Mailbag: New ‘Twilight’ Novella? Pullman Piece?

Here are some notes from my HogPro inbox about the new Stephenie Meyer and Philip Pullman books and about why each author writes books like these:

On the new Meyer novella, The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, you can read the Press Release here and the Publisher’s Weekly piece here (H/T to Ann-Laurel and Pallas Athena). The short version is that Mrs. Meyer was writing a lot of notes for the Eclipse movie makers and had planned a short piece for her Twilight Guide expanding on Bree Tanner’s life as a New Born, sleepless in Seattle; the story became too big as an add-on for the guide and, no doubt, Little Brown was happy to get another Twilight title out there. Perhaps to short circuit the accusation that this is a money-grab, though, Mrs. Meyer is offering the book online for free as a “thank you” to her fans.

Two quick notes:Mrs. Meyer’s second supplementary Twilight novella — let’s count the unfinished Midnight Sun as her first — points out once again what a fan she is of Orson Scott Card, the writer whom she has said repeatedly is her favorite living author and whose books she has read twice. Given OSC’s remarkable productivity, that is quite the claim. But the influence is hard to miss.

I discuss the Card-Meyer connection in Spotlight: An Up-Close Look at the Stephenie Meyer Twilight Novels in light of their Latter-day Saint faith and how by their own admission it permeates both writers’ work. Sometimes, though, the influence borders on quotation. Sharon Jackson sent me a parallel passage from Speaker for the Dead, which Mrs. Meyer has said was the book that had the most influence on her as a writer, and from Eclipse:

Speaker for the Dead (Orbit edition) p114
“Maybe I will,” said a voice from the door. The others turned at once to watch him walk in. Miro was young – surely not yet twenty. But his face and bearing carried the weight of responsibility and suffering far beyond his years. Ender saw how all of them made space for him. It was not that they backed away from him the way they might retreat from someone they feared. Rather, they oriented themselves to him, walking in parabolas around him, as if he were the center of gravity in the room and everything else was moved by the force of his presence.

Eclipse p67
“It’s not just him.” She set her lips defensively. “I wish you could see how you move around him.”
“What do you mean?”
“The way you move – you orient yourself around him without even thinking about it. When he moves, even a little bit, you adjust your position at the same time. Like magnets … Or gravity. You’re like a … Satellite, or something. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Mrs. Jackson’s explanation and exploration of this parallel are, as usual, spot-on and enlightening and I hope she’ll share them with you in a book or a post here. I point out the simple echo here only to point out the shades of Orson Scott Card that color Mrs. Meyer’s work.

The Twilight novellas are plays from the Card repertoire as well. Check out the Ender’s Game novels. There are four core Enders books, of which Speaker for the Dead is usually accepted as the best, and there are eleven books in the series. There are pre-quels, sequels, novels between other books’ chapters, and novels telling the same or slightly different story from another character’s perspective. Hence Midnight Sun and The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner.

I expect critics to pan this practice as exploitative, i.e., cashing in on fans who cannot get enough. That’s an obvious dig but a pretty silly one. I rather enjoy reading an author’s second look at a story, especially if it allows him or her to re-visit a theme or character she might see differently after a few years’ reflection (or if s/he to re-write a story that s/he thinks was poorly written, as Mrs. Meyer has said about Twilight).

What can we expect or hope for from Bree Tanner? I received a note from Karen outside St. Louis yesterday that made me think it could be a very interesting read. She wrote:

I had a thought about Leah Clearwater as I was reading Spotlight that I wanted to share. You saw her as an intelligent Mormon woman feeling trapped by her faith. Do you think she could also represent Stephenie Meyer’s (negative) feelings about polygamy? Leah could be thought of as Sam’s first “wife” who has been unhappily supplanted by the second wife, and can’t escape the marriage. (The horror of the intimacy of sharing minds in that situation and still being controlled by Sam seems to me like a good analogy for the horror of shared intimacy in a polygamous marriage.)

I hadn’t thought of that connection but it seems to be a bull’s eye, especially in light of the Rosalie Hale ‘new born’ story and its rather sympathetic portrayal in allegory of the ‘first-wife’ of Joseph Smith, Jr., Emma Hale. What could Bree Tanner give us along these lines?

When I read the book, I will be looking for a much less sympathetic picture of vampires than we get from the good guy Cullens, the Celestial Family, and even of the bad-guy Volturi. Mrs. Meyer’s comment to Entertainment Weekly about her inspirations, in which she talked about a second Edward Cullen dream, in which he wasn’t a heroic stand-in and cardboard cut-out for every LDS virtue (as well as the Prophet):

“I actually did have a dream after Twilight was finished of Edward coming to visit me only I had gotten it wrong and he did drink blood like every other vampire and you couldn’t live on animals the way I’d written it. We had this conversation and he was terrifying.’’

