Friday the Thirteenth: Manuscript Madness

Part 5 in the series on the remarkable similarities in how both Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga and Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter novels have been reviewed will be posted Monday, if I finish the bibliography for and corrections to the final manuscript of Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures for Penguin/Berkley this weekend. Wish me luck.

If you’re a Potter fan and are only just now discovering the Twilight books and Forks Fandom, I recommend that you check out the Potter parallel universe online with Bella, Edward, and Jacob standing in for Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Twilight Topsites is a good place to start! Of course there’s a Lexicon there…

On Critical Reception of Harry Potter and Twilight: “It’s Deja Vu All Over Again” (Part 4: Derivative)

For Part 1 of this post, click here. for Part 2, click here, for part 3, click here, or just scroll down the home page.

Good news and bad news today. The bad news is that neither of my cars was up to the trip to Connecticut this morning: no Jim Dale reading Goblet, no business lunch at Zossima Press, no conversation with Prof. Tumminio and the Eli Bulldogs about Christology and Harry Potter. Major downer. The only upside, besides not driving seven hours today, is I can forge ahead with the effort here in comparing the critical reception Ms. Rowling’s Hogwarts Adventures received with reviews of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga.

Today is my last note about critics per se before detailing in four steps what I think they missed in both series, namely, why readers love these stories as much as they do. I’ve touched on dismissals and criticism according to core genre and to Culture War transgressions in terms of both religious touchstones and political correctness. Today let’s look at how some readers have attempted to diminish the significance of Harry and Bella by suggesting they are not originals, i.e., that the value and importance of the books about their adventures are derived from other and better sources that inspired and influenced Ms. Rowling and Ms. Meyer. [Read more…]

On Critical Reception of Harry Potter and Twilight: “It’s Deja Vu All Over Again” (Part 3: Artifact)

For Part 1 of this post, click here. for Part 2, click here, or just scroll down on the home page.

I went to the library tonight to pick up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on CD (I am driving to Connecticut tomorrow for a Zossima Press lunch and to sit in on a class at Yale; they’re reading Goblet and discussing Christology so I thought I’d listen to Jim Dale telling the TriWizard Tournament story on the long drive up 287N). Our local library has a wonderful woman at the helm and she teased me because it took me so long to find the Potter CDs. “Your children would have been able to find them right away.” Because she knows what I write and talk about, she asked me why I needed the audio versions of Goblet and what I was thinking about these days.

I took a deep breath and said I was reading Twilight. After reading this afternoon one self-anointed Potter maven’s disdain for my suggestions here that there is something more than Harlequin Romance in Stephenie Meyer’s books, I half expected her to laugh or do the eyeball-rolling headshake dance. Instead she asked what I thought of them, obviously very interested, and, when I expressed my doubts that teenage girls were the niche audience propelling these books to sales approaching 20 million, she laughed. She admitted that her experience was only anecdotal, but that what she had noticed was readers of every age, male and female, asking for, borrowing, and reading the library’s copies or their own in the library. Other than Harry Potter, she’s never seen anything like that.

I share this conversation for you to make of it what you will. It doesn’t demonstrate anything conclusive, of course, but it makes me think I’m not silly for thinking I’ve seen this situation before (“deja vu all over again”). The desire to bottle and stopper the Twilight Saga phenomenon as a tweenie fad is similar to the insistence in media and reviews for several years that Ms. Rowling’s novels were “just for children” and their success was due to kids loving Goosebump like stories, their susceptibility to clever marketing, and the madness of crowds. Potter mania couldn’t be about the stories being masterfully written and having transcendent meaning. [Read more…]

On Critical Reception of Harry Potter and Twilight: “It’s Deja Vu All Over Again” Part 2: Culture War

For Part 1 of this post, click here or just scroll down on the home page.

I’m going to return to the “academic elites” like Harold Bloom and drive-by mavens like Stephen King the day after tomorrow when I hope to detail the literary artistry and levels of meaning they neglect in their dismissal of the Twilight books as Harlequin romances. This morning’s echo of aspects of Pottermania in Ms. Meyer’s critical reception is less academic and aesthetic than cultural, as in ‘Culture War.’ The ever vigilant puritan arbiters of what is acceptable and edifying reading and, more to the point, what is not uplifting for young readers are on the march to link Bella and Edward’s love story with the occult as they did Harry’s Hogwarts Adventures.

This was predictable to the point of seeming inevitable. It remains, nonetheless, a sad confirmation of the pathetic state of critical thinking in our times. The academic mavens cannot get their heads around a book’s genre and popularity because of hoi polloi associations, which is to be expected from folks posturing as certified elites or ‘vigilants’ in matters of taste and literature. Much sadder to me is the inability of many thoughtful Christian readers to read a novel at any level other than its surface meaning and seeming moral message because of their social agendas.

I don’t need to review at any depth the history of ‘The Controversy’ for serious readers of Harry Potter. We all remember too well the years in which carrying Ms. Rowling’s books in public meant the strong possibility that friends and even strangers would feel obliged to ask whether we were aware the novels had an occult message and that faithful Christians avoided them. In many faith communities, it became a touchstone or litmus strip of biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxis to disparage the books as “gateways to the occult.” [Read more…]

On Critical Reception of Harry Potter and Twilight: “It’s Deja Vu All Over Again” (Part 1: Genre)

Yogi Berra, inspired American living koan, is supposed to have said (when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were hitting back to back home runs repeatedly for the New York Yankees) “this is like deja vu all over again.” I’m no yogi but I confess to understanding what the home plate pundit was thinking. The dismissals of, objections to, and superficial readings of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga are remarkably reminiscent of the critical reception to Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter novels and persistent beliefs about the Hogwarts adventures. To my surprise, quite a few serious readers of Ms. Rowling’s work are playing the part of Harold Bloom and Michael O’Brien in the update to the Potter wars of years past.

I have read and enjoyed all four and a half of the Twilght books. In that accomplishment and enjoyment I am hardly unique; when I checked several weeks ago, the four books in print held four of the top five slots at Amazon.com and on the New York Times Best Sellers list. But in asserting that the books have literary value and that their popularity is perfectly understandable (without insulting those who love the books by saying they’re morons, have no taste, or belong exclusively to the category of ‘pubescent girls’), I find myself standing alone as literate friends move to the other side of the room rolling their eyeballs and shaking their heads.

I’ve had this experience before, and, like Prof. Berra, I’m startled to be “feeling deja vu all over again.”

Ms. Meyer’s and Ms. Rowling’s debut series have two obvious things in common: they are both wildly popular and they both have been dismissed, as James Thomas said of Potter critics in academia, for being “too current, too popular, and too juvenile.” There’s little to add about how well each of these series is selling but a closer look at what turns critics and culture warriors off about Bella Swann and Harry Potter reveals an ironic twist or two. In this first in a series of posts this week, I want to look at genre and the role it plays in critical acceptance and dismissal. [Read more…]