Tag Archives: Harry Potter

In Which I Had a Month-Long Lapse of Judgment

At the beginning of October, I allowed myself to be goaded into a reading race. Sounds like fun, right? Reading and athletics should go hand in hand more often, right? Wrong. It wasn’t fun. I lost for the same reason that I always lose at Scrabble: I wasn’t willing to play dirty. And my conscience-less opponent was. Which is why this same, heartless, unfeeling man also always wins at Scrabble. However, my boyfriend’s competition ethic is neither here nor there. Maybe that’s best saved for another post. (And then again, if I want to stay in the relationship, maybe not!)

As it were, the book we raced to the end of (against both our better judgment) was that unfortunate pillar of young adult fiction, pride of bored housewives, propaganda of (and for) teenage girls, and paragon of poor prose. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. And, rather than go into the details of how it happened that I spent the rest of October reading through the other three books in the series (rest assured in the knowledge that this was a solo endeavor; thankfully, the boyfriend stopped after his cheap victory with the first book), I will just skip to the part where I tell you how far I will go (I’m thinking the ends of the earth) to keep this particular set of books out of my daughter’s hands, should I ever find myself to be the mother of a teenage or pre-adolescent girl.

So let’s start with why I hate Bella, the pathetic (not to be confused with tragic or romantic) heroine. To name a few reasons, she’s self-deprecating, co-dependent, obsessive, a wallower and self-pitier, and completely devoid of self-respect. Someone ought to explain to Ms. Meyer that there’s a rather significant difference between self-loathing and humility. Bella is not humble. Bella is merely a sycophantic, relentless self-denier, and the charade gets old fast. Bella spends the entire first book alternating between hating herself, hating small-town life, and drooling embarrassingly over Edward and his beautiful, perfect body. How I was able to pull a single thread of plot out of the tangle of obsessive yarn that is the first book of the series, I don’t know. (And, if I might linger here a moment longer, since when are a deathly pallor, dark circles under the eyes, an ice-cold touch, and skin so hard “it was like cuddling with Michelangelo’s David” the marks of an attractive man? Oh, right. Since never.)

However, I’m torn as to whether it was the first or second book that was the worst, in a literary sense. It is in the second book that we get to know Jacob (the shape-shifting wolf) a little better, and, though ridiculously immature, he is likable at first. But then Edward comes back (wait – he left? yes; he leaves, on purpose, claiming he doesn’t love Bella, never has, and will never return; this, of course, sends Bella spiraling into a six-to-nine-month-long depression that Jacob sort of helps her emerge from but not really). Where were we? Oh, yes. Edward returns, and Jacob morphs into a character I had trouble liking through the remainder of the series. He whines (literally, since he’s a wolf, at times; but also figuratively, in the teenage-boy-doesn’t-get-what-he-wants way); he’s a sore loser; he tricks Bella into kissing him (which, in my book, is certified cheating), even after she declares her unwavering, undying love for Edward; he uses threat of his mortality to persuade Bella to tell him she loves him; when Edward manages to retain Bella’s fickle-seeming loyalty (though it’s unclear why he still wants it, other than that whole your-blood-smells-better-to-me-than-anyone-else’s-and-I-can-barely-keep-myself-from-sucking-you-dry-and-killing-you thing; however, that does seem more an issue of free will [or lack thereof] than of love) and it looks like Jacob won’t get his way after all, Jacob resorts to juvenile name-calling, referring to the vampires as bloodsuckers and leeches; and finally, he falls irrevocably in love with Bella and Edward’s daughter on the day she is born, which, considering the fact that he’s seventeen (and she’s less than a full day old), is incredibly disgusting and creepy.

If I must be forced to choose a team, I suppose I’d align myself with Team Edward, though he’s not without his faults too. He’s annoyingly melodramatic, jealous, possessive, and territorial of Bella, treating her as a possession rather than a person to love. He does well at hiding his irrational emotions some of the time, but in an intimate tent scene with Jacob, the reader finds out that all these emotions have boiled just below the surface the entire time. Edward makes feeble attempts at proving he loves Bella, claiming he wants to marry her before he’ll have sex with her and that she deserves to live as much of a human life as possible before he turns her into a vampire (and yet, he still does turn her into a vampire). He does stick to his guns about the marriage and sexual purity issue but only because Stephenie Meyer clearly had an alternate agenda and less than subtle message for the Mormon youth of America.

