ve read and read and read again), how about the theme of achieving higher life through death? and death at the hands of a loved one, especially a loved other? Ender’s taking of the pequenino ‘Human’ into the third life is closely followed by celebration of the Mass, with specific reference to the wafer becoming the flesh of God and dwelling in man; Edward’s taking of Bella into the vampire life closely follows her experience of drinking given blood. My understanding of the Mormon concept of the Eucharist is that they believe it is symbolic only, but place it more centrally in the life of a believer and of the Sunday worship than the average evangelical church does; it doesn’t seem too out of the way, then, to expect it in the symbolism.

    Also, the “third wife” (the woman Bella hears about in Eclipse, who gives her life for her werewolf husband) might well be a hat-tip to that same “third life” the pequeninos refer to in Speaker. Maybe Meyer is similarly honoring the fact that every pequenino mother gives her own life to give life to her offspring.

    How about the idea of having two races of ‘other’: one transcendent, mind-sharing, super-intelligent, and the other immanent, rough-and-tumble, irascible?

    Andrew Wiggin often hears himself referred to as “the monster Ender”, giving him something in common with Edward, the vampire who “doesn’t want to be a monster.” Both killed in their early years (though Ender’s murders were all unknowingly accomplished); both rationalized their actions at the time by telling themselves that it was done to protect other lives. Likewise, both Ender and Edward had their origins in a long-past and decidedly different culture than the one in which these respective stories take place.

    Novinha and Bella are much alike in their rigorous self-condemnation over anything bad that happens to their loved ones. Both display (and have to grow out of) a remarkable carelessness toward the rest of humanity, and though Novinha’s emotions are much more strongly drawn than those of Bella, who is somewhat apathetic, the estrangement of each is partially due to their intense desire for the ‘forbidden fruit’ (‘forbidden fruit’, by the way, is the idea behind the cover of the first Twilight book.)

    I might be stretching things here, but the vampire Alice may be taken in part from Ender’s sentient computer friend, Jane. (There is a Jane in Twilight, a demonic little terrorizer of a vampire–as Aro’s most powerful female assistant, maybe a doppelganger for Alice? She’s probably a doppelganger for Bella, too, especially after Bella discovers her own special power, which is to shield herself and others.) Alice’s gift is foresight, but not fortune-telling; she can see where the decisions a person is currently making will lead. Jane, by having all the information the world has ever recorded into the networks, has the ability to see things no human can and at one point is said to know that Ender stood to die the same death Pipo and Libo did (vivisected by the piggies) if nothing happened to prevent it. Without explaining to Ender, she goes to work to prevent this–much like Alice does when she disappears in Breaking Dawn, leaving Bella anticipating certain death.

    Speaking of Bella’s shield-power: she becomes, in a mentally-based sense, an ‘invisibility cloak’ much like Harry’s, “the true power of which is that it can be used to shield others as well as its owner” … Meyer wrote the shield into Bella’s mind long before the publication of Deathly Hallows, but she seems to have drawn on some similar ideas here.

    I am definitely having too much fun. I think I’ve fallen in love with a vampire story … That Forks conference is starting to sound awfully interesting!

  7. My daughter Sophia bought the third and fourth books today. She told me she learned the consequences of talking about these novels when she told a visiting friend of another daughter (a cadet she knows at West Point) that she was reading them. Nice guy, very intelligent and polite — and, Sophia says, it was obvious he immediately pigeon-holed her mentally as a silly teenage girl caught up in the latest thing: vampire harlequins….

    She has read all of Jane Austen, the Bronte sister books, and a bunch of Shakespeare; she wants to talk about what makes the Twilight books work and their relationships with the texts on which the author says they are modeled. Sophia is skeptical, though, after her experience today that this conversation will ever happen. Just out of self-respect (self-importance?), no one in their right minds is going to admit in public that these books have literary merit or value or meaning.

    Stephenie Meyer, meet Gov. Palin. At Amazon.com, your four Twilight novels are the top four books in an inventory of four million books (ten of the top 25 books are Twilight related or by Stephenie Meyer). America loves you. But in the eyes of the chattering classes, you are an LDS loser writing trailer trash fiction. Go figure!

  8. Red Rocker says:

    LibraryLily, I don’t think it was necessary for Meyer to have ever seen Dark Shadows to be familiar with the cultural archetype of the dark, brooding, dangerous yet irresistably attractive Byronic hero. Her gift to teen-agers of all ages was to package him in a new and shiny wrapper.

