Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why is Twilight so Popular?

Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series is poorly written. If I were to give her a letter grade on her writing, I think it would be a "C."

I read the whole thing...all the books.

I couldn't put them down.

I kept wondering why I couldn't put them down.

When you get to the bottom, everybody wants to read something he can't put down! That's one of the ultimate qualifications of a "good read."

An earlier post is a YouTube video of one theory on why Twilight is so popular. It makes a valid point, though I hate being lumped in with soccer moms. Ah hem. I am a mother and I've hauled kids around to various activities, but I think similarities stop there. For one thing, I don't think of my life as dull and tedious, which is the video's implication, and for another, I hate soccer. Soccer is boring and stupid and its fans spend their time in the stands being ugly and hateful, often beating the tar out of each other, which personally I think is totally uncivilized. Football is way more civilized, I've never heard of a mob stampede at a football game--never. I digress.

The valid point the video makes is that Bella is a blank slate into which the depressed, lonely, down trodden female reader can insert herself. Ok, I can see that. (But I am not depressed, lonely or down trodden!). While this may be a factor, it's only part of the picture. The males who created the video completely do not understand girls' desire for a safe bad boy. This is why the nice guys sit around on the side lines and wonder why all the pretty girls are dating the jerks: the jerks are thrilling, the nice guys are boring. It's like someone's favorite ride at an amusement park--he likes it because it scares him while simultaneously he's perfectly safe...that's what girls, especially teen age girls, want in a guy. That's what Edward is for Bella, our empty suit girl finds in him the ultimate bad/safe boy.

You have to admit, a vampire is the ultimate bad boy, a vampire who's sworn not to eat humans for lunch and can actually put that into practice is the perfect boy. That's where this chaste novel gets all its steam. If any of you teen age guys out there are reading this pay attention: If you want to get the girls, be the safe, bad boy.

Another reason Twilight is a page turner is because the story is actually pretty creative. Now if the writing were good, this series might hold its own in the pantheon of classics. Whether it will do so despite the bad writing, well, that remains to be seen. And I say it could have held a place in the pantheon of classics because it is creative and it so keenly zeroes in on that age old tension between the sexes--a girl's desire for safe thrills and the search to find it in a guy she can spend the rest of her life with.

Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility addresses this age old tension. Marianne falls for the dashing, elegant Willoughby only to be rejected as soon as a girl with a big, fat inheritance shows up to marry him. Willoughby takes Marianne on wild carriage rides, daring adventures--well, daring for that day and age--and woos her with his romantic poetry readings. She is utterly smitten. He's very similar to Bella's Edward except he's not a vampire and he really does like poetry. Jane Austen addresses this tension again in Pride and Prejudice. Lydia Bennet falls for bad boy Wickham and runs off with him to the shame of her entire family.

Just like Marianne, it's not until girls realize that the kind, reliable, hard working man is a greater hero and more admirable than the bad boy that they begin to find the nice guys they'd previously ignored worth their time. Face it, as far as a page turning read goes, the story about the nice, reliable, hardworking man who gets the girl is pretty dull, if that's all its got going for it. (The movie True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, develops this theme very nicely, I highly recommend it.) Nice, reliable, safe always seem to segue into boring, especially when you're a teenager. And who wants to read such a thing or watch a movie like that? But I digress. We're talking about human nature here.

The part of Twilight where Bella begins what ends up as a tease romance with Jacob (the girl going for the safe guy after the bad boy breaks her heart), brings in another classic element. It's happened a billion times throughout human history. Marianne falls for Colonel Brandon, the kind, reliable, hard working guy after Wickham breaks her heart. A wiser and more mature Marianne, who truth be told, finally deserves Colonel Brandon's love.

For that matter, the part where the Bella dumps nice guy, Jacob, as soon as the repentant bad boy returns, has happened a billion times too. Seen it in high school. It's human nature. But that's what turns a work into classic literature, when it addresses human nature spot-on in a creative way.

