And they protested Harry Potter?

The Gist:

Twilight Saga =

Cycle of Abuse

The Whole Deal:

I bought my younger sister Kirstie her copy of Breaking Dawn for her birthday. She was 15. It’s a hard life having an older brother as an English teacher – you’re pretty much guaranteed books as gifts for the rest of your life. She didn’t seem to mind. I would have bought my elder younger sister her copy too, but she was 18 when it came out and went with her friend to the midnight book release.

Today, I feel guilty.

I just got back from New Moon.

No other film in recent memory has reassured me of the necessity of my job teaching students to read texts critically.

I’ve stayed away from reading the Twilight series beyond the first chapter of the first book. It didn’t engage me (read – it was poorly written), and so I opted out.

I don’t remember seeing the first film. I remember leaving and thinking it was bad. I chalked it up to Melissa Rosenberg‘s writing or Catherine Hardwicke‘s directing.

Having seen New Moon, I realize I might have been wrong.

This series is dangerous.

If you’re in the dark, here’s the deal.

Girl falls for guy she can’t have. He can’t resist her. If he gets her, he’ll kill her. They decide to make a go of it. Things go badly, she sits in her room staring catatonically out the window for what the audience is told is three months. Somewhere after the three months, her father steps in and suggests that this behavior is possibly unhealthy. She takes his advice and decides to engage in risky behavior. Whilst beginning to engage in said behavior, she strikes up a relationship with a new guy. He promises to be different than Guy 1,  “I know what he did to you but Bella, I want you to know I will never hurt you.” Turns out she can’t have that guy either. Guy one breaks his promise:

I swore I wasn’t going to get mad, no matter what you said to me. But… I just got so upset that I was going to lose you… that you couldn’t deal with what I am…

Jacob Black, New Moon, Chapter 13, p.312

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Now, I don’t deny Twilight its right to exist. What I wish I could deny are early studio reports that New Moon has the third largest opening in Hollywood history.

Judging only by audience reactions as the movie unfolded, we’ve got cause for worry. Few, if any, of my fellow theatergoers were experiencing the same churning stomachs as I.

Twilight to Girls: By being who you are, you make it hard for boys to resist what they want to do to you.

Girls to Twilight: Awwwwww.

Twilight to Boys: Girls will tempt you to lose control just by being themselves. Make sure you let them know they are leading you to lose control and that losing control will result in them losing their beauty, their souls and / or their lives.

Boys to Twilight: Cool…vampires.

We need to be teaching this book – or at least teaching our students to read this book with questions in their minds.

As I understand it, Girl becomes a vampire at the end of it all. She gets married, of course. So, once she’s lost herself, she loses her soul.

According to author Stephenie Meyer:

Breaking Dawn‘s cover [a queen chess piece] is a metaphor for Bella’s progression throughout the entire saga. She began as the weakest (at least physically, when compared to vampires and werewolves) player on the board: the pawn. She ended as the strongest: the queen. In the end, it’s Bella that brings about the win for the Cullens.

And all it costs her is her soul, her life and individuality.

“You’re overestimating my self-control.” I know the feeling.

6 thoughts on “And they protested Harry Potter?

  1. I’m surprised! Not that you feel the series is poorly written (I agree – “The Host” is MUCH better). Not that you feel it sends a poor message to girls (I can absolutely see that side of it as well). But I’m surprised that you would comment so strongly on a series you didn’t read.

    As a mom of two, one an AVID 10 year old 5th grader who reads at close to a high school level, I knew this past summer that Twilight was going to come up as a possible read for her. I had heard such varying opinions that I wanted to read it for myself. I did so, and I can say absolutely that your synopsis paragraph and even your understanding of the end of the series is inaccurate and misleading (it most certainly does NOT cost her individuality or her life – soul is a matter of your point of view, I guess).

    Book 1 seemed like typical teenage first-love drama, albeit dark. Bella is a strong character with strong emotions and an almost stereo-typical female nurturing streak. The book (and series) definitely speaks to a youthful, immature female tendency to want to “fix” people. Book 2 was horrible. I almost couldn’t finish it and a nearly gave up the series at that point. Bella was moody and depressed, Jacob was whiny, and Edward’s behavior just made me angry. But I pushed on, n the advice of some online friends, and found books 3 and 4 to be MUCH better in terms of plot, drama, and message (if not writing.)

    In the end, after reading the entire series, I came to the conclusion that the author’s heart is in the right place and that the main characters’ suspect behaviors and emotional responses make much more sense and seem – if still not entirely healthy – at least explainable in hindsight. I also chose to recommend that my daughter wait several years before reading it as I do think it is most suited to those with upper-teenage life experience.

