What is it about Wales that makes it such good fodder for horror? Is it the mountains, the cheese, the Welsh language? Bonnie Tyler, who performed A Total Eclipse of The Heart, is Welsh. Does that make her a degenerate offshoot of the Whateley family, capable of cursing small children in her native tongue?
I seem to recall reading an interview with JK Rowling- or it was possible just one of her fans- back when The Prisoner of Azkaban (book) came out, where it was suggested that the Dementors were not dissimilar to JRR Tolkien’s Ringwraiths, and the defense was that Rowling hadn’t read the Tolkien.
My wife and I began a house joke (like house rules, but funny, to us) that JK Rowling hasn’t read anything, or seen anything, and lived in a pop-less bubble. So if you can think of something in the Harry Potter books that reminds you of something earlier, just chime in with: “But JK Rowling had never seen Star Wars/Read or heard of Hamlet/The Bible”. Hours of chuckles guaranteed!
A caveat: we don’t actually believe that JK Rowling is unaware of classic literature (or pop-culture). We also don’t think the Welsh are a degenerate cult of demon-worshipers in thrall to some ancient eldritch creature. Except for Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Stephenie Meyer is actually functionally illiterate when it comes to classic literature. So she is unaware of any previous rules for Vampire or Werewolf mythology because she isn’t interested in those sorts of stories.
OK, says I, so she makes something her own- no harm in that, it is what writers SHOULD do. Sometimes releasing a well-known creature of myth or fantasy from it’s usual trappings is a very positive, free-thinking thing to do. Set it in a new world, play with it: make it your own.
But in order to DO this, you have to be AWARE of what came before. You can’t subvert without knowing what the expectation is.
You can, apparently, catch lightning in a bottle just by waving it around.
I don’t remember when the Twilight storm clouds first appeared. I wrote an article that was inspired by it’s fans, the so-called Twi-Hards (cute!) in October of ’08, (you can read it Here– but it isn’t a condemnation of Twilight, or its fans. It was my heartfelt confession that I just don’t get it. I don’t get taking “scary” and trying to make it sexy- I miss having monsters do what they are supposed to do: scare us.
At the time, all I was aware of about the Twilight series was the ways in which Meyers cast off the traditional aspects of Vampire and Werewolf lore and made it her own. While I don’t particularly like the whole “X-Men” aspect of the series (each vampire has a unique super power? Uh, ok) and find the “sparkles in sunlight” thing to be particularly risible (I briefly through Meyers was the female version of that Eragon kid, some 16 year old who wrote a novel and somehow got it published- and doesn’t sparkly vampires seem like something from the back of a Trapper-Keeper?)- but really, to each his or her own.
Since October 08, I have become more aware of the series, both the films and the novels. I have read excerpts from the novels, I have watched sequences from the first two movies. I have read essays both condemning and praising the series- and I find it fascinating that a lot of people who read and even like the books don’t have a lot of good things to say about them other than “I wanted to see how it ends” or “I couldn’t stop reading it”.
I’m reminded of Stellan Skarsgaard explaining that he read one of the Dan Brown novels in an airport and hated it, but couldn’t stop reading it. “It’s like having peanuts in the bar next to my beer while I’m waiting for a plane,” he said. “I keep eating the fucking peanuts, but I don’t want peanuts! I don’t even like peanuts! I’ll say this, that Dan Brown can make you turn the page even when you don’t want to.”
HOW is this possible? How are there writers who have this awesome power?
Regardless, I am no longer bemused and accepting (if personally disinterested) of Meyers’ Twilight series. I am now flabbergasted and horrified by it’s fans.
If you read my blog, you probably don’t move your lips while you read. At least much. So you are more than aware of the countless websites that offer page-by-page analytical breakdowns of Meyers’ books as scary misogyny, weird Mormon propaganda, and just plain bad.
The just plain bad thing is a moot point- quality has never meant anything for box office or sales. Four words: Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
The weird potentially cultish religious thing- how Jacob imprinting his love on Bella & Edwards baby girl is some sort of explanation/romanticizing of the whole “offshoot Polygamist Mormons marrying children”- I don’t have an opinion on. That the imprinting thing is fucked up- we either agree or you need to fuck off- I have no doubt, but I don’t know enough about weird fringe compound dwellers in Utah and Idaho to comment.
But the unpleasant male/female dichotomy crap, as half of a mostly healthy romantic relationship, that I HAVE a strong fucking opinion on.
Edward as Stalker is well documented: this is the guy who watches her sleep. Ok, for some adolescent girls (and women who haven’t psychologically aged since adolescence) this apparently constitutes romantic. I guess so does Edward’s idea of “what is best” as well: “I love you because I want to kill you”, literally. And let’s not forget: “You are in danger because of me and my vegetarian vampire family, so we’ll all leave, ignoring the fact that some angry free-range people-killing vampires are only not murdering you because we live here”. Well ok, that last is just really crappy plotting, but whatever. How about “you cut yourself and my brotherpire goes all blood lust so to save you I THROW YOU ACROSS THE ROOM INTO A WALL WHERE YOU GET EVEN MORE CUT UP”?
