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...

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