The Twilight saga meddles with the vampire myth. Bram Stoker's, Dracula, portrayed the vampire as the embodiment of evil, incapable and unwilling to control evil desire. The idea that a vampire can control his evil desires is a new one as far as I know. It's one which Stephanie Meyers doesn't really develop much, but her whole story turns on it. If she had delved more deeply into how anyone might learn to control his evil desires, then Twilight would be ten times more likely to leap onto the classics heap because this is one of the deepest, oldest dilemmas of humanity.

Can an evil person learn to control or reroute evil desires? It's a good question. A very, very good question. I'd think the answer to that question would generally be "no." According to the evidence of history, it's only through receiving Jesus Christ as one's Lord and Savior that any person can truly pull this off--though one should never discount the power of the human will once all its energies are brought to bear on a task. But, if one is not a Christian, what motivation could one find to put out all that effort for something as difficult as overcoming selfishness, greed, etc.? What motivation do any of Carlisle's coven have to resist their vampire urges? Mollifying their dead human natures? Going through the newborn stage, with its vicious appetites, according to the Stephanie Meyers paradigm, should pretty much squelch the old human nature, silencing it forever. The kind of physical power and speed Meyers' vampires possess coupled with whatever unique "gift" revealed during the transformation could give a vampire everything he needs to satisfy any desire. Why should a vampire control or reroute his desires for any reason except where such restraint keeps his nature a secret? It's almost like the genie from Disney's Aladdin movie, Great power, itty-bitty living space. Why limit your living space?

Meyers almost gives Edward and Rosalie plausible motivation to fight against their evil vampire natures--at least to honor humanity for the things human beings possess that they've lost--but when you get right to the bottom, is that enough?

The Volturi convey the empty deadness a long vampire life might bring. It could stand as a symbol for the vacant human life without God, without the deeper, greater purpose God gives those who believe in Him. The hint of this already present in the novel series would be sufficient to get the point across if the other aspects mentioned in this post had been more fully explored.

The concept of a Christian transformed into a vampire is another novel idea which Meyers mentions but doesn't develop. I'm talking about Carlisle, the son of pastor who was bitten during a vampire hunt. In the Twilight series, Carlisle is the one vampire in the whole world who has developed a philosophy and a training method whereby willing vampires can feed on animal blood and overcome their evil desire for human blood. It's a fascinating concept totally untouched in the Twilight series and another missed opportunity for this series to settle into the classics.

Meyers could have delved more deeply into the issue of blood as seen from a Christian perspective. The Bible tells us that "the life is in the blood," "there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood," and Jesus' Blood has the power to redeem, transform and heal believers. The Bible teaches that a believer in Jesus becomes part of the Body of Christ, that he has died with Christ and been raised with Christ--that he is a new creation. As a new creation, he has new blood.

Carlisle was a Christian when he was transformed into a vampire...he has that transformed nature (blood) which comes with being part of the Body of Christ... It would stand to reason that vampires he creates using his personal, vampire creating ability would have a different type of nature--a more Christ-like nature. This is the deepest of classical concepts: the conflict between good and evil. And when that conflict occurs within a character, and that conflict is as extreme as the vampire nature vs. the Christ-like nature, well, you should have yourself a doozy of a story.

Only Meyers doesn't delve into it. It pops up in passing, such as when Jasper wants to have Bella for supper, but Meyers skirts it. Even the dramatic battle between Carlise's coven and Victoria's army of powerful, new born vampires doesn't really get into it. Too bad. I so want Twilight to have fulfilled its unmet potential. For me, the Twilight series, even with the "C" writing, was a fun read, but I was disappointed because the potential for so much more was missed.

Jane Austen's work dealt with the tension between a girl's desire for the romantic, bad boy and her need for the kind, reliable good boy. She handled these elements with practical wisdom and entertaining enlightenment. Stephanie Meyers just exploits this tension to achieve maximum entertainment and little else. And, it's too bad. Our modern culture could have used some deep, thoughtful exploration into these themes.

post written by Marilyn

For another point of view check out:
In the Twilight Haze: What's Our Responsibility?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One Opinion on Why Twilight is so Popular...

This video is too large for the slot available. Double click on the video and it will load in a new page in a larger format. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Soldier's Heart" by Elizabeth D. Samet

"Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point" is an account of a civilian English professor's teaching years at West Point. She shows how soldiers have found comfort in literature throughout time and particularly during the years after 9/11.

