The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

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?]

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A New Dawn part 9: “Dear Aunt Charlotte” by Cassandra Clare March 20, 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.]

I enjoyed Cassandra Clare’s humorous, yet wise advice about how to choose between Team Jacob and Team Edward. Which mythological beast would make the best boyfriend? Decisions, decisions! Aunt Charlotte kicks her letter off by noting that “this kind of question is a nice change of pace, since in books it always seems to be a girl torn between a vampire and a werewolf, unlike in real life when she would be torn between a mailman and an area insurance adjuster named Bob.” Indeed (+1000 lol points).

Sadly, Taylor's wig here looks better than KStew's in the Eclipse trailer.

Since werewolves and vampires are, y’know, not real, Clare must use movies as evidence upon which she can base her advice. This means she gives us a great overview of the film portrayals of vampires and werewolves over the years. Like Steiber, Clare notes that movies did a lot for both monsters, pulling them out of scary/gross out territory and placing them into the roles of romantic leads.

I have to admit, I used the numerous movies she listed as suggestions for my Netflix queue. Poor 7abibi… Some of them are on demand, so I’ll have to stream them in my copious (+1001 lol points) free time.

In general, her outlook on both werewolves and vampires is mixed at best. Werewolves are strong, sexy, and in touch with nature, but they tend to be more than a wee bit out of control. Vampires may be erotic and aristocratic, but dang are they emo. Romance with mythical creatures is nice in theory, but Aunt Charlotte seems to think the hypothetical real world consequences would be pretty messy. That is, if the mythical creatures in question aren’t too busy fighting centuries old wars, protecting nature, or partying until the cows come home to be in a relationship at all.

I wont reveal the conclusion, but I gave it +eleventy lol points.

 

A New Dawn part 6: “Tall, Dark, and…Thirsty?” by Ellen Steiber March 14, 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.]

This essay was one of my favorites of the lot. It started with a fun overview of vampire mythology, literature, and movies and some of the social constructs our changing vampires have reflected over the years. Unsurprisingly, when Steiber begins interpreting Meyer’s vampires as part of that continuing tradition she’s more than a little disappointed in how they stack up. As a traditional vampire novel, Twilight kind of sucks (lame pun intended). [Maybe because they’re a different kind of blood drinker? The “drink this wine it is my body” kind of blood drinker?… Ahem…] She then finds something even more creepy than blood-drinking monsters lurking beneath the vampiric veneer.

Steiber places the origins of our current crop of vampires in the Balkan “Vampire Epidemic” of the 1730’s. The legends and old wives tales found their way to Britain and were popularized by two works in particular. The first was John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (I got my hot little hands on it for free right here). Published in 1819, Polidori’s tale of the vampire Lord Ruthven is said to be a product of the same ghost story session that spawned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The darkly magnetic Ruthven, Steiber tells us, was even based upon another of the session’s participants, the bad boy, rock star poet Lord Byron.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) amped up the sexual tension. What with his trio of sexy lady vampire roommates and taste for young innocent women, Dracula was clearly a metaphor for the specter of sexuality in the repressed Victorian Era. “He’s a perfect example of the exotic, inscrutable stranger whom good girls really should avoid,” says Steiber. In 1931, Dracula became immortalized on the silver screen by the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi. His portrayal was so arresting that it has held up for 80 years as the prototypical vampire. Ask anyone to do a vampire imitation and I’m betting it will owe quite a bit to Lugosi’s Dracula.

Over the years vampires have become even more tied to sexuality and romance. Steiber points out the advantages to a vampire as a romantic lead. A vampire is powerful and magnetic, making him immediately appealing to other characters and readers alike. The vampire has also become something of a sympathetic loner, making them emotionally vulnerable in ways that can be exploited for a number of plot devices, particularly a romance.

After setting up the source material for our modern vampires, Steiber decides that Meyer has actually inverted numerous traditional elements of the vampire. Edward is not a dark parasite destroying the life and virtue of his innocent victim. Quite the reverse, Edward is a paragon of Victorian morality, safeguarding his beloved’s virtue – even when she begs not only to become a monster, but to jump his bones as well. Even Bella’s transformation into a vampire is an inversion of the classic story line. Bella does not become a fallen monster, instead her transformation saves her life and enables her to raise her child.

If the vampires in Meyer’s universe aren’t about sexuality and destruction of innocence, then what on earth are they about?

“What I’ve come to see about vampires, though, is that they change with the time and culture they appear in. They’re mirrors of our fears and desires. Early bloodsucking vampires were all about the hold that the dead had on the living…The stories of psychic vampires told of people who fed on other’s energy, drawing their strength from weakening those around them… Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been interpreted as a reflection of fears of its time: of foreign influence threatening british society, of our animal nature threatening to overwhelm our reason, and of illicit and irresistible sexual compulsion threatening marriage…Meyer’s vampires – or more accurately Bella’s obsession with Edward seems to mirror our current terror of aging, our own deep fear that without flawless physical beauty, we’ll never truly be worth loving.”

The prevalence of the beauty as virtue has a major impact on the young women of today. Especially now that we live in an age of rhinoplasty for sixteen year olds and Photoshop features for personal digital cameras. Steiber is rightfully concerned that Twilight seems to whole-heartedly endorse this philosophy and export it to the millions of teen girls who read it.

“She’s taken our warped attitude toward age and made it even more extreme, and because Bella is so easy to identify with, I can’t help but feel uneasy with this. Life is change. What Bella’s so eagerly signing up for is everlasting stasis.”

Ellen Steiber‘s essay really surprised me. I thought I was in for a bit of historical info, but she really shifted my perspective on Edward’s sparkling, marble pecs and gave me another interpretation about the underlying meaning of Twilight. Her assertion that we have abandoned our disgust of the monstrous, parasitic vampires of the past in order to focus our loathing on humanity has given me plenty of tasty food for thought. Her bio at the end of the essay says that she’s also written for a book called Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series. Sounds delicious… *Adds to Amazon wishlist*