The Mormon vampires allegory, in which both the Cullens and Quileutes play the parts of idealized LDS communities, contains an implicit criticism of religious groups as being inherently violent, the thesis of Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Study of Violent Faith, the anti-religion piece written inside an anti-Mormon tract that largely inspired the Mountain Meadow heavy Twilight books in June 2003. Mrs. Meyer’s vampires, the Cullen-Mormons, aren’t crazy violent like the Volturi Catholics but they could go over-the-edge any moment. I’m curious if we’ll see any more of Mrs. Meyer’s implicit criticism of religious people, Mormons, Catholics, Secular=Brights, whomever, in her Bree Tanner book about a New Born vampire with only his passions to guide him.

Hey, and Philip Pullman has a new book, too. Read about how Pullman Risks Christian Anger with Jesus Novel. (H/T Inked) If you’re like me, you’ll cut up when you read that the UK’s most tired atheist-novelist has hired body guards to protect him from all those crazy violent Christians who will want to hunt him down because of his blase-phemous book on Jesus Christ not being the Messiah (and the church being — wait for it — a sham foisted by power hungry crazies!). Incredible.

Well, actually it’s very credible.

What would be surprising would be if Mr. Pullman wrote a book about the origins of Islam. That would take a little spine and justify his security detail. Ask Salman Rushdie. Writing The Da Vinci Code in the style of A. S. Byatt won’t win you a Christian fatwa, just applause from the regime of Bright critics.

But, then again, maybe Mr. Pullman has been reading Jon Krakauer and Mrs. Meyer’s Twilight books and has some reason to fear those violent Christian crazies during Holy Week?

Speaking of which, I hope, if you are a Christian, that your celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection at Pascha (‘Easter’) is a joyous and edifying one, and, if you are Jewish, that your Passover observances are blessed.


  1. Elizabeth says

    And a blessed sacred season to you and yours, John.

    Bree is also going to be a charity fund raiser (for the Red Cross, as the Cullens can’t donate blood, I guess…), like Rowling’s Harry’s textbooks, so the old “milking it for all it’s worth” argument should fade pretty quickly.
    Actually, I find myself far more compelled by companion volumes like the Ender books or Midnight Sun than by endless sequels pretending to be new stories, but really just rehashing the same old same old(like all those endless Shannara books that were pretty much the same characters and stories with different names ad nauseum). At least the author is honest with companion volumes, letting us know up front that we are visiting familiar ground. After all, if the secondary world is interesting enough, it will hold up under numerous visits narrated by different voices. Card, Rowling , and Meyer have all created such worlds.
    I’m not sure what world Pullman thinks he’s living in….

  2. mentis splendidus says

    Come now, professor. You know Pullman is only being sensible by hiring body guards. After all, it was “crazy violent christians” that detonated four improvised explosive devices on London’s mass transportation system a few years ago, killing 52 of his fellow countrymen. You can’t really blame the man, then, for lashing out at the founder of such a violent religion, right?

    In light of this atrocity and the fact that Pullman has received numerous letters from terrifying Christians that go so far as to accuse him of “blasphemy,” it is no wonder he wrote the book and laments, “The world is a strange place and getting stranger…These are times we live in and its very regrettable.” Yes, regrettable indeed.

  3. revgeorge says

    I wouldn’t see a problem even if Meyer was writing novellas & short stories to keep milking a good thing. Why not? If she’s willing to write & people are willing to pay, I don’t see a problem.

    So, I guess what I’m really saying is, why can’t it be Rowling who’s writing new Potter material??!!!!!

  4. mentis splendidus says

    Amen, revgeorge, amen.

    While we are on the Rowling subject, has anyone heard what she is presently up to? Any forth coming books? Novellas? Articles? Tracts? Sentences? Anything?

  5. Last I heard she was said to be madly writing a new book. I have no idea what it is about or when/if it will be published, though I do trust my never-to-be-revealed source not to be snowing me.

    I can tell you, though, that my dentist, a really wonderful man, knows Arthur Levine’s family very well. I finally learned how to pronounce Levine’s last name at my oldest son’s dental appointment last week, for example. His all-star dental hygienist has every book I’ve ever written.

    Can you say “shared text”? I can count all the conversations I have had about my favorite books with my dentists through the years before Harry without using my fingers or toes. You?

  6. John — Have you read HDM? As of a quite old post you had not. Just curious whether your anti-Pullmanism derives from his public face or from a “serious read” of his work.