When she remains focused on literature as a means of understanding the human condition, in this case specifically dealing with the emotional trauma of war, the emotional toll on loved ones left at home and the struggle to keep honor and fulfill one's duty, she does an excellent job. Her writing is engaging and clear. She very effectively makes the case that literature not only has a place in the soldier's heart, but is beneficial for "soldier's heart," which is the name once given post traumatic stress syndrome.

But when Samet discounts the Bible as a source for achieving these same objectives, she soils her otherwise flawless work. Her attitude about the Bible seems to be that the sooner a person quits wasting his time reading it, the better off he is. She seems to crow with delight when a student rejects his Bible in favor of literature after having been in her class.

Sadly, this attitude says more about Samet than it does about the Bible. For someone of her stature to reject the Bible so handily is only a testimony to how little (if any) she's read of it and how little (which seems to be none) she's studied it. Her attitude displays a vast ignorance of how the Bible has shaped western civilization into the greatest powerhouse of prosperity, scientific knowledge, technology and equality for people under law that has ever existed. The Bible is not only a great work of literature in its own right, but millions and millions of people have found guidance, solace and empathy for the human condition within its pages. She dismisses the Bible as a place for guidance and solace without any understanding of why it has been such a source for so many centuries. It's a regrettable slap, exposing her own arrogance and ignorance.

If Samet had ignored the Bible altogether, this book would have achieved its objective, "...Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point." Since Samet didn't do that, I am left wondering what she has against the Bible and why she feels that way? On one hand, I'm glad she didn't address the issue because the hostility she seems to bear toward the Bible would have further marred this book. But, based on what I read in this book, I can't find evidence she's ever studied the Bible in the same in deep, thoughtful and analytical manner she's studied other literature. Samet seems to be such an intelligent person, very creative in her abilities to engage her students, very knowledgeable about all things film and literature, that I wonder how she can disqualify the Bible from her repertoire so glibly. The honest person cannot deny that the Bible has had an immeasurable impact on history, some bad, but mostly good. Her attitude reminds me of that old cliche about ignoring the 800 pound gorilla. The only explanation I can glean from the text is that her own education lacked a proper examination of the Bible and why it matters and she has made no effort to fix that lack. Her attitude exposes her for a shallow thinker, a narrow mind and diminishes her stature as an intellectual and as a teacher.

She is a secularist. And ultimately secularism is a hollow, dead end belief system. The secularist, though he have all the great literature of the ages at his fingertips, cannot answer the fundamental questions which plague the human condition. Only God can do this. He does this through prayer, through His Word and through meditation in prayer on Him and on His Word. No matter how smart a person becomes, he cannot provide reasons to be moral, honorable, charitable and hopeful using human wisdom alone. In fact, human wisdom, left without any guidance from God, has been shown repeatedly to fail on all these accounts.

The French Revolution set as one of its objectives to elevate reason while rejecting God. The French Revolution soon became the terror. The Bolshevik Revolution installed the atheistic, communistic regime of Lenin and Stalin promising to elevate the worker, but instead bringing suffering to the population. There are other examples. It's clear, secularism and atheism as practical foundations for human life fail abysmally. To suppose that soldiers who face life and death questions on the battle front, horrors and moral dilemmas ordinary mortals seldom encounter can survive and thrive on literature alone is not only vanity, but it's also vain.

Because Samet brought up the Bible and exposed her attitude toward it, the book turns from flawless to flawed. In so far as one might enjoy discovering how soldiers are comforted by literature, what we can learn about the human condition from literature and how an excellent teacher of literature does her job, I can recommend this book. For anything deeper, I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

More on Bartimaeus soon. I finished the second book in the trilogy but need a bit of review before writing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Points of View, Ownership and Boundaries

Now for the reflection:
While reading the Amulet of Samarkand I noted with increasing dissatisfaction my own demons. One night I called my dog, Angus, into the house for the evening and ended tripping over his back foot. I painfully skinned a knee and jammed a toe. Happily, Angus did not pounce on me when I finally landed in a heap near the side-walk. Unfortunately, my son’s dog, Malta, did. Worried I would suffer greater injury I quickly connected with her jaw and sent her reeling. Immediately shame and guilt confronted me for my outburst and as always upon confrontation I raced to justify my actions. Malta deserved it, I thought. She’s a menace and probably should be put down. Stupid dog. To my horror I heard myself sounding like any of the depraved magicians in Bartimaeus, speaking about “commoners,” “muggles” in Harry Potter parlance. And this wasn’t the first time the book helped peel back a bit of muddle in my mind.

