Saturday, August 30, 2008

Thoughts on Twilight

Stephanie Meyers' Twilight series has been a smash hit among the tween and teen reading crowd for the past couple of years. Because I was in grad school and reading lots of . . . well . . . boring things for assignments, I wasn't able to read any of the books until about a month ago when I read the first installment. Twilight is a contemporary love story set in the NW United States. All good fiction must have a twist. The Twilight twist? Vampires. Yep. The male lead is a vampire, along with his whole vampire family.

Working in the library world, I had heard lots about these books before I ever read them.

From Christian librarians: "I know they're vampires, but they're vampires with morals. It's so refreshing to have a love story that emphasizes abstinence." (This was said because of the main character's reluctance to "bite" the female lead and because there was no sex in the first 3 books.)

From public school librarians: "They may not be great writing, but at least kids are reading them and they're long and show them that they really can read long books!"

Being a mom and associate of college students, I heard lots from them too -- everything ranging from how great they were to how poorly they were written. I had to read at least one so I could form my own thoughts.

My. Oh. My.

Or maybe that should be "Meyers. Oh. Meyers." because I am seriously considering writing to the author.

I am concerned. Not so much because vampires are used in the range of characters, because authors have used magical and imaginary beings throughout the history of literature. If we are going to toss aside every book that employs dark creatures or magical elements, then we will have to quit encouraging our children to read C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. These elements have had many wonderful uses over the years.

I am concerned because the primary audience for these books is young girls. In the early part of the first book, I read Bella, the main female character, mentally go through the steps of rationalizing her potential involvement with a very dangerous man -- the same rationalization that a friend of mine in high school used to justify her involvement with an abusive boyfriend. And please note that Bella "knows" that she "loves" Edward the Vampire after barely spending any time with him at all, similar to Rose and Jack on Titanic who knew they were lifelong partners after about 24 hours on a boat.

Later in the first book, Edward chooses to spend the night in Bella's room. In Bella's bed. No, there's no sex, but the level of intimacy that is involved is beyond what teen relationships should include and yet these books are often used as an example of how engaging fiction can promote abstinence. I don't think so. I've heard many, many conversations among Twilight fans wondering when Edward will "bite" Bella -- bite being used as code for when they'll have sex.

And that question was answered when the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, was published. I haven't read it yet, but from conversations I've had with those who have, I know there are many allusions to Edward and Bella and sex. MANY. And that it's pretty violent. He's a vampire. What else did you expect? And somehow it's OK because that's his nature and he couldn't control himself. Once again, I can hear the same words my friend used to justify her abusive boyfriend's behavior.

I know that I think too much. I know that I connect deeply with books and sometimes see complications that other people will not see. Please understand that I am not about to advocate some ban on these books. The quickest way in the world to get anyone to read a book is to tell them not to. Like The Da Vinci Code, I think we should all read it and be able to have conversations with others who have read it. Meyers is a good storyteller and there's enough intrigue that even though I didn't like the content of the books and thought they were poorly written, I wanted to know what happened next. I'm planning to read all of the books, if for no other reason than to know what's in them and not just depend on what others say.

If you have read the books and disagree with my take on them, please let me know. I would like opinions beyond those of young readers who are enraptured by the story. I would like to hear the thoughts and opinions of well-read adults. Am I overreacting? Making applications that no one else will see? I'd love to hear your side!


Jess said...

No, I'm pretty sure that all your points are spot-on.

No one should read these. Ever.

Becca said...

Just so you know, I read this out loud to the suitemates and we enjoyed every word of it!

lisa b said...

And apologies to the author. Her last name is MEYER, not MeyerS. My bad.

Stephanie said...

I haven't read these books (yet), but I just have to say that I really appreciate the fact that you're not critiquing them until AFTER you've read them. It's a pet peeve of mine that, often, the most vocal opponents of a book are often people who have never bothered to read it. And I think you're right--before we can have a dialogue with young readers, we have to be familiar with what they're reading. Otherwise, they'll just dismiss us, and I wouldn't blame them.

not-so-deep Denise said...

Thanks for the info. I see myself having a conversation about this soon. Even though Abbie won't READ these books for a few years - there's a movie coming out. She imagines herself to be a teenager so I'm sure we will be talking about the movie commercials....

I'm going to link you in the next couple of days about this....

jessiefulks said...

I left a comment on your Facebook too, but For what it's worth, they don't actually have sex until after they get married.

Maury said...

Hmmm....I never even thought about any of those points with the violent person and all that(but, I am not a deep thinker at all unless it applies to my own retarded issues haha)...just thought it was silly that they fell madly in love so quickly. But, I was rooting for Jacob the entire time....(probably b/c I am married to my best friend)

I have a lot of friends my age that love these books, and I have often wondered why anyone in that age group would enjoy silly stories about vampires....that is what I analyzed in myself, b/c I couldn't put any of the books down, I HAD to know what happens next.

McGee Family said...

Hmm . . I agree with you to an extent. Working at a bookstore with these books flying off the shelves, I finally felt I had to read them. I didn't think they were that great but I read all 4 just to see what happens next & why they are so popular.
I definitely wouldn't recommend them to anyone, but at the same time, like others have said, "at least they're reading."

Brooklynne said...

Alright. You say Edward is potentially incredibly dangerous for Bella, and you compare him to an abusive boyfriend. While I have no doubt that these comparisons hold strong emotions for you, I think that you have to consider two facts: Never, not once, in the entire saga does Edward physically harm Bella, except once when he gave her a bruise for hugging her too tightly. In fact, there are many times that he is the reason she doesn't get hurt. And secondly, your friend's boyfriend wasn't a vampire, and that goes to show that any human being can pose a possible abusive threat, not just a fictional vampire. It becomes clear to the reader long before it becomes clear to the characters that Edward is simply not dangerous to bella, in the same way that Sam, who could seriously damage me, never ever will.

Also, you say that Bella is justifying her desire to be with Edward throughout the book. On the contrary, I feel as though the first couple of chapters serve to set up Bella as a characater with a very strong sense of self who knows what she wants when she sees it. One of the things I like the most about Bella throughout the series is that even though she is only 18, she is quite mature, and at times, more mature than a 110 yr old Edward. So I don't think that she would do what she did if she was questioning herself. The only person I remember questioning her decisions was Edward, who eventually learns to trust her judgment more than her own.

While I think you're right about them falling in love so quickly, I accept it on the terms of this is fiction, and she's falling in love with a vampire. If such circumstances were presented to me, the rules might change a little then, as well.

I also object to writing these books off because of bad writing. I agree - Stephenie rarely has a way with words, but her storytelling is undoubtedly compelling. As a literary person, I hate to hear someone count the talent of storytelling as less important than the talent of writing well, because I have sure read lots of very well-written novels that were pointless and boring as hail.

And lastly, Jess Fulks is right. The sex doesn't come until after marriage, and you won't hear me complaining about whether or not it's too rowdy ;)