The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

My Life in Fiction March 29, 2010

“We see the future, we see something waiting for us even when we don’t feel it inside sometimes.”
– Psychosister23, “The Great Debate” by Rachel Caine from A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins.

I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t you…over this whole A New Dawn book review thing yet?! Well, yes, I am. This isn’t really a book review. Just something I was reminded of when I read this bit from Rachel Caine’s essay. It was part of her discussion about Twilight’s positive lessons for young women. Namely, that in encourages them to think about what their adult life could and should be like. Even though they feel like misfits, they can become the heroine in their own story.

This definitely struck a chord with me. I read. A lot. I also watch a lot of movies and TV. I love stories. They give me hope that there is meaning in a really confusing, chaotic world.

This is the origin of this blog. My life has started to feel kind of pointless. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I go to work, I come home, I do dishes, I go to bed – what happened to the great life story I was supposed to be the star of? I’m not sure. Maybe that happens later. Maybe this is the great adventure I’m supposed to be having. I’m just too close to see it. Maybe my “post-adolescent idealistic phase” is crashing and burning. In any case, I need a project. I need to feel like there is a point to life, the universe, and everything.

It’s a whole lot easier for me to do that when I’m reading and writing and trying to tease out pearls of meaning from between the lines.

I want to make myself clear. I don’t expect to become a heroine in a fantastical quest against evil. I am fully cognizant of the fact that life is not like a novel or movie. This doesn’t keep me from using narratives to explain the mysteries of life. In fact, the reason we read books and watch TV shows and see movies is because well all do this to some extent. This may be why people my age often go through this kind of disillusionment phase (you know it kills me to admit I’m going through a phase, but I think it’s a pretty well documented fact if it’s being discussed by fifteen year-olds in Clueless).

We’re bombarded with all kinds of stories and meanings in the media we consume. To take a particularly dramatic example, in Brave Heart Young Murron gives Young William Wallace a thistle at his father’s funeral. Years later, when William proposes to Murron, he reveals that he saved the same thistle for years. Seeing the thistle, Murron knows that his affection is sincere and long-standing. She consents to marry him.

In real life, this kind of thing doesn’t happen. Stuff today is pretty disposable. Clothes are mass manufactured for no one in particular and meant to be discarded after a season. Ipods are made to survive about two years, since by that time the next generation will be available. We spend $3.50 on a cardboard cup filled with coffee, neither of which will last beyond an hour or so.

Because the tangible world is so disturbingly fluid – our setting and the objects around us so impermanent – it’s easy to start believing that we live disposable lives in a disposable culture. This may be why we are so charmed with the thistle in Brave Heart, tuppence in Mary Poppins, and Harry Potter’s scar. They’re artifacts that prove the existence of meaning.

How do we know William loves Murron? He kept her thistle. We can see his love right in his hand. The thistle, tuppence, and scar are metaphors for an abstract meaning. The thistle device is used by writers to draw the audience’s attention to central points of meaning in the narrative. They’re shortcuts on the desktop of the mind.

I think maybe the tangibility of these objects sometimes gets in the way  of their significance. The object is not the point – the meaning is the point. But instead of focusing on the meaning of the metaphor, we lock onto the physical presence of the object and become obsessed with finding tangible symbols in our own lives. Why not? That’s how several forms of media have taught us to process meaning.

What I’m endeavoring to teach myself is that even without these tangible artifacts I can still find abstract meaning in my life.

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A New Dawn part 13: “The Great Debate” by Rachel Caine March 28, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

In “The Great Debate,” Rachel Caine imagines a fictional debate between two Twilight fan girls and two adult academics. The topic?

Resolved: Vampire-themed fiction represents thinly veiled sexuality and violence. Therefore, vampire fiction is not suitable for young adults, and in particular Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, which has brought vampire-themed young adult fiction to the forefront is not appropriate for young adult readers.

When Caine gets over trying to be hilarious and actually talks about how the books are actually beneficial because they deal with difficult subject matter like sexuality, violence, etc she makes really good points. I’m sure a lot of people will think this is a riot, but some of the humor just didn’t do it for me. At one point the moderator says the debate is going to follow the rules for Lincoln-Douglas debate and a teen debater replies “I don’t know who Lincoln Douglas, but I’ll be he’s a hater.”… Cue laugh track?

Youth and knowledge of pop culture does not automatically make someone uneducated. Isn’t that, in fact, the point of this piece? That all the teenage girls the “experts” worry are going to go have babies with quasi-abusive seventeen year old boyfriends because “Bella did it” are actually savvy enough to understand that the book is a) fiction and b) full of consequences for all of these actions? I was also pretty irritated by the teen girls interrupting everyone and even each other with things like “TIME’S UP, BITCH. Also, you suck.” Because we all know teen girls are obnoxious and rude at all times. I’m sure adults ever misunderstand, interrupt, or cover ignorance on an issue with rudeness… I would say that the main crime here was not Caine’s use of teen girl stereotypes for laughs, but that it just wasn’t that funny.

Anyway, the point of the essay is that the Twilight books do cover sexuality and violence, but they do it in such a way that makes it very appropriate for young adult readers. Girls have a pretty difficult time finding a safe space to safely explore their developing sexual preferences – why not do it in the context of books and movies? Twilight actually seems to glamorize abstinence for teens, not the reverse. Plus, what girl is going to want to have a baby that murders her from the inside out? As Caine points out, Bella’s tale is actually full of consequences for romance, sex, and pregnancy. It’s a cautionary tale, not a how-to manual.

Caine also discusses how empowering the Twilight Saga has been not just for young women but for adults as well. We identify with Bella because she’s lonely and a bit of a misfit. She has trouble making connections with people and doesn’t feel like she’s good at anything in particular. Caine’s Twilight teens give us a pretty good list of uplifting messages. Things like don’t hate yourself, because even though you might not think so, you’re awesome. Don’t rush love, because it’s worth being patient and letting it all fall into place naturally. Caine also argues that Bella is a hero in her own right, even if she isn’t a supernatural being. She’s brave, strong, and helps others even when she’s afraid. So…how are these bad things for teen girls to read about?

In fact, they aren’t bad lessons for girls and grown ups, for that matter. Which is probably one of the reasons the Twilight Saga is so popular from tweens to Twimoms. It’s a story of a misfit finding her power and rightful place in the world. I would say that this is backed up by the fact as a human Bella kind of sucks at life, but she turns out to be a really good vampire with super blood lust control, super powers, and a super family. Gaining her rightful place in the world puts everyone around her in balance and results in the deliriously happy ending we get in Breaking Dawn.

[This was in Harper’s Bazaar, but I thought KStew looked pretty vampy. Maybe Bella’s look in Breaking Dawn will take some cues from the shoot?]