My point of view seems always clouded and ever subject to blame and shame. I might have rightly kept Malta from me for logical reasons, perhaps not so zealously, but necessarily in any event. But my response to the accuser points ever diligently to the nature of original sin, to the ownership we all bear as humans of this point of view where we see so darkly if at all through the glass. Enough for now. Thank you for reading.
I am reading, well actually listening to, The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1) by Jonathan Stroud and have looked for a Christian review of the book. Having found none, I offer this.
As yet another fantasy genre series following in the wake of Harry Potter, this book spins an almost believable tale of depraved modern-day magicians governing Britain with a despotic lack of mercy and/or thought of redemption. The similarity between this book and the normal orphaned hero tale so prevalent today, feature an orphaned protagonist suddenly thrust into an alternate coexisting paradigm suffering at the hands of an imperious order, a corrupt Nineveh-an government and a silent strangely distracted family. But if the reader wants another winning hero who withstands a heaping dose of pestilential vice only to vanquish the oppressor and ensure a happy whole world, he won’t find it here. Instead, this series’ protagonists are contentious at best. The book varies its points of view between a witty and occasionally savagely sarcastic close first person demon or djinni (as Batimaeus prefers to be defined) and a slightly removed third person apprentice magician, young Nathaniel Underwood.
While in Bartimaeus’ point of view the reader reels through centuries of history, myth and legend overlain with a delightful snort at human Babel. Both the cloud of witness and the cloud of arrogance can be picked from the footnotes in Bartemaues’ teeth. Don’t skip them. As a reader these little segues prove cumbersome, but well worth the effort. As a writer they seem perfectly kitschy and in character with Bartimaeus.
Nathaniel’s point of view is wrought with anxiety and impatience and any other fruits of the flesh that might characterize an abused muddled tween. Nathaniel’s humble salvation occurs through terrible remorse at his step mother’s death, which he awkwardly confides to Bartimaeus. To his credit, Bartimaeus notes the tiny treachery (love having no place in any magician’s heart) with grudging respect and even curiosity.
The book ultimately rests on the question of redemption. Will Nathaniel withstand the barrage of hedonistic temptations that he gains as nemesis of his enemy, that is, if he survives? Will he snatch grace from the clutches of revealed original sin, or succumb to despair and churlish survival at the hands of it?
In the end the first book of the trilogy proves delightful, well-written and suitable for any tween with a healthy sense of his own Baptism. I do not recommend this book for ages younger than twelve, though I realize that goes against its marketing. Finally, this book does not deal so much with the war of the principalities as the revelation of the tower of Babel that is all sorcery. This book peels the smelly onion of mankind’s feeble attempts at divinity as well as our ever-present arrogance and cheek for having tried. I recommend a parent read it before offering it to any child under the age of fifteen as it will provoke questions regarding original sin and atonement. I will review the second book when I finish it and post here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"A classic is something everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read," Mark Twain.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Does it work?

As much as I love reading, I don't seem to do very much of it.

Going to the book store is an adventure fraught with disappointment. I wish I could find a really good book!

I bought a copy of Six Suspects by

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pies for Obscene Qunatities of Cash

Yes, indeed, the community will lay down the cash for an entertaining auctioneer, a hammy chatter, a couple of excited cowboy callers and a good cause: FFA (Future Farmers of America to you city folks out there). Attendees voted on the best pie at the auction.

The winner was a six cupcake collection in a muffin tin. These were placed in a cake box with the lid propped open. The three cupcakes in the rear were dolled up to look like drumsticks complete with realistic legs. The three cupcakes in the front were dressed as 1) mashed potatoes with gravy, 2) green peas and 3) apple crisp. Very realistic.