    Also, I don’t think he was saying anything about Christians generally. We do live in a world where a single nut can do a lot of damage — see, e.g., suicide by private plane into IRS buildings, vandalism and threats directed at Democrats in Congress, Islamic terrorists, and people who murder abortion providers in churches. Some of these folks are gone-off-the-deep-end religious nuts, some are gone-off-the-deep-end nonreligious nuts… none of them fairly represent a broader group (be it conservatives, Muslims, or Christians). But if I had the letters to prove that I might have ended up on the wrong side of some people who might be crazy and/or homicidal– in addition to the sane ones who disagreed — I just might accept security measures, too. Moreover, the University might have foisted them upon him.

    Anyway, I’d for you to point me to your critique of HDM, if you’ve done one. I expect I’d disagree with much of it, but it would surely be an interesting counterpoint to my experience with the trilogy.

  7. Ah, looks like it may only have been IN Oxford, not AT Oxford. But I stand by the rest.

  8. revgeorge says

    Never read His Dark Materials, don’t intend to, and don’t criticize the novels themselves. That being said, I really don’t remember there ever being as much fuss about Pullman as there was Rowling.

    I read the article above about Pullman & his new novel. Highly unimpressed. Sounds more like someone trying to drum up people to buy his book. Long on vague, ad hominem attacks on Christians; short on any specifics.

    If he really wants to see vitriol & death threats, let him write a book on two brothers, one called Mohammed & the other called The Prophet.

  9. Well, I’ve not read Meyer, but I’ve read quite a bit of Card, including a number of the Ender novels. Personally I find Card’s revisiting of the fictional world he created highly interesting and creative — in fact, I thought *Ender’s Shadow* was just as brilliant as the original *Ender’s Game* and a fascinating creative exercise for the author (and for readers of the original story). To revisit a very familiar story through a completely different POV felt excitingly risky, especially given the importance of the “surprise ending” in the original Ender (which of course couldn’t be maintained in the sequel). So I don’t think we should necessarily leap to the conclusion that authors are just “cashing in” when they write sequels, though I’m sure the temptation to do so is huge when you’ve got such a large fan base and earning potential. In that regard, I find it interesting that JKR isn’t doing it, when she so easily could…I suspect that may be because she’s really interested in trying her creative hand at something else for a while.

  10. mentis splendidus says

    Mssss. Ally, you are absolutely right: “gone-off-the-deep-end” nut jobs have done “a lot of damage” throughout history. Several notable lefties come to mind just now. Take, for instance, Uncle Joe Stalin. You remember him? If memory serves me correct he ruled the former Soviet Union with the proverbial iron fist for awhile back in the twentieth century. His hobbies included reading fine literature, slugging vodka, walks in the garden, and torturing and murdering millions of his comrades. What a fun-loving guy! The world sure could use a few more Uncle Joes.

    Then there is Chairman Mao. He makes Uncle Joe look like Aunt Bea (from the Andy Griffith Show. I do not mean to insult your prodigious intellect, but I wasn’t sure if that show was before your time or not. I wouldn’t want a perfectly wonderful analogy to go to waste). Mao was not about to be outdone by his fellow tyrant, so he murdered tens of millions of his countrymen.

    How about O’ Fidel, as in Castro? Citizens of his well-run utopia attempt to flee that Caribbean paradise in droves every year. I wonder why? El Che, a Castro minion, was a murdering rogue, who did not believe in due process, free speech, or free anything. He is another fine example of a nut-job.

    Even in our great nation we have these nut-job lefties running around breathing out slaughters. Just the other day, James Cameron—director of Titanic and Avatar—expressed a near overwhelming desire to shoot down in the street anyone who questions anthropogenic global warming. How’s that for tolerant?

    And don’t get me started on ELF (Earth Liberation Front) and the Anarchists. Talk about vandalism! These clowns are responsible for damages to public and private property that amount to tens of millions of dollars.

    Yes, Msss Ally, “nut jobs” have been rioting across the pages of history for some time.

    I can understand how you came to your conclusion that Pullman was not “saying anything about Christians generally,” seeing that you are not in the habit of reading what you are fond of commenting on. I did read the article, though, and I must confess that Pullman’s comments, and the article as a whole, were directed at no one but Christians.

    Truth is, Msss. Ally, writing a tome disparaging Christianity requires neither courage nor a lot of talent, for book stores all across the world are stuffed with such works, and the last I heard none of these authors have died in an explosion or from a severed head. Pullman’s security detail, then, is nothing more than a publicity stunt, designed to further disparage Christianity and convince the world that he is an important man.

    My advice to Pullman is: if he really wants to feel the need for a security detail, write the book suggested by revgeorge. Now that would be impressive.