While we’re on that subject, we might as well segue into why I hate Stephenie Meyer (not as a person; just as an author). First of all, and arguably most important, at least from a literary standpoint, there are no characters I can root for. By the end of the third book, when people asked what team I was on, I replied with, “Team Nobody. Team I-hope-someone-slips-up-and-accidentally-devours-Bella.” I knew Bella wouldn’t die, but still, I have never hoped more for the death of a main character (except, perhaps, in Book 7 of Harry Potter, although that was for an entirely different reason; that was a hope to see J.K. Rowling be brave and shock her audience; a hope to see how well she could spin the narrative if she killed off the wonder wizard everyone loved best; a hope for her to make me cry really hard; in Bella’s case, I was just sick of her).

Second, Meyer paints Bella as the clear heroine of the series, and no matter what I say to dissuade them, teenage girls are going to love Bella, admire her, envy her, and imitate her. I cannot forgive Meyer, therefore, for essentially championing unhealthy, isolated, co-dependent relationships as not only normal but right. Ms. Meyer is doing the same (though a far more egregious) disservice to the current generation that the beloved Jane Austen did to the women of my generation (and beyond). My peers are either still searching for their perfect Mr. Darcy, or they are chastising their settled-upon mates for not being more like Mr. Darcy. It would behoove the entire female race to remember that just because a couple ends up together does not mean a) that their relationship is good or healthy or b) that they should be together. I’d also like to remind anyone reading this that Mr. Darcy is kind of a DB. He ridicules and insults Elizabeth repeatedly before finally (and somewhat begrudgingly, if I remember correctly) admitting that he loves her. Maybe it’s just me, but I am not a fan of hard-won love. Not that I think love or relationships are or should be easy, but chasing after a guy who treats you like garbage? Come on. At least have the dignity to admit you deserve better than that.

Back to the Twilight series: At one point, Charlie (Bella’s dad) does try to talk some sense into Bella and convince her to spend time with people other than Edward. I could laud Meyer for using such a reasonable argument and at least pretending like this is sage advice; however, it comes from Bella’s bumbling, knows-nothing-about-women-or-raising-children chief-of-police, completely out of touch father, and the reader is led to feel as if he’s being ridiculous and Bella is doing nothing wrong. So that’s a pretty big fail on Meyer’s part. She gave herself a gleaming opportunity that she then proceeded to blatantly ignore. (How can anyone respect an author who does this?)

Third, as I mentioned earlier, her message on the importance of abstinence before marriage is nothing if not screamingly clear. No reading between the lines necessary here, as Meyer appears to have a lot to learn about the art of subtlety. She goes to such lengths to harp on the idea that a couple must be married before sexual interaction can take place that the message becomes more about the legality, the piece of paper, the letter of the law, than it is about the spirit behind the covenant of marital commitment. Which is preposterous because Bella is ready to commit to Edward for eternity – and, in these books, when they say eternity, they mean it, since most of them (and finally Bella too, in the last book) are immortal. So it’s ludicrous and completely inconsistent with her character that Bella is willing to make such a hefty promise but is so adamantly opposed to an official wedding and the idea of actual matrimony.

I understand that Stephenie Meyer either received pressure from Mormon circles about the importance of stressing pre-marital abstinence or perhaps feels strongly about the issue herself. However, she went a little overboard here, to the point of disbelief (at least, for me). For the sake of the story and character consistency, how bad would it have been to just let Bella consent to be turned into a vampire (heck, even make a ceremony out of it, for all I care!) and let that stand as the symbolic significance of marriage? After all, if she’s willing to pledge herself to Edward for the entirety of forever, doesn’t that seem to send the same message – a stronger one, even? I’m disappointed that Meyer let her obsession with legalism cloud her literary discernment.