The most extravagant for the money was the apple pie in a basket with a coffee grinder, coffee to grind, mugs, napkins, towels and many other goodies, probably a $300 dollar value that sold for a couple thousand.

I made my chocolate cheesecake with sour cream and raspberry topping with white chocolate grated over the top. I made a chocolate crust from crushed Oreo cookies and butter and baked in the oven for a bit to harden it. Then, when I went to take the crust out of the oven, I whacked the edge of the cheesecake pan on the oven and dumped the crust all over the place. Since I was out of cookies (my 13 year-old ate half of them) this entailed a trip to town to get cookies. Unless the local store, about 3 miles away has it, a trip to town means a 30 mile drive. Not really that far for rural folks, but not something a person wants to do every day just to go shopping--and not something a person wants to do just for one bag of Oreo cookies.

Several hours later...on the baked and cooled cheesecake I spread sour cream, then ringed it with fresh raspberries and dolloped in the center some fresh raspberry sauce I made while I waited for the cake to bake in my new Oreo crust. And, lastly, I grated white chocolate over the top.

Below is the easy-way-out version of the chocolate cheesecake I made for the pie auction. You can use melted raspberry jam for the topping and avoid all that extra cooking.

Chocolate Cheesecake

2 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
2 eggs
4 squares semisweet baking chocolate (or 4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips), melted
1 or 2 prepared Oreo pie crusts

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Mix cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla at medium speed. Add eggs, mix well until blended. Stir in melted chocolate.

Pour into crust(s). Bake 40 minutes or until center is set.

If you have baked the pie(s) 40 minutes and the center is no where near set, turn the oven down to 300 and check back in ten minutes or less.

Allow to cool and add toppings as desired. I usually top with sour cream, raspberry sauce and white chocolate shavings--very yummy!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beyond pies we have cakes.
My brothers have birthdays in February and December. They are usually on diets in December and January so I wait until mid-February to ah... honor them. This was not entirely my doing. I had suggested Brother's Three which is a story series I came up with to entertain Little Fella. (He liked knowing that other boys got in trouble too.) So brother's three morphed into Three Billy Goats compliments of our splendidly witty Linda and well you can see what happened then. So... All that's left is one of the stories, where to begin?

What are you reading these days?

I’ve been reading pie recipes, Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMasters Bujold, Reading the Bible with the Dead by John L. Thompson and listening to The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan.

So the recipes first, I think.
I like to make pies and our local FFA has a pie auction every year to raise money. In fact they are auctioning pies for unreasonable sums at the very moment, at least I hope they are unreasonable sums. I like the idea of black and blue pies made with black and blue berries. They taste all right, but I mostly just like the idea of a bruised pie. In our rough and tumble kitchen there’s a certain honesty to food being black and blue.
Anyway here’s my final product after reading many recipes:
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup oil
1/3 cup cold milk

Mix first three ingredients, cut in oil, add milk. Roll out ½ of the dough between sheets of wax paper and press into nine inch pie pan. Form fluted crust if desired. Set aside remaining dough for topping the pie. Sprinkle the crust in the pie pan with two teaspoons flour mixed with ½ teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for thirty minutes or until golden. If necessary ring the pie shell with aluminum foil or flute protector to keep from burning the edge of the crust.

Roll out the remaining crust and make six wedges and some leaves or flowers or use old cookie cutters to make clever designs for each slice. This is a good crust and folks will want a bit on top as well as under the pie.

5 cups fruit (black berries and blue berries)
Juice from one lemon
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon clove
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 generous Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
2-3 Tablespoons Rye flour

Wash and drain the fruit. Take 2 ½ cups of fruit and place in a sauce pan over medium heat stir in the sugar, spices, butter and regular flour. Cook on medium low heat until mixture begins to thicken, roughly 30 minutes.
Arrange the remaining fruit in cooled baked shell. Top this with cooked fruit and the cut-outs from the remaining pie crust dough. Ring the rim of the pie with aluminum foil or flute protector and bake at 375 for an additional thirty minutes or until the crust is golden.
Enjoy with ice cream or powdered sugar icing. (Sorry I didn’t think to take photos.)