It’s a provocative title, I know. Do not fear: this is not another Twilight-bashing post, but an honest attempt at an exploration of why I don’t like it.
Our good friend and one of our most loyal patrons, Mr. John Granger, is continuing to write about the critical reception of Twilight in posts at HogPro. It’s interesting stuff, even if I remain skeptical, after reading the first novel, that Twilight delivers anything that can be legitimately compared with the artistry of Harry Potter. Mr. Granger’s question, “Why are the books so popular,” remains an important one, and despite my dislike for Meyer’s fiction, I’m helping him take up his new post as a virtual professor at “Forks High School” in the coming week or so. My few Twilight musings here should not be read as public challenges to Mr. Granger’s work on the stories; rather, I see them as friendly counterparts and counterpoints to his discussion. In other words, I’ve been the “bad cop” in the Twilight discussion.
The question I’ve been working out in my mind is this: If there are legitimate parallels between the elitist, Harold-Bloom-like critical reception of Harry Potter and Twilight, and it can be demonstrated that Twilight is popular because there is something deeper going on in the story – an LDS anagogical tale of the relationship between God and humanity (the jury is out for me on this until I read the remaining 3 novels) – why do I so strongly dislike it? I think it’s fair for me to say of myself that I don’t fit the Bloom-like elitist category. If we take Mr. Granger’s “Governor Palin Syndrome” example, I think I’ll make my point clearly enough: while it’s fair to say that “elitist” members of the media tore Gov. Palin to pieces primarily because she was a conservative, I clearly don’t fit that category, being a paleo-libertarian (a conservative libertarian) – and I remain adamantly (very, very adamantly) opposed to Ms. Palin as a politician. Not all opponents of Gov. Palin suffer from this “syndrome.” See Peggy Noonan.
So, back to the question: If I, and other readers I know, don’t fit into the category of Bloom-like critics (after all, we think he’s nuts on Potter, right?), why don’t we like Twilight?
I think Tolkien may have answered this question for me. Revisiting his brilliant essay, “On Fairy-Stories,” for my forthcoming essay on Beedle the Bard in Hog’s Head Conversations (Zossima, Spring 2009), I came across the following lines:
[Students of folklore] are inclined to say that two stories built round the same folk-lore motive, or are made up of a generally similar combination of such motives, are ‘the same stories.’ […] Statements of that kind may express … some element of truth; but they are not true in a fairy-story sense, they are not true in art or literature. It is precisely the colouring, the atmosphere, the unclassifiable individual details of a story, and above all the general purport that informs with life the undissected bones of the plot, that really count.
Even if it could be demonstrated that Meyer is writing, for instance, another recasting of the alchemical drama, which drama I find very moving, my personal frustration is with the “colouring.” The imaginative world that comprises Twilight is not compelling to me in the least, because I think the writing and the artistry is not only not magisterial, but not even close to Rowling, whose writing is also not magisterial. Rowling’s world is intricately filled with magnificent “colouring,” and with an “atmosphere” that captures the “certain mood and power” of the Perilous Realm. Meyer uses phrases that aren’t just tired, they’re exhausted, sick, and on their deathbeds, to describe the same two or three obsessions over and over again. I still stand by the majority of what I said here. I’m willing to bend on my statement that “the novel operates at no deeper level than the surface story,” but after one novel, I’m still not willing to say I feel any “mood or power” of the Perilous Realm.
In short, Rowling creates a believable journey through Faerie, and what I’ve read of Meyer thus far does not compel me to move forward to learn more about her world and its characters. The extent to which this is personal preference, as opposed to a legitimate complaint about bad writing, is still somewhat vague to me. Your comments and corrections will, I’m sure, be helpful in clearing up my own thoughts.
This leads me, of course, to a dilemma:
- I have not read all 4 volumes of the Twilight Saga, which means I remain uninformed. James W. Thomas scolds those who suffer from the PRUBONic plague, PRUBON being “Presumptive Reader Unworthiness Based on Non-Reading.” I agree with him, which means beyond explaining my dislike of the first novel, I have to reserve final judgment on the entire saga.
- I have absolutely no inclination or desire or even vague curiosity to read the remaining novels because of the extent to which I disliked the first one.
All of which means this will probably be my last critical post on Twilight. I’ve said all I need to say about the first novel, and I probably won’t get to the others until long after the hype has died down (at which point, I’ll have even less reason to read them, since “What’s the hype all about?” won’t be a motivating factor.) I’ll quietly follow our favorite professor’s posts from here on out, and at the Hog’s Head, I’ll only link Twilight items of interest with brief comments. Should I get around to the remaining three (maybe on audiobook?), I’ll resume commentary.
Stay tuned for another post later today, not on the topic of Twilight itself, but on some of its readers.