    BTW, I was watching the ending of Joe Wright’s film of Pride and Prejudice again. The scene at dawn where Darcy walks through the meadows towards the waiting Elizabeth. His hesitating but heartfelt declaration of his love. Her wordless acceptance. Their heads pressed together as the sun rises behind them, blinding the viewer at the moment they kiss.

    That’s the kind of thing that reminds me not to accept any cheap imitation replicas.

  9. Mormon Momma: Blood Relations — Stephenie Meyer’s Monstar Mash is fascinating both because the writer is an LDS admirer of Twilight and because she wants to understand the writing magic that makes these books popular. A selection:

    “Seriously, Stephenie, I want to know what they taught you about characterization at BYU. If you were the professor now, what do you think your course outline would look like? I’d sign up in (ahem) a heartbeat.

    You have pricked a universal vein with your “cheesy” (as you call it) metaphor. Robert Frost said “An idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor.”

    I can’t speak for all your readers, but I love Edward because he is a compelling metaphor for everything that is “virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy.” You make him physically superhuman. He can outrun the wild animals he hunts, with no weapons other than his own indestructible body. He can effortlessly snap a tree trunk or grind a chunk of wood, carelessly yanked out of his desk, into powder with his fingertips. He can read minds, other than Bella’s. (What a nice touch! He has the same problem as any husband or boyfriend, with the one girl he longs to please. He can’t hear so much as a sigh when he tries to listen to Bella’s mind.) He is a musical genius. (Thanks for that, Stephenie! The ultimate turn-on. How could Bathsheba have resisted David, once he pulled out that harp!)

    But the biggest and most enduring turn-on of all is his character. I include his intellect, here. The glory of any god worth his salt is intelligence. He has two advanced degrees in medicine, although he plays the role of a high school junior to help his “family,” (actually his coven) avoid suspicion. He is by far the brightest person Bella could hang out with this side of the veil. And he uses his superior powers to master his impulses. You couldn’t have published a more powerful sermon on chastity or discipleship. …

    I think it is Meyer’s “Dare to do right, Dare to be true” metaphor that has rocked the teen world and (pardon the expression) sucked in their moms and grandmas. Readers my age might remember “The Monster Mash, and the next line, “It caught on in a flash.” That would be an understatement for Stephenie Meyer’s phenomenal Twilight series.”

    She thinks Meyer is writing allegory (“metaphor”) on uplifting, spiritual subjects, which is one definition for ‘anagogical,’ namely, ‘uplifting,’ ‘elevating.’

    Is she bonkers? Or could she be saying that Sister Meyer is, contrary to what the author said to Time magazine (“I’m a storyteller not a writer”), a writer of more substance than usually allowed?

  10. Red Rocker, you’re right about Stephenie Meyer not having to see the Dark Shadows show to cast an Edward. I don’t think she even had to read Gothic fiction to portray the irresistible as dark and brooding and dangerous. I was really just curious because of the Collins/Cullen name similarity.

    Don’t get me started on Wright’s film, though; I’m not likely to be nice to it. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite novel (tied with the Harry Potter series as a whole) and I thought that version of the movie messed too much with the story by letting go of Austen’s English sexual restraint. What, kissing? Outside? That scene was, as we fussy canon-thumpers always complain, “not in the book”. Also, I just didn’t feel like Keira Knightley managed to pull off the brilliant, laughing side of Elizabeth Bennet’s character. That said, it was a well-made movie and my sister loves it, so I certainly can’t deny you your pleasure in it.

    “Stephenie Meyer, meet Gov. Palin”—Ooh! The sort of thing that your daughter experienced, John, as well as the treatment that Sarah Palin has received (which Rowling has had to deal with on other fronts, as Meyer now does) … That makes my own inner perverseness want to hop up and start waving banners. “Hello, it’s your friendly local chiropractor for the mind, and YOU need a narrative adjustment.”

