Hate the Book, not the Author: A Defense of Twilight and Stephanie Meyer

I first got into the Twilight series because my sister was raving about them, and yeah, I’m not afraid to say that I enjoyed them. What I really appriciated about them was Meyer’s daring to go so far outside the typical vampire templete, giving them a twist that we had never seen before. She went farther outside of the box than I intend for the vampires in my would-be paranormal romance. And for that she has my respect as a fantasy writer.

I could never get into the movie adaptations. I watched the first one, thought many of the creative desicions made were awful, and chose not to engage with the rest of the films. But that didn’t deter my appreciation for the books. Yet unbeknowst to me, there was an entire counter-cultural crusade against the Twilight series and Stephanie Meyer herself that went on during the late 2000s. YouTuber Lindsay Ellis made a phenomenal video about the hate Meyer got, which I highly recommend.

Ellis gives thoughtful insight to how “we, and by we I mean our culture, we kinda hate teenage girls.” So because Twilight was shamelessly geared towards this demographic, it became a target for that wider, societal contempt.

I’m not saying that there isn’t any legitmate criticism that can be made against the Twilight series. There are a slew of feminist arguments that can be made for the sublte and sometimes overt misogyny represented, but a cultural phenomenon such as this in literature and film should be taken in stride as a learning lesson, not as a call to grab one’s pitchfork and set the author’s house ablaze.

The popularity of Twilight and the like reveals unflattering elements of the human condition that many wish just didn’t exist or at most were restricted to a small minority of teenage girls and wine moms. But with over 100 million copies sold, this reveals the painful reality that we haven’t evolved as a society as much as we would like the think we have. So rather than analyze why some unhealthy social constructs represented in books still have a dangerous hold on our collective psyche, people instead choose to lash out at the author for the unforgivable offense of writing the book in the first place.

I find the distain for Meyer in a small way comparable to the distain for Trump. The current president makes himself very easy to hate, but I must admit that I don’t so much hate Trump as I am saddened by the sizable chuck of society that gave Trump power. Before Trump I would have thought American society as a whole has moved beyond racism and sexism at least enough to easily dismiss someone like Trump. The fact that he now runs the United States is very telling of all the blind spots our society still has.

In short, we shouldn’t hate Stephanie Meyer nor think of Twilight as this blasphemous stain on modern literature.  She didn’t do anything that society didn’t allow her to do. Twilight is not the worst in the YA romance genre when it comes to promoting sexist stereotypes, but because the series grew to be so big, Twilight and its creator have been highjacked as the ambassadors for everything we despise about certain social problems that we still face.

You can hate Twilight, but that hate should be directed towards something constructive, not mindlessly fuel disgust for the author and anyone who dares to enjoy Twilight.

 

 

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Revisiting Harry Potter as an Adult

(SPOILER ALERT – Proceed with Caution)

Every few years my older sister will reread the entire Harry Potter series. She will do the same with Lord of the Rings and other famous series. I decided to take a leaf out of her book and reread this classic fantasy series for the very first time since I finished Deathly Hallows nearly a decade ago.

It was a real treat revisiting all my old friends at Hogwarts. My passion for these characters ignited ten-fold.  Below I am going to explain why I personally find the Harry Potter books so compelling even as an adult, and any further conclusions I’ve come to since rereading all seven books.

They’re Rich in Metaphors and Allegories

One of the things that drew me most to Harry Potter was that even though they were children’s books, there was deep symbolism rooted in almost every aspect of Harry’s story. JK Rowling drew up Greek/Roman mythology, Christian theology, British folklore and Shakespeare, all of which served to create a well-though out, culturally-rich enchanted world. It is because of this complex layering that Rowling remains the author who has inspired me the most. I can only hope that if I ever write a novel that it can be as deeply stimulating.

Examples

Greek/Roman Mythology

Fluffy, Hagrid’s three-head dog guarding the trapdoor in The Sorcerer’s Stone,  is a stark reference to Cerberus, the three-head hound that guards the entrance to the underworld.

Remus is the name one of the two men centered around the mythical founding of the city of Rome. He and his brother Romulus were raised by a she-wolf.  Very fitting that Rowling bestowed the name Remus onto her werewolf character.

