Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Count Me UnFrightened

I don't really know why I'm posting this, except this is my blog and this article got under my skin, and if I can't rant here, where do I rant??

So I am still perusing my last week's Entertainment Weekly, which I missed over vacation, and which came resplendent with vampires on the front cover. I am not a vampire girl. I have to say I don't think I've even read a vampire book before - not even Twilight. I'm not sure I've even seen a vampire movie, with the exception of Interview with a Vampire, which is just 2 hours of my life I've resolved I will never get back.

So that said, there is an interview with a vampire writer in the EW, a woman named Laurell K. Hamilton. I've never heard of her, but seeing as that isn't really my genre, that isn't surprising. What is surprising to me was her answer to a question about Stephanie Meyers.

I've gotten used to hearing a lot of flack about how Stephanie Meyers is a lousy writer, and the controversies over whether or not Bella makes a decent role model for girls, but this one actually made the hairs on my neck prickle.

The question asked is what she thinks of the Twilight phenomenon.

Stephanie Meyers has come and she's taken the genre that I sort of pioneered... She took out a lot of the sex and violence, especially for the first book. My readership is both male and female, but Twilight is very much a girls' book. I ask people, Why has this really captured you? What I heard from all ages is that it was very romantic that he was willing to wait for her and that there was no sex. They like the idea that [Bella] was like the fairy princess and [Edward] is the handsome prince that rides in and saves her. The fact that women are so attracted to that idea - that they want to wait for Prince Charming rather than taking control of their own life - I find that frightening.

I do get it - that feminism has made it acceptable for females to go after what they want. But what if what they want is a Prince Charming? Why is it no longer acceptable for a girl to decide she wants to wait for sex, or wants to wait for the perfect guy, or wants to be saved? Don't we all, in some way, want someone to save us, even as we are setting out boldly to blaze our own path?

I'm frustrated that as more options become viable, the acceptability of others close. We don't really have more acceptable choices now - we just have different ones.

It's not just that this author doesn't agree... she finds it frightening. As though to wait for something, to choose a different path, threatens her choices in life. It annoys me that she seems to claim ownership to this genre - though clearly vampires have been around much longer - and is angry that someone else might have a different take on it.

Isn't that the joy of books and reading... that there is something for everyone? Isn't it great that there are sexy, dark vampires for adults, and gentler, softer ones for younger readers? Isn't it great that women get to go after whatever career they want, or stay home with their kids? Isn't it awesome that women get to be strong and independent and powerful, and still be feminine and curl up under a man's arm at night, and let him empty the mouse trap and unclog the plumbing?

What, really, is so frightening about that?


  1. I think the problem is that Bella isn't strong and independent and then comes home to curl up with Edward. She literally has nothing else going on in her life except him. To the point that when he leaves her (which he does) she falls into a comatose depression and can't function and doesn't speak for months. Her happiness rests solely on his love and attention. That is the frightening part.

    But you're right. Women's freedom comes from being able to have a choice. To choose to stay home with the kids rather than go after a career. It makes me think of the movie Mona Lisa Smile with Julia Roberts.

  2. I agree with Megan. Maybe if you read it you'd get it a little more. I found that aspect of those books a little disturbing. The MC is literally swooning all over the place. When I saw all the girls going absolutely nuts over this it did bother me a bit, that the idea of being completely powerless would be so seductive to them.

  3. I find it sad when writers and creative people slam each other's work simply because of their own insecurities. I don't think I'll ever read one of Laurell K. Hamilton's books because of that.

    People take shots at J.K. Rowling too. Mostly, there's a certain group of people that will slam anything that is popular.