    For Sophia’s encouragement, I’ll offer the opinion that it will just take some time and persistence. I never even heard of Twilight till sometime within the last year; it’s much newer as a fan phenomenon than Harry Potter. Besides, our culture hasn’t fully learned from Rowling’s magnum opus that suspenseful/magical/romantic page turners marketed for younger readers can have real literary merit, and we all know what Rowling got from Bloom and Byatt and others. Tell Sophia I’ll help her lead the trend. 😀

    The Mormon Momma article was very interesting and I do like the “Dare to do right, dare to be true” conceptualization of Meyer’s metaphor. I also went over to Meyer’s site and read the Times article that contained the “I’m a storyteller, not a writer” comment [Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?]. It made me wonder just what Meyer means by the difference. That article ended with the following:

    “ ‘That’s what I like about science fiction,’ Meyer says. ‘It’s the same thing I like about Shakespeare. You take people, put them in a situation that can’t possibly happen, and they act the way you would act. It’s about being human.’ And sometimes there’s nobody quite as human as somebody who isn’t.”

    If storytelling is (in part) an artistic portrayal of the meaning of being human, then it seems to me that moral, allegorical and anagogical levels are part of that package.

    I did want to make a revision to part of my earlier comment on Card’s influence over Meyer. Having described the two species of “Other” as “one transcendent, mind-sharing, super-intelligent, and the other immanent, rough-and-tumble, irascible”, I went to sleep, woke up, and smacked myself in the forehead. In referring to the buggers and vampires as “mind-sharing”, I was thinking of the special powers of Edward, Aro, Renesmee, and to some extent Alice and Jasper. But Stephenie Meyer gave an almost exactly bugger-like mind-sharing power to the immanents, the werewolf pack. They hear each others’ thoughts instantaneously and completely when in wolf form. Of course, the transcendent/immanent split is still clearly buggers and vampires on one side, pequeninos and werewolves on the other. I’d be surprised, though, if the buggers’ power wasn’t in her mind in drawing up the wolfpack’s thought-sharing.

  11. Arabella Figg says:

    I haven’t gotten much further in the book than when I last wrote (I forgot to mention Bella and the mirror–I’m going to be looking for mirror imagery, too). But I have to retract my earlier comment about the book neither delighting, instructing nor edifying.

    I. Was. Wrong. I do believe it to be all three.

    The second read-through is much more compelling, because I know the writing itself is often inferior to the story (something Rowling has been criticized for, but Meyer is no Rowling in the writing dept.). I still see Bella not fully developed (at least in this book), but Edward certainly is.

    I ask other All-Pros to not dismiss the book without reading it *for the story.* (And try to ignore the writing caliber and unaddressed curiosities mentioned above.) It may not be your cup of tea, but give it a chance. You can go back to Dostyevsky later.

    How Meyer’s story so transcends her writing is a mystery, but she does it. I’m so very interested now to see what you have to say, John.

  12. Red Rocker says:

    LibraryLily, I have read Pride and Prejudice countless times and I recognize the places where Wright’s movie veered off the story. The purist in me might have objected, were it not for the fact that the movie did make some things more vivid for me than the book – heresy of heresies! I could finally appreciate how absurd Mr. Collins really was, and why Charlotte decided to marry him despite that. I also got a better understanding of Mrs. Bennett. Before seeing the movie I saw her as merely ridiculous. The movie showed her vulgar side without mercy, it’s true (loved the scene at the party where she sits on a table, kicking her heels while eating her dessert!), but it also showed her desperate concern for her daughters. And there was an earthiness to the farm where the Bennetts lived – and the contrasting luxury of Pemberley – that grounded everything much more substantially than Austen’s precise prose.

    And I strongly disagree with you about Knightley’s take on Elizabeth. I had seen the BBC version, and bits of the Greer Garson / Laurence Olivier version. And of course the book itself. It was the Knightley version which finally made me understand why Mr. Darcy fell so quickly and immediately in love with Elizabeth. She was Elizabeth’s vivacious charm personified. You say the movie let go of Austen’s sexual restraint. Austen did not talk about sex – in those days she could not. But how else to explain that instantaneous attraction? Sexual attraction draws Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together. It takes the rest of the book for them to develop a respect and affection for each other which will sustain their marriage. To my mind, the movie connected the dots and made the links which Austen could not make explicit.

    And one final word. The scriptwriter for Wright’s movie was one Deborah Moggach. But some of the dialogue was written by Emma Thompson. You can imagine that I’ve pondered over Mr. Darcy’s words to Elizabeth in the climactic scene, knowing that Austen did not write them. I’ve decided that they work. And I imagine that the credit for them goes to Thompson, who showed her writing chops in both Sense and Sensibility and Nanny McPhee.