Shakespeare

Hermione’s name originally comes from the play The Winter’s Tale. Hermione is the wife of King Leontes of Sicily who wrongfully accuses her of adultery with his ally Polixenes. Many comparisons can be made between this core plot of the Winter’s Tale and the dynamic between Harry, Ron and Hermione, where Ron is constantly worrying about Hermione preferring Harry over him.

Christian Theology

A macro-theme of the Harry Potter series is undoubtedly the redemptive power of love. The notion of love, friendship and the connection we share with those who have departed is heavy derived from the Christian notion of resurrection and the teachings of kindness towards our fellow men. This theme is especially played up in the final installment of the series, the Deathly Hallows, where a great chuck of the plot revolves around the moral lesson that mastering death is not to avoid it, but to embrace it as the “next great adventure.”

They’re Damn Good Mysteries

I”m a die-hard lover of the mystery genre. My childhood was filled with watching Masterpiece Mysteries with my parents. I will never grow tired of the classic whodunnit. Now that I am older I can see more clearly that the HP books are just as much mysteries as they are fantasy novels.

I was able to see the crumbs of clues that Rowling left for the readers, such as the numerous mentions of Ginny in the Chambers of Secrets, or the hints that Remus Lupin was a werewolf during the Prisoner of Azkaban. So frequent were these clues that I had to smack myself for not picking them up the first go-around.

Rowling is very skillful in not dumping a lot of hidden information at the end, which can sometimes be a drawback in the mystery genre, but with the right amount of clues she makes the mystery “fair game” so that we don’t feel cheated at the big reveal at each book’s climax. In this way I wholeheartedly agree with the quote below taken from Just Write’s YouTube video about Rowling’s mystery writing.

With muted culprits, buried clues, and signature descriptions, Rowling tells mystery stories that are solvable and are incredibly satisfying to read from beginning to end.

-Just Write, Harry Potter: How J.K. Rowling Writes Mystery

Change in Favorites

Before I reread the series, I would have told you without thinking that my favorite book of them all was the Half-Blood Prince, firstly for its fascinating exploration into Voldemort’s past and secondly for the hilarious teen romances. Now I have found that my new favorite book is Order of the Phoenix.

As an adult I can better appreciate the darker, more worldly themes of the series’ fifth installment. I can more fully empathize with what Harry went through, becoming a social pariah and object of ridicule in the wizarding world. This is because I’ve watched a loved one be the victim of a relentless smear campaign. They aren’t fun, and while some get annoyed by how angsty Harry was in that book, I feel his reactions were completely appropriate for his age and the circumstances.

Here is the new ranking of my favorite books in the series

  1. The Order of the Phoenix
  2. The Prisoner of Azkaban
  3. The Half-Blood Prince
  4. The Goblet of Fire
  5. The Chamber of Secrets
  6. The Sorcerer’s Stone
  7. The Deathly Hallows

Deathly Hallows was my least favorite when I first read the series, and it’s still my least favorite. Not because it was dark; it just wasn’t what I imagined as the final book. I can honestly say that while waiting for Deathly Hallows to be published, I read some fanfic versions of Book 7 that I felt were more satisfying than the actual product.

Religious Sensibilities

This is a very personal observation, as I was not only rereading the books for the first time as an adult, but also for the first time since I converted to paganism. When I was Christian I found the religious objection to Harry Potter hilarious, and even more so now as a pagan. The Harry Potter series has nothing whatsoever to do with modern witchcraft nor the wider spiritual path of paganism.

In fact, the few mentions of real witchy practices, such as crystal gazing and cartomancy, are limited to the confides of the Divination classes, which are often quite negatively portrayed due to the incompetence of the eccentric, but still lovable Professor Trelawney. Rowling portrays having the Third Eye as something one cannot learn, but can only be born with, much in contrast to modern witches and how they handle their relationship with their divinatory rituals.

So I thought it was stupid for Christians to whine about Harry Potter seducing young children into Satanism, and now I find it even more pathetically dim-witted, since Rowling’s magical world itself mocks real witchy practices just as much as our own world does.

Conclusion

All in all, this was a wonderful experience to remind me why Harry Potter left such a strong imprint on my childhood and why I personally consider them “classics” that are worth revisiting now and again. I hope to repeat the ritual in a few years time to see if there is anymore insight to be had in this extensive, fantastical world.