One brief comment on Meyer’s technical skill. I’m making this brief in part because it pains me to mention it (but of course, you knew I would; my profession bounds me to it) but also because there is an entire blog dedicated to chastising her errors adequately and plenty humorously. I suppose that if I could only choose one grammatical issue to plead with Stephenie Meyer to take some sort of class on or get some rudimentary or one-on-one tutelage for, it would be commas. Oh, the commas. I have never seen so many poorly placed commas in all my life, and that’s saying something because I was a writing tutor in college. By the time I was halfway through the series, I could feel my own commalating tendencies declining (yes, commalating is a word of my creation; no, you may not use it), and I’ve had to fight extra hard to be sure I remained at the top of my punctuational game these last few weeks as a result of the osmosis-induced poor-grammar plague threatening to do me in.

Having reached the end of my short but torturous journey through the Twilight series, I will say (as atheists do about their reasons for reading the Bible) that I’m glad I made the trip, for now I am at least adequately prepared to argue against it point by painstaking point. However, I must also assert that I would never, ever recommend this particular series to anyone but the most stalwart and healthy lovers of literature (and then, only for the same reasons I read it – to arm yourself with the knowledge necessary for battle against it). Weak-willed readers, those who are less well read, and the under informed are not advised to read these books. You are not strong enough to stand against Meyer and her attack on good literature* (as is evident by the fact that these books were all bestsellers – proof alone that the world is more full of morons than anything else and also that mob mentality works).

If you want to spend your time in a series and you’re adamant on reading young adult fiction and you’ve read the entire Harry Potter canon seven times over, I recommend The Hunger Games trilogy. You won’t be sorry. If you’ve already discovered and devoured Suzanne Collins’s wonderful three-part narrative about Katniss and her struggle against the ever menacing Capitol, start over and read them again. Or go for an eighth round on Harry Potter. Your time will still be better spent than it would be with Twilight. That is a guarantee.

*Those who recognized the (very) loose allusion to Hebrews 5:12-14, I commend you.


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The Myth of the Happy Ending

If I could get on a soapbox (other than this one, I guess . . . which would be silly . . . because this truly is my soapbox, but whatever), here is one thing I would say to writers everywhere: Don’t fear the tragic.

Writers tend to avoid unhappy endings. They think that a happy ending equals closure, and that does not have to be true. They also think a happy ending equals a happy reader, and that does not always have to be true either. Yes, stories often need definitive closure, but closure doesn’t have to mean happily ever after. (Whether a story really needs closure is a whole other blog post.) Writers have gotten this erroneous impression about the “need” for happy endings from readers who think that they want happy endings.

But readers do not always know what they really want in a story. And I think that by giving them what they think they want, we are insulting their intelligence and allowing them to wallow in a mire of mediocre material where they don’t realize what kind of literary luxuries they’re missing.

Let’s take a look at one of history’s most revered and respected writers – Will Shakespeare. If given ten seconds to name as many of his plays as you can, I’d be willing to bet this computer I’m typing on that in ten seconds, you could (and would) name more of his tragedies than any of his works from other genres. Heck, Romeo & Juliet is the first play that springs to most people’s minds when they think of good ol’ Shakesey. (And don’t comment and tell me something different. That just means you’re the exception or you’re showboating, and I don’t care.) After R & J, the plays I can name the fastest are these: Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, As You Like It, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Othello, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Though not all are tragedies, the first three are, which of course you should have seen coming because it proves my point, and why would I write anything contradictory to my point?

Shakespeare was a great playwright because his tragedies moved people (and still do). People get pissed off when they read Romeo & Juliet because anyone who’s ever been in a relationship that has lasted longer than a week knows that communication is the key element missing from Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and that their pathetic, dramatic, teen-emo-worthy deaths could have been avoided had they just had better communication or a little patience. (But then, where would the story be?) Still, it’s infuriating to watch these adolescent idiots moon over each other and make mountains out of molehills and end up dead because they let their hormones control them.

However, are not rage, annoyance, anger, infuriation – are they not emotions? Even if you’re sensitive (read: silly) enough to feel pity for the two lovers or mourn their deaths, is that not still a reactionary emotion? Has Shakespeare not stirred you? Of course he has! Which means he has written well.