    I completely agree that we need to explore and discuss the messages and issues this book and movie – and ANY book and movie – send out. I agree that there are some potentially unhealthy messages, depending on your interpretation. I also remember adolescence being intense, messy, scary, emotional, and full of mixed messages from adults (mostly of the “do as I say, not as I did” variety) and I think this series speaks to that reality in young people. That’s also worthy of dialogue.

    I would LOVE to discuss this series and its messages with you someday, but you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and actually READ the books to have a completely informed opinion. As a role model, accomplished and respected literature teacher, and someone who works closely with young people, I would hope you would take the time to do that.

  2. I also have not read the books. My teenage daughter has and loved the series. When the first movie came out, I grudgingly went along with her and was shocked and dismayed by the plot. My take on it: teenagers fall desperately in love and are willing to do anything for this love. Anything includes lying to adults, skipping school, hanging out with the wrong crowd, etc. And, of course, it’s all worth the angst in the end. What a horrible message to send to kids. My daughter tells me the book doesn’t give that message but I have yet to read it.

    And, I am glad, Debbie, that you chose to have your fifth grader wait to read it. My fifth grade students have been told by me that the book content is not appropriate for a ten year old. They are not allowed to bring it to school. And I don’t believe in censorship…much. 😉

  3. Debbie,
    First of all, mad props for closing with appeal to the ego. Nice persuasive techniques.
    Then, there’s this. I’d argue there are 6 installments thus far in the Twilight Saga , and that I’ve now read two of them. Well, two and a chapter if we’re being technical.
    From those texts, and synopses of those lingering in the wings, I think I have a pretty healthy understanding of what’s going on.
    I’m planning on picking up the third installment of the print text tomorrow to read. (Specifically, I’m borrowing it from a student. Not giving anymore of my money up to this franchise.)
    I worry about the idea that we’re rationalizing the behavior we’re seeing in this narrative. Girl, as pointed out by Christian Long on twitter, is used as a plot devise. She’s a protagonist who does nothing. It is her existence that drives the plot, not her actions. Only when Guy 1 thinks she’s dead, does he act. In this instance, it is, again, her existence (or end thereof) that moves the action.
    As to the messiness of adolescence, yes, the series speaks to it. What’s troubling, though, is what the series portrays its characters doing in an effort to deal with that messiness. Only when Girl begins to intertwine with Guy 2 does she reintegrate with her group of friends as though she’s somehow returned to completion.
    When I said the end of the series costs Girl her individuality, I’m speaking to this notion, that she cannot be complete, reach her goal or even exist without being tethered to Guy 1. What does she achieve on her own? As for losing her life, I mean her humanity, once immortal, Girl has given up her personhood and the mortality and finite nature of her human existence. What is the point of the future events of her life if her immortality means she’s no longer forced to make choices from the perspective of dying one day?
    I want to finish with this – Why are we making such blind allowances for bad writing? I could understand such reasoning if bookstores weren’t teeming with well-written works aimed at adolescents, adults and everyone in between. If Meyer is a bad writer, as most I’ve talked to admit to her being, let’s call her on it more readily.

  4. Mr. Chase’s points can be applied to any number of banal films,many of them Disney. Take a second look at The Little Mermaid. It ignores the original Anderson tale, which has serious consequences for actions. In the Disney version, the young GIRL lies to her father, twists the intent and advice of a ‘beloved’ counselor, acts without forethought and with jealousy. lies some more and turns to dark magic for her willful immature abandonment of family.

    What perturbs me is the dark side. Now the dark side is all through literature, folk tales, and life. Learning to recognize it and deal with it is part of maturing.

    But when dark choices and risky behaviors become the NORM and acceptable, then we are risking the future.

    Sex, everyone? When one gives one’s body one also gives one’s heart. Each time that heart and mind are wounded, it becomes harder to trust and also to discern what is goodness. Without consequences, indeed with the outcome being rewarding, we send a warped view of self-respect, self-esteem, and caring about others.

    Life based on immature passions alone is a life of brokenness. It is not about vampires and zombies. It is about what we learn about the dark and the return to the light.

    So why read poorly composed pulp? Encourage good literature.

  5. Or, you could look at it as each character fighting to be the best version of themselves and not always succeeding. Bella never denied who she was or what she wanted. She had problems when she put her desires second and took care of everyone else. Edward struggled as long as he believed that he didn't measure up to the pedestal he put Bella on. The important people in our lives should be treasured not revered. Jacob struggled when he thought he could blame others for revealing his true potential. He only valued himself through Bella's eyes. I also compliment the author on showing what a struggle life can be when you believe there is only one kind of love. Every person in our lives is there for a reason.

    • Yes, that's definitely a way to consider it. I don't know that that is how the text read to me. The writing got in the way of me getting to a point where I recognized a more nuanced message in the text. I'm also not sure I can get on board with the fatalistic view of the characters entering into one another's lives. Every person in the book was there for a reason. I don't know that I read life the same way I read a novel.

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