Or when Bella goes off with the wolf-boy to meet the other wolf-boys (who have inducted Jacob into their shirtless Brociety in a sequence that, in the movie at least, plays like the aftermath of an all male gang-rape, down to Jacob’s shame and rage) and is introduced to their Alpha Male’s girlfriend- her face is all scarred up. Why? Because she “made him mad,” and the wolf came out. OK, THAT IS SO FUCKING ROMANTIC- HE BEATS ME BECAUSE HE LOVES ME!
Thanks Stephenie Meyers- as the father of a daughter whose reading choices I will not be censoring (though I hope I will be vetting in order to discuss with her)- you’ve made it likely that I will get to discuss mental and physical abuse (“I love you so much I want to kill myself”) in tween fiction that is disguised as romance.
On an interesting side note- if the purpose of the books were to show Bella that Jacob and his brain-washing werebros were EVIL and WRONG in allowing their bestial side to control them- then this would not only be a clever use of the traditional werewolf (uncontrollable bestial killing instincts translated, ala Angela Carter, to spousal abuse) and- quite properly- condemning them. Instead Meyers doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with this.
What brings this all on? Last night my sister-in-law and I were discussing my Perfect Storm Theory- that some icons of pop culture come out of nowhere, through an unpredictable and (most importantly) unrepeatable series of events- they are the only one like it there will ever be.
There will never be another Elvis.
There will never be another James Dean or Marilyn Monroe.
There is only one Jenna Jameson.
Harry Potter was a one-time thing.
So was Liszt.
And The Beatles.
I don’t think Twilight is one of those Perfect Storms- I hope not. While Marilyn Monroe was a moderately talented actress and a number of Elvis’ songs are outright dull (and personally, I never got the Jenna Jameson thing), there is no denying star power. Elvis, Harry Potter and James Dean are all going to long outlive their expected shelf-lives- Dean already has, so has Elvis. Harry Potter will probably still be a huge zeitgeist after Rowling is dead and gone. Hopefully her daughter won’t collaborate with Kevin Anderson’s kid to put out “expanded universe” books.
I hope that Meyers books- a strange look into a permanently adolescent mindset, an unrealistic and dangerously uninformed view of “romance”- will be relegated to a footnote in history. I’ll probably be disappointed.
And therein is the real scary part- not that teenaged and pre-teen girls are enjoying these books- kids read crap (so do adults), they also- hopefully- outgrow it. It is the Twihards well into their 30s and 40s (and presumably beyond) who defend the books as “romantic” that terrify me. Is there some army of romantically frustrated Midwestern housewives who truly love these stories and embrace them for the distorted and unhealthy view of what “true love” should be?
Devin Faraci’s review of the most recent installment, over at Chud is pretty good. Actually, it isn’t good, it is scathing. What it is, is a well-written review. Sometimes Devin gets a little overly contemptuous, but that is how he writes.
I will close this entry with the defense that a commenter who goes by Helen Gynell posts there:
“The sad fact that you are “baffled” and feel that the romantic themes are “centuries outdated” is exactly why the books are popular. While old fashioned romance might baffle today’s guy and feel dead, for girls and women it’s very much alive and SO wanted and missing that this fantasy has been embraced by females of all ages. Too bad it takes a mating age werewolf and a scent-crazed vampire to make the female lead feel special, but throw in the fact that they’re incredibly good looking, totally hang on her every word, and both so madly in love they are ready to fight over her and who cares they’re not ‘normal’. Obviously normal guys just don’t understand women Crave Romance. The popularity of the books and films is undeniable proof that guys are woefully lacking in that department. I’m thinking that girls want to be loved for who they are-Bella’s not the cheerleader, not the most popular girl in school, but she’s got both of the two hottest guys in town literally at each others’ throats. Just be being herself. She didn’t have to turn herself into a male-fantasy-jiggling-video vixen to find love! As far as the films go, guys just don’t want to see that Lautner and Pattinson are THAT appealing to women-Think of it like young Elvis and James Dean together!”
Apparently, my astonishment at the romance shows how out of touch I am- and I am not refuting that this is possible. How did Stephenie Meyers catch lightning in the bottle? She wrote a central female character who, apparently, is a true “everywoman” in that she is a blank slate (literally a blank page in book 2, several times) that readers can imprint themselves upon.
My question is whether fans of the Twilight series are also fans of the hoary old bodice-ripping Westerns where virginal prairie girls are raped by tender Indians and come to love their captors? Is this the same sort of “take me away and make me special” need that some women never have grown out of, the need to be an Indian Princess, or in the middle of a love triangle between an emotionally distant Vampire who refuses to sexually satisfy her, and a testosterone addled Werewolf who actually says things like: “You’d better run, I’m getting angry!”?
Is what Stephenie Meyers writes all that horrible though, or is it just a really late (like many decades late) mirror to the Ian Fleming (and, yes, Robert E. Howard) books of escapist male fantasy where the Virile and Potent Man was often rough with the woman who grew to love him (and the implied kinky sex)? And if so, how terrifying is it that Meyers is essentially writing the exact same “subservient woman” stories, but from the girl’s point of view? Gynell posits that Bella doesn’t have to turn herself into a male-fantasy jiggling vixen to find love- no, but she does have to get thrown around, threatened, abandoned, and nearly killed- not just be enemies of her love interests, but by the love interests themselves.
If that is romance, I’m glad I’m unromantic. I feel like my feminist studies teacher in college might actually, finally, be proud of something I’ve said. Man, that crazy bitch hated me. She was probably Welsh.