  4. This is an excellent post Heidi.

    1. I've read Twilight. I get that it isn't everyone's cup of tea. While it is sort of creepy - that relationship between Bella and Edward - there is a hint of romanticism to it. He's very protective of her. He's almost a stalker. She's head over heels in love with this supernatural being. Girls that age do fall hard in love. If anything, these books/movies could serve as conversation points for mothers/fathers and their daughters. While this may be an entertaining series, the point does need to be made that a relationship like this is not as romantic as it seems and there are real life dangers in relationship like this. Edward is a vampire - this is a fantasy. I've heard of mothers who took their teens to the movie and the girls laughed at Edward and said he was like a stalker. So I think some girls get it. I would be worried that a young teen thinks this series is a correct depiction of what love it and falls into a situation where she believes the guy who is obsessed with her and stalks her is like her own Edward and that is okay. Murder-suicides in relationships is a real danger and should be discussed. That is the only thing that I could see as frightening, but that has less to do with Meyer's work and more to do with what teens believe and are allowed to believe.

    2. I think it is funny this author proclaims herself as a pioneer of the vampire genre. I've read some vampire books, seen some vampire movies, but I'm no expert. Ann Rice? Heard of her. Charlaine Harris? Heard of her. This chick? Nope. Vampires and their mythology has been around for decades - centuries. This is nothing new. Everyone has their own take and this has never bothered me. I always enjoyed reading the occasional story of vampires because they were different and fun and RARE. Now, thanks to Twilight's success, we have freaking vampires everywhere. I'm getting bored of them. That's sad. I like Harris' books, but they are more geared to an adult audience. I am an adult. I understand the seductive nature of vampires and their thirst for blood. I get that. But would I want my 12 year old reading it? No. I see no harm in an author writing for a younger crowd. I don't intend to read the other Meyer books because I have better things to read. Different authors write different books. This chick needs to get used to it. Just because Meyers did it differently, towards another audience, does not mean she's destroying the genre. The influx of vampire literature is nauseating at times, but this trend will pass and vampires will return to the darkness to be told in rare and scary stories.

    3. Regarding the feminist thing, feminism is supposed to be about giving a woman the choice. I agree Heidi, I don't think just replacing old choices with new ones is what the movement was about. Women who stay home to take care of the house and children should not be looked down upon. Women who work outside the home should not be looked down upon. And Bella falling in love and acting like the 17 year old she is, is not hurting the feminist movement. I haven't read this chick's books and doubt I ever will, but in most vampire literature (which she "pioneered") the woman is merely seduced and reduced to nothing more than a sex play thing and a meal. How is that empowering women? Now Harris' Sookie Stackhouse is a spunky character who is in love with her vampire, but she does have a life. She does give him come conversation. She is no wilted flower. She's also 24. There's a difference between a 17 year old's love and a 24 year old's love.

  5. Okay - obviously I should read the book before I go on my rants!! :)

    Still, aren't books full of heroines we don't want to be or emulate? There are books about girls who cut themselves, who wrestle with suicide, who are snarky and obnoxious and mean. We don't assume that because someone reads and likes those books they are wishing they were that person.

    And isn't the whole vampire genre really pretty much something we wouldn't want for our daughters? Aren't the adult versions of these books something we wouldn't want 12 year olds reading? Then Meyers takes out some of the stuff that makes them inappropriate and everyone is up in arms about that.

    What I find frightening is how casually sex IS treated in books aimed at that age group. I read a teen series recently where it was no big deal that every high school freshman was sleeping with any guy she wanted - like this is expected. Is that what we want our kids to think, too?

    It doesn't surprise me that girls were all over this. Have you seen teenage girls?? They ARE all consumed by love. They identify because that's what it feels like - even if in their lives they have soccer or drama or music or art...when you are in love and 15, you are mostly over-heels in love, all-consuming love.

    While Twilight may go overboard on that, I don't think girls everywhere are sitting around thinking, I wish I could be that dependent on a guy and have nothing else in my life.

    But Brit is right that it's a great talking platform for moms and daughters. Maybe it will bring up discussions that girls need to have - not because of the book but because they are life lessons that girls are going to have to deal with.

    Whew! I could have written another post! You all made some really excellent points!