  11. revgeorge says

    Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly nuts out there claiming to be Christian. Who may even be Christians but with a highly deluded view of what they’re supposed to be doing as Christians. But on the whole I don’t remember any Christian leaders calling for the death of Rowling or Pullman. Calling for boycotts maybe; calling for censorship, but issuing a decree that their followers kill Rowling or Pullman? Just don’t remember anything like that happening.

    I just found the article on Pullman & his comments to be a bit disingenuous. “Oh, this book is going to offend people. Oh, this book is really going to get them Christians riled up. Oh, better watch out for them crazies.” Blah, blah, blah.

    I really think what’s happening is that Pullman is afraid no one is going to read his book.

  12. mentis splendidus says

    Just found the following article about Rowling and her new book. Seems she turned down a presenter’s role at the Oscars because she was to busy writing:

  13. MS – Perhaps I failed to articulate my point clearly: there are crazy people, of all ideologies, religions (and those without religion), nationalities, races, etc. etc. etc. The bigger the group, the more there are likely to be, but we all have them. And since PP has written books that have angered people and since I don’t know what was in the mail that he got, I’m not quite willing to jump to the conclusion that there’s no possible reason for his security measures other than that he is an arrogant jerk with delusions that all of Christendom is bent on killing him (for what it’s worth, I tend to think that PP is both an arrogant jerk who revels too much in controversy AND a wicked awesome storyteller). Also, I’m entirely willing to go on record that if I found out I was on Stalin’s hit list, I would take evasive action. I have a distaste for ice axes ending up in my skull, even if it’s an insane/extreme left-of-center ice axe.

    I did read the article; I always read something before commenting on its contents (I can only assume you were referencing the earlier Twilight post — if you look closely, you’ll note that I was asking an abstract question — what elements make literature great (or terrible) — which was independent of any conclusion as to where on that spectrum Twilight falls). I simply read it differently than you did. I think PP was making two separate but related points: (1) this is a book that will be offensive to many Christians; (2) because a very small subset of that group has sent me some freaky mail, I’m worried that a very small subset of that very small subset might hurt me.

    I see nothing at all controversial about the first. You yourself refer to his work as “disparaging Christianity,” so I would guess that you would agree that many Christians are likely to find this latest work, which seems to take things to a whole new level of disparagement and heresy, offensive. So I think we’re all agreed on that. You saw him as alleging that all Christians were somehow crazy or homicidal or a danger to him. My counter point was simply that I don’t think that’s what he was getting at. 99.999999999999% of Christians can be the gentlest, most rational, sanest, loving people you’d ever want to know, but that statistically insignificant unhinged guy can still hurt you. If he’d written a stridently anti-vegetarian book, he’d be terrified of rogue PETA gunmen.

    I never said that he had done anything brave.

    RevGeorge: I totally agree with you that it’s critical not to conflate the lunatic fringe of any group with the much, much, much larger membership. I just don’t see that as what Pullman was doing. I don’t see where he insinuates that Christianity as a unified whole or Christian leaders (specifically or generally) or Christian denominations or Christian congregations are out to get him. I only see him suggest that some *individuals* have contacted him in an alarming way. I suppose I just see nothing he said in that article as anything but obvious — the nature of this book is such that it will offend people, just as any book making such a pointed challenge at any core belief system would be expected to cause some shock and offense among its believers. In this case, those believers happen to be Christian, because this book is about Jesus. If he wrote a similar book about Mohammed, I would be neither surprised nor offended to hear him predict that it was likely to offend Muslims. I suppose I just don’t see what all the fuss over this article is about.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ll read this book. I love books rooted in biblical themes, source texts, and symbols, but the brief description here just doesn’t pique my interest. I wish he’d redirected the time to writing the Book of Dust (the next in the HDM Multiverse, which every day seems less and less likely to materialize), which seems to me a more interesting and creative use of his pen.

  14. Perelandra says

    I have closely studied His Dark Materials and read quite a few interviews of Philip Pullman. He has the gifts of a fine style and rich imagination but deploys them to poisonous effect. He also gravely misrepresents the content of the Narnia books. (For details, see PIED PIPER OF ATHEISM by Peter Vere and Sandra Miesel.)

  15. Philip Pullman lets us know ‘What Jesus Christ Means to Me.’

    H/T Inked!

  16. Good ol’ Phillip. Denounces authoritative readings and then proceeds to set his reading up as authoritative. Apparently, he does not suffer from hobgoblins of the mind.

    The irony is delicioussssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

  17. Back to the original topic…

    Thanks for quoting me, John!

    I suspect that some of these writers write these so-called spin off books not because they want to make more money but because, like the readers, they just can’t get the story out of their heads. They want a way to get back that new story feeling, so they examine the story from another angle, another character.

    I, for one, appreciated what Short Second Life adds to the Twilight story. Even more so now that some of your more recent posts have started me thinking critically again, John. So thanks.

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