If you can tear yourself away from “Casual Vacancy”…

I’d love to hear some responses to this recent column in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  I expect our Headmaster has a different take on the Twilight series.

I will be the first to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Twilight…  my main motivation for reading it was to appreciate John’s Spotlight book more. And unlike Harry, Hunger Games and Divergent (all of which get a mention in the Chron article as well!) I never felt a need to re-visit Bella’s tale.

But the column is well worth discussing.


  1. FWIW — thank you for posting, I stopped reading the Chronicle years ago — this was the comment I left over there:
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    I enjoyed the article, and agree that the apparent contradictions within the story are part of its appeal. But I would question whether what makes Twilight so compelling is actually “bewildering.” Erzen is correct, though, that for many readers (and non-reader critics), it may be.

    Yet, the Twilight “Saga” follows the same patterns found in any number of other successful stories through the ages. Beyond the monomyth and boy-meets-girl type patterns, is a four-stage pattern that heroes follow on the path toward wisdom.

    Briefly, the hero follows the Wisdom Cycle’s stages of Learn, Believe, Change & Commit; the villains follow their opposites, as they do: Seeking Ignorance, Fear, Refusal to Change, and Seeking Irresponsibility. Those who follow the Wisdom Cycle grow more successful (and wise), and those who do the opposite will do so at their peril. The same pattern is found in nearly every movie, book, myth, or other story we’ve encountered. Since life works much the same ways, albeit in less tidy ways, this pattern is particularly appealing for many readers, including Twilight fans.

    Twilight, though, unlike many stories, follows the pattern *exactly,* to the point where each of the four books — not the standard three, as with “The Hunger Games” — focuses on each individual stage of the Wisdom Cycle.

    Say what you will about Stephenie Meyer’s (natural) prose, tying that pattern so closely with questions that weigh upon many young and/or spiritual people in this modern, secular world — is there true love? can it endure? Is there only “the one” for me? do angels watch over me? what does it mean to be “godlike?” — was a stroke of genius.

    And if that seems a step too far to you, then perhaps you would allow it as a stroke of *financial* genius.

    I explored the appeal of Twilight further in “Twilight for Life: Finding Meaning in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight – and in Life.” I hope that other authors, who have explored the series’ appeal in other books along other paths, will weigh in also.
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  2. The writer reduces the popularity of the Twilight Saga to ignorance and backwardness, social, psychological and political:

    The Goodreads Web site produced a map of the United States showing which states have the most Twilight readers. Its methodology may have been flawed because the results were based on self-reporting, but the outcome is telling nonetheless. The map looks eerily like the red state/blue state patterns of America’s political proclivities that surfaced after the 2000 presidential election. The belt from Texas to North Carolina through the Midwest harbors the highest numbers of positive reviews of the Twilight books. Meanwhile, readers on the coasts rated the series the least favorably. In most states where Goodreads members love the books, abortion is restricted by parental consent and mandatory waiting periods, abstinence-only curricula predominate in high schools, and both teenage pregnancy and adult divorce rates remain higher than the national average.

    A series that promotes the flip-flopped world of a boy who insists on preserving his girlfriend’s virtue and forces her to wait for sex until marriage because he cares for her soul and safety, as well as depicting a nonbiological family of married adults who will love and desire one another forever, is the most supernatural aspect of the series. Bella is assured of eternity with the person she loves because, unlike humans’, vampires’ emotions are not fickle and transient. She will remain in the form of a lithe teenage girl without the creeping malaise of middle age, disillusionment, and financial strain that accompanies marriage over time.

    What makes Twilight so compelling is its bewildering mix of inverted fantasies and the contradictory desires it evokes for fans: Edward is both devastatingly romantic and a creepy stalker. Bella is heroic and a wavering, quavering damsel in distress. The sex or lack thereof harks back to an era of gentlemanly chivalry, and yet the sex is potentially violent and can kill you. The Cullens are a model family of Leave It to Beaver vampires, yet simultaneously self-obsessed and materialistic.