    Sorry for hijacking the thread, John, but it was Meyer herself who opened the door for Austen to come into the conversation by claiming that she’d channelled Mr. Darcy in creating Edward.

    I think not.

  13. Arabella Figg says:

    I need, need to add this. I’ve been reading comments on Twilight at the Hog’s Head and have to say I’m discouraged by the many “authorities” on this book who haven’t even read it! Or who seem to see themselves *above* reading it. Haven’t we struggled with this kind of thing over too many years with Harry?

    I read it because the film and the publication of Breaking Dawn brought it to my attention the way the explosion around GoF did. Although I do read young adult fiction, I’m not a vampire, paranormal or romance genre fan. So I dismissed the books until the major exposure.

    And, true, upon first reading I had some things to say (above). But at least they weren’t based on second opinion. John’s questions provoked me to think more deeply; that’s why I decided to reread Twilight. And I found much more under the surface reading. There is no stupid Bella (she’s 17!). There is no flawless Edward (he can be snarky, snotty, cold and has a serious anger problem). He’s not controlling, nor is she an entranced zombie. (He is a popsicle, though–wink!)

    There’s a genuineness about this book that didn’t appear to me at first. I still feel its appeal is related to a postmodern, ironic culture that disparages love, to broken homes and absentee or unloving fathers. But there is much more than that and I’m sure John will not disappoint us.

    My apologies for misspelling Dostoyevsky. Never read the guy. I’m sure he’s good; everyone says so, so it must be true.

    Luscious Badboy knows he’s good…

  14. Arabella,

    As for me & my comments on Twilight, I have never claimed to be an authority. But I think it is possible for one to comment on something one has not read as long as the comments reflect the reality of the book, which was what was missing in so many of the commentators on HP who hadn’t read it. Two, I have never claimed to be above reading the book. I think it also possible to simply say of a book, “From all I’ve heard, I don’t think I would like it, & I don’t really want to read it.”

    I also think it possible to fall into the opposite error, “Everyone is reading this book so there must be something to it so you must read it, too, & then you’ll see what’s to it.” I don’t buy it.

    But all that being said, I am still trying to buy a copy of the book. I’m just not planning on spending a lot of money for it.

  15. This much conversation about the possibility that there’s something deeper going on in Twilight almost makes me pick it back up again.

    Well that’s not true – by “almost,” I mean, it’s been shoved up in the attic, and I might think about bringing it back into the main pile of books in case I need to reference it at some point.

    Either I’ve lost my ability to read literature, or I’ve been possessed by the spirit of Harold Bloom. Maybe I need to take some deep breaths, take a long break, and pick the book back up in a year or so.

    revgeorge said: I also think it possible to fall into the opposite error, “Everyone is reading this book so there must be something to it so you must read it, too, & then you’ll see what’s to it.” I don’t buy it.

    That’s where I’m at. Titanic was popular. Danielle Steele is popular. Da Vinci Code was insanely popular. It’s all bad art. People don’t like it because it’s bad, but it’s not automatically good because a lot of people like it.

    But all that being said, I am still trying to buy a copy of the book. I’m just not planning on spending a lot of money for it.

    Nevermind about my pulling it out of the attic. I’ll send you my copy, revgeorge.

    To add a note of much-needed humility: I’ll be willing to be wrong about all this, but it’ll probably take me awhile (if, indeed, I am wrong). Forgive me if it takes me a while to pay much attention to any further Twilight discussion. I have many other pursuits at the moment that are taking up my attention.

  16. I don’t care how bad the writing is; there’s meat in this somewhere.

    John, might be true that there’s still meat in it, but when the writing is so bad, how can you find the meat, and will you even care about it when you do? Either I missed it (see above comment), or I was so distracted by the bad writing that it just didn’t resonate with me.

    Rowling isn’t Dickens, but she’s still good. Meyer isn’t even mediocre.

    I just don’t see how “I don’t care how bad the writing is” is something we can say when discussing artistry, because encountering beauty is a fundamental part of the artistic experience. It seems to me that anyone with the prerequisite knowledge can write a story follows sounds like Romeo and Juliet, has alchemical symbols, etc. If it’s a bad story and bad writing, it’s still a bad story and bad writing, and that matters.

    Or maybe I really have been possessed by Harold Bloom. Perhaps I really do need to temporarily retire from this conversation. I appreciate your response and probably necessary corrections.

