Lessons from Buffy (Found this pic floating around on FB)
With Breaking Dawn Part 1 in theaters, and all the criticism of the Twilight Series rampant on the internet these days, I thought it was only fair to write a post in defense of Twilight.
I will admit that the book series and the movies are a guilty pleasure of mine, but that’s not really why I’m writing this post. I’m writing this post, because it seems to me, Twilight’s most vocal critics are less than objective in their complaints. There are times when the criticism makes sense (demonstrated by the above pic) and though debatable, is really worth discussing. Other criticism is just plain…er…stupid. (Eg. the uproar caused by the whole pretty-vampire-who-sparkles-in-the-sun fiasco. It’s a mythical creature people. Let’s try to remember that and relax.)
As you may have heard, Stephen King openly criticized Stephenie Meyer (and several other popular authors) in an interview by USA Weekend Magazine (2009). “Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.” He went on to say that what people are attracted to are the stories and the pace. Now, I can appreciate that the writing in the Twilight series isn’t quite up to par. Stephenie Meyer (at that point) was not exactly a master of syntax and most of the conflict in the series was internal. To be fair, this was her first attempt at writing a novel and from the birth of the first, the series burgeoned out and took on a life of its own. Being her first attempt at writing a book, there was a lot of room for her to grow as an author, (as demonstrated by The Host, her first adult novel obviously inspired by Invasion of the Body Snatchers and soon to be made into a movie.)
To say that Meyer is a good storyteller but a terrible writer is to contradict yourself. Telling the story (writing the plot) is one aspect of um…writing. It is not separate from it like King appears to suggest. Meyer cannot be deemed talentless. Her writing has its weaknesses, (such as the limited vocabulary used in her descriptions. Even I was ready to stab myself in the eyeball if I read one more line about Edward’s liquid topaz eyes). I also found each book to be anti-climactic, and some of it to be uber-cheesy.
But that’s not to say there were no strong points. The Twilight Series is a compelling story, with some great characters, including Bella as a relatable protagonist. (Some claim readers simply project themselves on to her, but I disagree. Love her or hate her, I came away with a very clear sense of Bella’s character.) Meyer also explored some interesting themes including what it means to be human, nature versus nurture, fantasy love versus real love, (although fantasy love wins out here and might not send the best message), the power of our choices, the strength that comes from knowing what we want and going for it no matter what others say, and yes, she also explored the choices surrounding sex and pregnancy. Her books also bring out the debate over whether writers have an obligation to “send the right message” to their readers.
Most critics focus all their attention on one aspect of the story, that Bella basically lives and breathes Edward. Yes, the series is a romance at its core, but there are neglected themes in Twilight that many choose to ignore. These are not new themes, but they rarely are. Twilight is fantasy fiction, and what fantasy fiction does best is write metaphors for actual human dilemmas.
For those who haven’t read the series here’s a bit of background:
In the Twilight series, the Cullens live in a coven, something vampires in this universe rarely do. Vampires are usually nomadic creatures that travel in packs of two, maybe three, and this is because of their predatory nature. It’s not possible to create a “family” when your main focus is preying on humans for sustenance. Being a predator requires ruthlessness and territorial competition. The Cullens have rejected what they’ve been told is in their nature: human blood lust.
The Cullens are different from most because the daddy-vamp, Carlisle Cullen, (raised by an uber-religious demon-hunter) could not bear it. The beginning of his new life was marked with a strong desire to die rather than be the monster. But Carlisle found he could not die and in a moment of weakness drank the blood of an animal (a la Louis). Realizing he could survive this way, Carlisle decided to spend the rest of his very long life trying to redeem himself in his own eyes and in the eyes of God by helping humanity instead of feeding on it. He created a family of vampires, out of the dying, and taught them all to survive this way.
So Twilight, like so many other monster stories asks, what does it mean to be human?
In this story, vampires act like animals because they’ve been taught there is no other choice; that this is the essence of who they are – monsters, nothing more, nothing less. But what if they had a choice? What if they could choose to keep their humanity? This desire of the Cullens is authenticated by their bonds to one another. “Because part of what makes us human are our ties to one another.” The Cullens have rejected the nomadic, predatory, lifestyle in favour of having familial ties – a link to one another and therefore to humanity.
Some chalk up the Twilight madness to young girls’ obsession with swoony supernatural romance. But supernatural romances featuring hunky vampires are a-dime-a-dozen, yet have not necessarily enjoyed the same kind of success as Twilight. Not to mention, the series is enjoyed by more than just one demographic. Yes, its fans are mostly female, but it’s women and girls of all ages and backgrounds, and almost every corner of the world has a strong fan base for Twilight.
It’s one thing to have constructive criticism for a bestseller. What King, and many others have resorted to is something else. Instead of keeping it objective, they have made it quite personal. Perhaps King could have said that she obviously writes a compelling story, as evidenced by the millions of people (of all ages and circumstances) that read her books, but these are the pitfalls (insert criticism here). To say in a very public way that someone “can’t write worth a darn” seems petty, especially coming from another author. Some might even say it makes him look like a jealous prick.
I’m not going to claim that the Twilight series is a literary masterpiece, but then again, same could be said for much of King’s work. Don’t get me wrong, I am a King fan too. My favourite book of his is Misery, and Christine may have scarred me for life. But King is a genre writer, just as Meyer is, and neither write literary masterpieces, so King, maybe just put a muzzle on it?
What Do You Think…
…separates the Twilight series from countless other YA supernatural romances?
If Stephenie Meyer were to re-write the series, would you like to see the other themes of Twilight further developed or were you satisfied with the mostly romantic theme?
Do writers have a responsibility to send the right message to young readers?