Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cult of the Damned, Vampires, Children and Literature

Why put up with high school and family life when you can live in eternal bliss with your demon lover? This is the question posed by Stephanie Meyer’s "Twilight" series, which apparently is very popular among teenage girls—and their mothers.

My friend Abby has read it and offers the following critique: “I'm on book Three now, basically like watching crappy TV: a relaxing waste of time. The heroine, Bella, falls in love with the school bad boy: Edward, a vampire who is bad, but good at heart (albeit controlling and dominating). He is perfect at everything and she is human and flawed, but bless his little heart, he loves her anyway. Isn't that nice? It's so nice that Bella quickly decides she needs to become forever damned herself so she can leave her human life and be with him forever even though this sets a whole bunch of things into motion (four long books worth).

Stephenie Meyer clearly has read the classics and name drops stuff from Wuthering Heights, Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice in an embarrassingly transparent way. But despite all the pages, the characters remain pretty flat. Bella isn't really torn that much about loosing her humanity she's just trying to figure out a way to get around the annoying obstacles that keep preventing her from experiencing eternal happiness with her stone cold lover.

The book trivializes life and glorifies the life of a bloodsucking vampire. They are all powerful and in Meyers’ novels there is very little drawback, so you don't understand why we don't all just become vampires. Unlike Wuthering Heights, their love is pretty straightforward love at first sight kind of stuff: He's hot so she likes him even though he's kind of a murderer.”

This sounds markedly different from the last vampire book I read, Anne Rice’s “Interview with The Vampire.” It was later turned into a movie in 1994, which I also enjoyed, despite the fact I am not a Tom Cruise or a Brad Pitt fan. As for the book, I agree with Wikipedia’s assertion that “the confessional tone, from the vampire's perspective, touching on existential despair and the sheer boredom of lifeless immortality” sets the book apart from its genre predecessors. The goth glamour is infused with, at least one the vampires, Louis’, genuine repugnance for the life he leads and the “love story” in the book is anything but conventional. Louis’ mentor/vampire companion, Lestat, creates a “daughter” for the pair, when they come upon the nearly lifeless child of a Plague victim. Over 65 years, the girl’s mind matures into that of an intelligent, assertive woman forever trapped inside the body of a six-year old child, who comes to hate Lestat for what he has done to her. Rice also creates an intriguing ambiance, having done some research on the “period” elements of eighteenth century France and New Orleans.

According to Abby, Twilight is “like a “Dawson’s Creek” coven of vampires--campier and less thought-out than “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which prided itself on campiness. What is most disturbing, given the book’s target teen audience, is the heroine, Bella’s eagerness to drop everything for her glamorous coven 'family.’ This no doubt echoes the desperate search for acceptance that drives so many teenagers to become groupies or druggies, or otherwise give up themselves entirely, in order to join an "exclusive" group. She's just so thrilled that they will have her. As for the love story, not much depth there either. Whenever he touches her or kisses her she talks about how his perfect face makes her forget to breathe, how she can't stay angry at him and how she feels inadequate next to him. This isn't true love, this is the kind of infatuation girls felt for their posters of Kirk Cameron.”

Abby and I were discussing how gothic fluff like the “Twilight” series is ultimately far more disturbing than a book with an overtly sinister theme like Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Not only is Nabokov’s language light years ahead of Meyers’ in terms of depth and nuance, but the choice of narrator has a large impact as well. Despite giving her name to the title of the story, Lolita is essentially ambiguous, merely a repository for her captor’s fantasies. Given her young age, her mother’s death and her stepfather’s custody, it is not apparent that she willingly accepts the relationship with her captor. On the contrary, she runs away every chance she gets. Meanwhile, in “Twilight,” it only takes 20 pages of the first book, for Bella to realize she's in ‘luv’ with Edward, give up all consideration for herself, and decide she will do anything to be with him. By the third book, Bella is in some type of mortal danger (as usual) and the coven swarms around her to protect her with Edward her boyfriend/manager/father calling the shots. He makes decisions for her (in her best interest) and she rolls her eyes and complies. There's another character, Jacob, who is in love with Bella, but he's a werewolf. He fights with Edward over her and then ends up teaming up with him (to help control her and make decisions for her).”

Anyway, I found Abby’s email review of “Twilight” rather hilarious and thought I’d share it. Not sure I’d read any of the books myself, although, never say never because something that popular probably is distracting. Hopefully, the references to “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Romeo and Juliet” will inspire the series’ young readers to pick up these classics and discover a richer world, along with heroines who refuse to compromise their identity and values, or pay a real price for it, if they do.

I read my share of Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele as a schoolgirl—mostly because these books were readily available on my grandmother’s bookshelf, my maternal grandmother, I will say. My paternal grandmother tended to favor moderately more genteel historical romances, usually set in England or the American South. One day, as a fifth grader in the library of Christ the King parochial school, Sister Patricia Geary caught me reading Colleen McCullough’s “The Thornbirds,” a novel about an Australian woman who has an affair with a Catholic priest. Rather than making me feel bad about my reading selection, she simply said: “I can see our reading program must not be challenging you. I am starting a new reading class next year and I’d like to invite you to join.” Sister Patricia is my first memory of a truly great teacher. I joined her class the next year.”

1 comment:

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