  17. Alright, I can’t stay away. One more comment, and then back to E. Nesbit.

    One thought came to my mind, and a question for fans who have read beyond the first book:

    Is the writing in the first book obnoxious because Meyer is bad, or does she intend it to be “bad,” because we’re getting the perspective of a melodramatic, 16-year-old girl? Because that might make a difference in how I see that first book.

    And I did want to respond to Arabella: My Rabbit Room review contained the disclaimer that it had a strike against it because I have not read all the books. That remains true. And I think every commenter at The Hog’s Head would say the same thing about their judgments on the series, varying depending on how much they’ve read. That group of folks is hardly an elitist group.

    That said, I don’t think it’s unfair for anyone to say, “I don’t have any interest in reading it, and this is why.” We all do that every day with what books we choose to pick up or not pick up.

    I’d also want to add a clarifying statement to yours, that there are “many ‘authorities’ over at the Hog’s Head …” That thread consists of only 7 participants, three of which haven’t read it, two of which have read some and couldn’t get any further, and two of which who have read all. I know the three who haven’t read it well enough after 2-3 years of conversing with them to know that none of them feel themselves “above” reading the series.

  18. Arabella Figg says:

    RevGeorge and others, I wasn’t angry (rather surprised and dismayed) when I wrote what I did. I wasn’t singling anyone out, nor did I mean to seem arrogant, discourteous or offensive. I apologize if I did. I was just surprised and dismayed.

    I’m not sure I quite “get” your first point, but there are many highly lauded books I myself have no interest in reading. Twilight was one of them. (And I’m not now a gushing Twilighter, rushing out to buy the t-shirt.) As for the”opposite error,” we have only to look to Pullman’s books and others’. And here’s to irony–so many here love Jane Austen, and I know she’s a huge influence on HP…but I just can’t get into her!

    I don’t want to buy the books either, but for library holds it’s a 17-week wait!

    I have another theory as to the popularity of Twilight (and other hot fandom). Culturally, we’re not all on the same page as we once were. Technology–the Internet, Tivo and niche radio–enables us to be an audience of one for just about anything. We’ve lost commonality. Even newspapers are failing. The “watercooler” has become Babel. So a popular book or movie brings people together in what can be rabid fandom.

    I’m changing my mind on the generational fandom of Twilight, too. Anything that brings girls, their moms and grandmoms together these days–isn’t that a good thing? Reading is becoming, thanks to Harry, “the new hearth” of togetherness. Other franchises have generational fandom–Star Wars, Star Trek, HP, Batman…so why should Twilight be singled out as bad? Because it’s romance instead of action?

    I think I need a neck brace from throwing my Twilight “shiny silver Volvo” in reverse so much. (However, would someone kindly yank the word “smirk” out of Meyer’s vocabulary? She must use it about 600 times. Buy her a Thesaurus!)

  19. I’ve said elsewhere that there are four points to a book qualifying as ‘Great’ in the tradition of English letters: it has to achieve a certain longevity, it has to ask the big questions of what it means to be human, the answers have to be Christian (or responses to the Christian answers), and the artistry of the book or books has to buttress and supplement those answers. I’ve argued that, outside of longevity, Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels meet those standards. I’m skeptical that Ms. Meyer’s books meet more than one or two of these criteria — and I’m aware of the Harold Bloom effect or Governor Palin syndrome in the culture at large driving that skepticism, if knowing Mr. Prinzi thinks the writing is dreadful makes me bold enough to share my skepticism publicly.

    The thing is, the question I want to answer, again, is not “are these Great books?” or even ‘literature’ or just more than schlock for tois pollois, the ‘great unwashed.’ The question I find interesting and not just an occasion for de gustibus opinions is “why do people love them the way they do?” I cannot substantiate this thought with any research or studies but I think it is clear that Meyer’s fans care for her stories more than Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, and Danielle Steele readers (who are legion) are devoted to their favorite writers and stories.

    To answer that question will, however, if my experience with Harry is applicable, require reading the books as literature or a great book. Why? Because it is the meaning and artistry of the books that delivers the ‘wow’ that resonates in the reader. Ms. Meyer has tapped into something powerful and deserves serious consideration, like her or not.