    Readers might want to revert to an invented, halcyon past where men waited patiently until after marriage for sex. Or they might identify with an ordinary girl who no longer has to make decisions about her life as she’s swept away by the romantic hero. Those are the fantasies of our contemporary postfeminist moment. Postfeminism, as a form of common sense, tells us that women no longer need economic or political power because women have achieved equality and parity with men, and that feminism, therefore, is redundant and no longer necessary. Any choice that women and girls make is indicative of their personal empowerment and freedom. The idea that it’s daring and commendable for Bella to sacrifice college, friends, family, and even her human life to devote herself to the mercurial Edward, all the while asserting that it is her choice to do so, is an exemplar of postfeminist fantasy.

    This is something of a cartoon of sociological criticism more worthy of the Onion than the Chronicle, though ‘what is worthy’ of the Chronicle frankly is not what we’d assume.

    There is nothing here, of course, of the text beyond the surface story as read through politically correct lenses. There is nothing of the story’s form, structure, prevalent symbols, and genre roots, those the author respects and writes within and those she elects to evade. In effect, the author of this piece either does not respect Mrs. Meyer as a writer or she does not know how to approach a text critically, as either Northrup Frye details in Anatomy of Criticism or the iconological approach of the Western Canon.

    The review is a waste of time, in brief, if it serves as an excellent example of what passes as scholarship these days. A GoodReads map and a compare-and-contrast with electoral politics and abortion legislation? Again, this is Onion-esque treatment of demean-and-dismiss-what-you-don’t-care-for criticism — and bitter satire at that. If you want to know why Twilight is as popular as it is, I urge you to read the book I wrote that attempts seriously to answer that question.

  3. I couldn’t access the article, so am going from John’s quote above.

    I don’t understand this sort of critique: “an ordinary girl who no longer has to make decisions about her life”. Have they never read the books? Are they blind? Do they not see that the central point of these books is the idea of choice and agency? From the very first chapter, where Bella makes the choice to live with her father rather than be the wet blanket on her mother’s new relationship, Bella is a woman who makes hard choices. The one outstanding thing about so many of these choices is that Bella chooses an option for the sake of someone else, rather than for herself. She’s not hedonistic, she’s humble. Perhaps that’s a flaw for many people brought up in a selfish, self-obsessed world of today.

    Or is it just that the idea of making a choice about who will be your lifetime partner and thinking through the ramifications of that choice is no longer politically correct? Are these decisions no longer considered valid choices in this “post-feminist” world where we are encouraged to fall into and out of bed with whomever crosses our path without any thought to consequences or the long term future of such a relationship?

    The reviewer said, “The idea that it’s daring and commendable for Bella to sacrifice college, friends, family, and even her human life to devote herself to the mercurial Edward, all the while asserting that it is her choice to do so, is an exemplar of postfeminist fantasy.”

    Bella isn’t giving up college. She might be putting off her first attendance, but who hasn’t wished they could take a Gap Year? Frankly, the idea that Bella might have to give up college forever, given that all the Cullens have multiple degrees including postgrad qualifications is ridiculous. I would suggest it is a feminist fantasy to think Bella attending college straight out of school would be the best choice. The comparative grades of adult learner versus school leaver students at universities provides ample evidence Bella would be better off gaining (albeit undead) life experience before she heads off to college.

    Bella isn’t sacrificing friends. With the exception of Angela, the Forks High School crowd were all always frenemies (Jessica, Lauren) or annoying pests she wasn’t interested in a relationship with anyway (Mike, Tyler). Her real friends in Forks have always been the Cullen family, especially Alice. These are the people she is willing to watch play sport despite her aversion to physical activity. These are the friends with whom she has had play-dates and sleep-overs, initially reluctant though some of them may have been. These are the people who have thrown her parties for the major milestones of her life.

    Bella is choosing to leave behind her father and mother. And this is a heart-raking decision, not something she decides flippantly. Of course, it is the decision all married people make before they wed – to “leave your father and mother and be united to your wife[/husband]”. That’s what marriage is. Why is that so problematic? Oh, right, because it’s “post-feminist”. Aaargh! I think it was daring and commendable of Meyer to make marriage and unity of mind between the husband and wife the ultimate goal of her books. And I admire her for it.

    Bella is devoting herself to a bit more than just “the mercurial Edward”. She’s devoting herself to the Cullen cause, and, as it turns out, to motherhood for Renesmee. Good for her, I say!

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