  6. Heidi,

    I'm not totally sure reading the books would change your opinion. I think you are right, as far as books do not have to give us role models we wish to emulate.

    Scarlet O'Hara (apparently I'm on a GWTW kick) irritated the tar out of me! There are other books that have characters that are not ideal to emulate as well.

    In my opinion, characters are "real". . .or we as writers should strive to make them that way. If all writers try to make all characters perform with perfect morals and be perfect role models, where's the diversity? And more importantly, how can we as real people relate?

    People are both good and bad. Which is why I don't get into the perfect heroes in books. "So, you're drop dead gorgeous, have a perfect sense of humor and you can battle vampires, werewolves, zombies and evil fairies at once?" Gag me with a spoon.

    I like my characters to be good and bad. A villain who makes a valid point, but goes about it the wrong way. A hero who does his best to save the day, but doggonit, he has faults too.

    Bella being a 17 year old, helplessly in love with some apparent gorgeous sparkling vampire is not something that should be condemned. It's literature. The disturbing obsessiveness of that relationship could be talked about and dealt with.

    Some young girls do want to swoon over their ideal prince, to be young, vulnerable and protected. I think that is the appeal to young girls. That idea of being protected by something so powerful.

    I read the book and never wished I was Bella.

  7. I would like to think that the whole point is CHOICE - that we can choose our options, that so many are open to us.

    We should be able to choose our own role models too, rather than have them stuck on us by media or friends or parents.

    I agree with the girls who said the relationship is kinda creepy... I have nooo problem with a handsome prince, believe me. But damn, if he leaves the room I don't collapse. My daughter and I had long talks about this. She really is not seeing Bella as a role model. Trust me, girls want the romance but they don't want the dependence.

    I am not frightened by romance or charming princes! I am frightened by a girl having no life whatsoever without her romantic prince. We gotta have our own identities; everybody does, not just girls and women.

    You know what, I can heave hay bales, drive a standard shift, hitch a trailer to a truck, all kinds of stuff considered "guy stuff" but it's still nice to have a door held open for me and I always say thank you when it happens. I'm still good for being swept off my feet now and then too, lemme tell ya.

  8. I read and enjoyed all the Twilight books. It is funny how Bella is willing to give up everyone and everything for her one true love, but it isn't an uncommon thing...um...Romeo and Juliet? Anyway, I am glad Stephenie Meyers didn't promote premarital sex in her books but rather abstinence before marriage (even if it is with a vampire...) I have read reviews criticizing the idea that a teenage boy could wait to have sex. Is it really so hard to believe? I am LDS just like Stephenie Meyer, and attended the same university. While I can't vouch for everyone's personal lives, I can say that most of my good friends were virgins when they married.

    AND FINALLY, I have tried to start a Laurel K. Hamilton book three times because my mom owns it. She never finished it. I never finished it...three times. It was awful. And I didn't even get to the racy parts she boasts of. It just didn't hold my attention.

  9. CORRECTION: I meant it isn't an uncommon literary theme. Bella dumping everything dear to her for prince charming.

  10. Oh and I am all about the woman's choice involving CHOOSING to stay at home or not. I gave up working all but twice a month to stay at home. And while we are a lot poorer and my son is no less rotten, I am very grateful to have made that choice.

    Okay, I'm done.

  11. Jessie - you cracked me up!! I was afraid everyone would think I'd gone nuts ranting over this, but it seems like it's sparked a lot of emotion!

    I'm glad that Stephanie promoted abstinence, too. I'm really sick of YA books that treat sex casually.

    And you are absolutely right about the theme of all-consuming love and dropping everything for the prince charming being a common one.

    heidi - I think you are right on mark about girls wanting the romance but not the dependence.

    Why can't we read a book without making judgments about how it should be in real life??

    But again, I haven't read the book.

    I really must do that.

    But I have no intention of reading miss Hamilton. That is most definitely not my cup of tea.

    But I won't criticize YOU if it is.