    I look forward to reading the books as genre cross overs, as postmodern books speaking to the concerns and blindspots of our age, as LDS vehicles, as extensions, even fan-fiction for Great Books Meyer loves (the Austen, Shakespeare, and Bronte), all, most importantly, to explore what makes readers respond as they do to these books. Will that mean becoming an apologist for their Christian content and literary merit as it did with Ms. Rowling? Again, I doubt it.

    But the question to be answered is “what causes the reader response these books get?” rather than “can I recommend this to others as a Great Book?”

  20. All very fair points, of course, John, and I do hope you’ll forgive my exasperation. I think your central question is a good one.

    And it’s still possible I’m dead wrong (undead wrong?). Arabella seems to be re-discovering the books on a re-read, and perhaps they’re better than I thought. This is where, as I noted in my Rabbit Room review, my own thoughts on this are weakened; I probably will have to proceed on to the other novels, since I’d require that of anyone reviewing Rowling (especially if they read one book and hated it). But at present, other priorities are winning the day; I only jumped into book one because the proprietor at The Rabbit Room (a fantastic musician and author, by the way) asked me to specifically.

    I’ll look forward, with anticipation, to your reviews once you’ve read the four books. I’ve no doubt they’ll be excellent reviews and accurate, brilliant analysis, as always.

  21. Arabella,

    I’ve never read any Austen either nor very much Dickens, although I know I probably should. But the motivation hasn’t come to me yet. I do have quite a few Austen & Dickens books sitting on my shelf just in case that happens, though. 🙂

  22. Red Rocker, truce! 😀 I do understand why you like the movie, though it really didn’t do anything for me. Your comments are interesting–bringing things back to Twilight–because part of the artistry question we’re debating here is affected by taste.

    John, here’s my (short-winded) attempt to answer your four questions.

    Longevity: Too soon to tell, of course–all we can do is take bets.

    Asking the big questions of what it means to be human: Yes, I think the stories do this, particularly the questions of what it means to love, to live, and to be an immortal creation.

    Providing or countering Christian answers: The answers are Christian when Mormonism lines up with its Christian roots and not so much where it doesn’t.

    Artistic buttress: I believe so. I think we’ve established that there is some alchemical and traditional subtext to these books. But I’m going to defend her writing style just a little bit too.

    Travis, you spoke of having a ‘visceral reaction’ to Bella’s narrative. I can understand that, having recently had a similar reaction to a book that otherwise seemed rather good–positive themes, Christian symbolism, good vs. evil–and the whole time I just wanted to say “Look, cut the action already and tell me what these characters are thinking!” It drove me bananas. I truly don’t blame you if you can’t get into Twilight. You’re not Harold Bloom, anyway, since you’re at least open to considering that you might have missed something.

    I think the second and third books and parts of the fourth are better than the first. I also think that the perspective plays a role in the writing style. But I also just didn’t think Meyer’s writing was that bad. I’m not going to make great claims for it or say that those who put forth its failings are wrong in everything they say. These were really Meyer’s first books, and it shows in places. But I found them very readable.

    My quarrel with her word choices was no more than I had with Rowling, who used the word “screamed” at least four or five times in Deathly Hallows when, had I been her editor, I would have recommended “shrieked” or “shouted” or “yelled”–it was jarring every time I saw it. Likewise, there were points in Deathly Hallows where I felt the dialogue was a bit wooden and even out of character. Some of Meyer’s weaknesses might be considered similar. I think Meyer has a good vocabulary (though she does repeat words, generally in the context of very 17-year-old-girl repeated thought) and a pleasant flow to her English.

    Being a girl who could hardly care less about the action and really wants to know the people I’m reading about, I enjoyed her work. There are no Hagrids or Dobbies in her books, but her books are not as comical as Rowling’s, and I thought some of the characters quite well-drawn: Bella, Edward, Jacob, Alice, Carlisle, Seth, Leah, etc. (Getting through book 2, at least, is helpful for some of that.)

    She also kept me up nights, out of my absolutely needing to know what would happen next. The action-packed book I mentioned earlier sat on the coffee table for days, half-finished. While it sat there, I re-read Twilight.

    Again, I’m not saying all criticism of her writing capabilities is invalid–I respect all of you far too much. I’m just pointing out a couple of reasons why I think it isn’t dreadful–why I liked it even though it has its faults. Anyone who wants to dissent or expound upon the above, feel free.

  23. More excellent discussion over at the Hog’s Head Tavern, here and here, which has the advantage of a moderator who has read and given serious thought to at least one of the books!