I love the phrase character you love to hate because it describes a writer’s skill so well. There is a prime example of this technique in a movie I recently watched, He’s Just Not That Into You. In discussing this movie with a couple of my friends, I said there was a particular character (Gigi, in case anyone has seen it) in the movie whom I absolutely hated, and my friends both gushed that they loved her. I asked how they could, and they said “Because she’s so cute!” And I said, “But she’s so stupid and clueless and pathetic and annoying!” One friend argued, “But she’s supposed to be over the top. No one is really like that in real life.” Whether the character traits were exaggerated intentionally or not, the character still got under my skin and I still hated her.

Which means that the writers did a brilliant job with that character. Not to toot my own horn (but then, why would I have my own blog if I didn’t intend to do just that), but I think that my reaction to the character is “correct” and my friends’ reactions “incorrect,” in terms of assessment of technique. I don’t think viewers are supposed to love this character. If she is a well-written character and if the actress portraying her is doing what she’s supposed to be doing, then viewers should be annoyed by her because she’s absolutely ridiculous. In a movie, the ultimate effect is comical, yes. But in real life, nobody would want to be this girl’s friend. Especially not me. In essence, we are supposed to love to hate her. Which I do.

This is what tragic/sad endings are supposed to do as well. If done right, a tragic ending should anger the reader or make him cry, and if it does, the writer has achieved her goal. If you have a strong outburst of negative emotion that directly pertains to a scene in a book, then it should not matter whether you “like” to cry or you “like” sad endings. All that should matter is the fact that such a reaction was able to be evoked from you. If you don’t like to cry, all the better. Because I think it’s safe to assume that if you don’t like to cry, you don’t do it often. Which again points to the skill of the author who succeeds at making you cry.

An example of someone whom I believe fears the tragic is J.K. Rowling. If you haven’t read all seven Harry Potter books and don’t know how the series ends (and don’t want to), please do not continue. You have been warned. If you would at least like to see my conclusion, then just skip the next three paragraphs and pick up with the words I don’t respect. . . .

Before you get in a tizzy about the fact that I’m critiquing one of the world’s most renowned writers, please note that I am in no way disparaging Rowling’s talent as a writer. I think she’s brilliant, and I love her series. But I think she got afraid of where it was going and took control near the end instead of letting the story and characters take their natural course.

I would have loved to see her kill off Harry. Of course I love Harry, but that’s exactly why I was hoping he would die. My outpouring of emotion over the death of one of my favorite literary characters of all time would have been intense, and it would have been warranted and well earned. Now, I know that Rowling is no stranger to tragedy in her fiction. I know she kills off a lot of people, especially in her last two books, and I did cry over most of them. But what courage it would have taken for her to kill Harry, and what skill it would have required!

Writers who risk everything by being bold and daring enough to be willing to upset readers are met with a challenge that forces skill, determination, and supreme effort. And the ones who succeed are to be commended rather than decried. I still love Rowling, and I know my opinion in the literary world is worth nothing (but then, that’s why I blog about it instead), but I’d have really respected her a whole lot more if she’d been courageous enough to kill him. And I was superbly disappointed by her attempt at closure in her happily-ever-after epilogue. To me, that felt like a coward trying to hide his shame.

I don’t respect readers who say they don’t like sad endings. If that is really true, then they aren’t realizing their full potential as readers. To me, this is like the person who says he avoids dating or relationships because he’s afraid of getting hurt. This person isn’t doing himself any favors. Instead, by closing himself off from love or the possibility of it, he’s missing out on a lot of fantastic emotions and feelings and experiences.

I can neither respect nor relate to people like this. I don’t care if I end up hurt. Wounds heal, and a broken heart isn’t going to kill me. I’d rather have the laughter, the physical touch, the intensity of shared emotion, and the chemistry and spark that come from human connection. Tears always dry eventually.

So for the sake of their readers’ emotional education, writers have to be willing to break hearts. It doesn’t mean that everything they write has to be sad. But all writers should be more open to the idea of hurting their readers, and all readers should be more open to the idea of getting hurt.


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