  24. LibraryLily, thanks for your thoughtful response. You’re the third person now who’s told me the writing style I had a visceral reaction to in the first book is not as bad in the latter books, especially when there are perspective changes (part of one book is from Jacob’s perspective?). So I may need to return to the latter books and see if it’s just 16-year-old Bella I can’t stand!

  25. Arabella Figg says:

    Travis, I’m sure it’s Bella. Because my reaction to Meyer’s writing was also so visceral. As a first-person narrator, she’s maddening (even in reread). Her passive acceptance of the incredible, without any interior conflict, is preposterous; an embarrassing contrast to the portrayal of third-person Edward. Add Meyer’s unfortunate case of adverb/adjectivitis…. There is no one more surprised than myself over my J-turn. Who knows, with reading the other books, I may pop that reverse again and get full value out of my medical benefits.

    You write: “Titanic was popular. Danielle Steele is popular. Da Vinci Code was insanely popular. It’s all bad art. People don’t like it because it’s bad, but it’s not automatically good because a lot of people like it.” Having seen Titanic and read a couple of very early Steele’s, “I second that emotion.” Part of the dumbing down of our culture?

  26. Part of the dumbing down of our culture?

    Arabella, yes, I think so. I don’t want to be an alarmist, mind you. Every age has those who lament that we’re getting dumber than … [insert supposed good ol’ days golden age of your choice]. But I think it’s perfectly fair to say that as far as having the patience to read great literature goes, our culture doesn’t usually tolerate it. We’re a fast-paced, stimulus-driven, thrill-seeking age, “amusing ourselves to death,” as Postman wrote.

  27. I must say that Travis is not far off the mark at all. Painful is just a bit conservative for my estimation. Aside from poor prose and generally Eragon-esque mistakes, the books lack a driving narrative (in one book our protagonist is in a coma) and has an overabundance of irrelevant or superfluous content. And so far as I can tell, were we to break down the story, at the core we find a teenage boy who stalks a girl and hangs out outside her window and so forth, and a teenage girl who is a doormat for his every whim. They are whiny, they are angsty, and they are just this side of emo. The term “gender confusion” suggests far too much, but there is still a deep-set confusion on the subject latent in the books in my estimation.

  28. k2theforrest says:

    I have to admit that the original post is what made me read the books. I have been passively participating on this site for a while… well, really since a certain chapel series at Biola that kicked me off my high horse, made me eat my words and read Harry Potter. A friend of mine bought “How Harry Cast His Spell” and out of sheer curiosity and a healthy dose of peer pressure (which incidently was also made me go to the chapel on *gasp* Harry Potter), I decided to read the books. I was on the same high horse about the Twilight books and didn’t even realize it until I read the post. Not wanting to actually buy or read the books, I downloaded the audiobooks. (This is my way of being able to deny having read the books if I don’t like them and decide that I did in fact have reason to be ashamed of having read them.) After having listened to all four of the books now, I can say that I am glad that I didn’t take the time to read them and that I took in the sory in a way that didn’t require complete attention.

    I liked the first book fairly well. I can say without a doubt that the pacing in the books was terrible and could have used some serious editing.

    “They are whiny, they are angsty, and they are just this side of emo.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore of Bella’s droning about how perfect Edward is and how she didn’t deserve him, things got very interesting. I have to say that Stephenie Meyers did somehow make me care enough about the fate of these characters that when the real action started, I had to keep reading.

    For anyone who is going to read the whole series, be prepared for the second and third book. There is enough angst in those two books to rival an entire album of 90’s grunge (incidently, also from the Seattle area…). It really bothered me that Bella would fall apart so completely just because Edward left. It bothered me a good deal that Bella’s happiness was so dependant on Edward.

    Despite the gore of the fourth book, I liked it the best. It just plain had the most happening in it, and that is probably why.

    I do think that there is real merit in the series and that it does deserve a real second look for it’s deeper message and themes, but I simply do not have the patience to spend that much time in Bella’s head again.

  29. maggiemay says:

    Wow, did I start all this? I asked John to comment on the series because I wanted him to point out some redeeming qualities. A friend and I decided to read it in early December in an attempt to relate better to our teenage daughters, although we were both embarrassed by having to go into a store and purchase it. We are both middle-aged, lots of kids, long-time husbands. In other words, dead to romance, or so we thought! Other than Harry and some classics, we generally prefer non-fiction. We were both mortified to realize that Edward was making our long-dead hearts race! We tried very hard to figure out why, and came up with a few ideas, but admittedly, these may be only to assuage our guilt. First was the appeal of a flawless immortality, which you can’t deny the closer you get to 50…
    Second, Edward is a sort of savior figure because he decides to live among mortals and love one of them even though he is vastly superior in body and mind. He has immortality to offer Bella, but won’t force it on her, it must be her decision to follow him. He is a protector, someone who invites you to lay your head on his chest and be at rest. Just typing that sentence makes me squeamish, but I’m trying to be honest. It’s a sort of spiritual longing and maybe that’s one reason why women especially love romance novels. I don’t plan on reading any more of them, but I’ve often wondered why they were so popular and felt sort of smug that I wasn’t the type to read that “trash.” Well, OK there is romance in Austen but it’s so very well suffocated in the characters. One last observation, although this isn’t related to racing heartbeats. In Breaking Dawn, the last book of the series, the leader of the worldwide vampires, Aro, says, “How ironic it is that as humans advance, as their faith in science grows and controls their world, the more free we are from discovery”. He goes on to say that the vampires are uninhibited by human disbelief in the supernatural. This immediately reminded me of some points that John made in Looking for God in Harry Potter regarding contemplation of the supernatural world being a very positive contribution of Harry Potter, and I believe that would apply to Twilight as well.

  30. Yes, MaggieMay, you did start this thread rolling so I think I’ll use your catch up as the closer. Please start read and comment on the new post for Twilight and Harry Potter I just put up!

  31. Arabella Figg says:

    Well, I’m fishtailing on the literary icy road.

    I’m through the forest glade scene and Cullen family intro, which is pretty decent. But once past the expositional part, and into seemingly unending pages of Harlequin mush, I find myself thinking “oh, puh-leeze.” If I edited this book, it would be *at least* 200 pages shorter and move briskly, shorn of each repititive sigh, pout and brow furrow/eye reference. I’m impatient to be done with this bloated tome and doubt I’ll read the rest.

    That said, there is still merit in the book. It’s best when it sticks to what story there is, and would vastly improve without all the clunky romantic detail. Including Bella’s/Edward’s imappropriate and yes, “eye-rolling” bedroom scene; ditto Edward’s voyuerism. It would be better yet if Bella had a fully realized personality and any–any!–interior conflict of her own.

    Edward is still a compelling metaphor for our own struggle with the beast within (sin). His anguish over his baser impulses and instincts that would destroy what he values and loves, and including his own self-respect, resonates well. As does his gradual mastery of himself.

    Kitties abound in baser impulses, and if you don’t like it, tough…

    P.S. To Travis–I haven’t done a 180 on the book; I’ve just reversed some thinking about it–a few times! 😉 I can’t say I’d recommend it, though. It’s okay/pretty good in parts.

  32. If I edited this book, it would be *at least* 200 pages shorter and move briskly, shorn of each repititive sigh, pout and brow furrow/eye reference.

    Arabella, yes, yes, yes.

    I agree, there’s something in the story worth finding, but I can’t wade through the silliness and repetitive eye-rolling, sighing, fainting, bouts of tachycardia and third degree heart block.

    “I can’t recommend it, though. It’s okay/pretty good in some parts.” That about sums the whole experience up for me. It’s just that all the bad parts far outweigh the good.

  33. John – here goes a fairly simple answer to your question “Why are these books so popular?”

    Because Edward is “The Prince” in a modern day fairy tale. And we all know what sort of fairy tales young girls are brought up on.

    He’s the handsome, strong, all-protecting, knight-in-shining-armor to her damsel-in-distress (on the surface, anyway. It’s safe to assume that young girls aren’t concerned or mature enough to recognize underlying flaws in fictional characters). It’s a teenage girl’s dream to have someone like Edward and they CAN have him by vicariously living through Bella.

    I am completely embarrassed to admit this, but when I was 16 I read “Sweet, Savage Love” and thought I had died and gone to heaven. As a teenage girl, I was thrilled to be reading a book that made my heart race and skin tingle. I suppose Twilight does the same for this generation of girls, but in a contemporary setting.

    I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that!

    (My 17 year old daughter once commented that boys her own age were “dumb”. When surrounded by “dumb” boys, what teenage girl wouldn’t swoon over the uber-perfect fantasy man-boy Edward?)

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