Monday, October 19, 2009

The Twilight Zone

When I walked into the bookstore on Saturday for a copy of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, I was blindsided by a display positioned directly in front of the door. It announced proudly: "If You Liked Twilight..."

And over its surface, spread over each available inch, was a plethora of merchandise featuring Robert Something-Something and the shirtless guy that plays Jacob. Also there was the Expressionless Girl, whatever her name is. Even when she's smiling, she isn't. What's the deal with that?

I skirted around the table, then marched over to Young Adult.

I guess I was asking for it, really. Going to the YA shelves like that. But I had a good reason.

See, I buy all the YA books for our library. Meaning I decide what we get and what we don't. Usually, my decision is based on 3-4 positive reviews on a particular book, or the requests of readers. But every once and a while--or all the time--there are books that aren't reviewed. This happens a lot with YA. Especially when certain novels cross over from the adult section. And that's all the time.

What I do is this: I go to the bookstore, and I read chunks of all the new books I'm not familiar with. I also take a closer look at some of the things I'm interested in, and some of the things written by authors I am familiar with but whose novels weren't in the journals I read. Field research.

So I went through the new books, I looked at them, and then I saw it.

Here it is.

On the surface, it looked just like another Twilight novel.

It had the red on black look, but it was different. And I thought...If there were a new Twilight book, I would know. So I looked a little closer.

Do you see it?


Right up there above the title?

Yeah. That's right.

One of the greatest classics of British Literature, endorsed by two fictional characters.

Let's ignore for a moment, the fact that the Twilight series is a blundered retelling of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. I've ranted about that before. Along with the whole feminism thing, how Bella has no soul and is so dependent on Edward (and men in general) that she might as well be tethered to the wall and cared for by her varied love interests in every way.

We've explored how Bella treated each man in her life like he existed entirely for her benefit, to give her the attention she wanted when she wanted it, to pick her up and race through the woods to escape all the varied individuals bent on destroying her, despite the fact that she had no personality to speak of.

I'm done with that now. If you want more, I'm sure you'll be able to find it somewhere in this blog. If not this one, some other blog. I'm not repeating my whole line of reasoning.

"Bella and Edward's Favorite Book"

There it is. Reprinted for you. I can't recreate the Twilight font, although you can find it online, since I have it on this computer.

Does Emily Bronte, or English literature, for that matter, really need Twilight merchandising to convince readers that Wuthering Heights is a novel worthy of their attentions?

No.

This novel has been around since 1847. And during that whole length of time, people have read it.

Now, in the days of required reading, high school students are forced to crack it open and drudge through the Yorkshire dialect of Joseph, the stupidity of Catherine (the first), the confusion of all those characters that share a first name, last name, or first and last name...

But if there was nothing worthwhile about Wuthering Heights but its ability to strike fear into the hearts of hapless high school students, it wouldn't vie with Pride and Prejudice as the best love story of all time.

Ha. In your face, Twilight series.

Bottom line: Wuthering Heights does not need Twilight's stamp of approval in order to be bought, sold, and discussed.

It will survive longer than Twilight. It already has.

All the ways we can sit down and discuss Wuthering Heights do not carry over to Twilight. What are the symbols in Twilight? The lion and the lamb? Hmmm...could that be Bella and Edward? Oh, yeah. It is! Oh...and let's see...major theme, major themes...temptation! Redemption! Wow! That was crazy easy! Now let me write an essay on...wait. I can't. I don't have enough material.

Because in all four giant books, there isn't enough depth to the text for me to write a critical essay. Nor would there be any room for people to debate. You read a chunk, and you just know. No subtext, no deep character analysis is possible, you just read.

Oh, and let's talk writing! That's fun! No, I mean it. It is fun. Stop laughing. I'm being serious!

Here is the opening lines of chapter one of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight: "My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt--sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka" (Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. Megan Tingley Books Little, Brown and Company: New York, Boston, 2005).

What can we draw from this? She's heading for the airport, that signifies a change in her life, possibly a drastic one. Only her mother is with her...this may become important later. Her mother is sending her away? White lace--we could see this as a wedding of sorts. Leaving her mother's house to go to a new home, but a colder one. Crueler, more difficult. She needs no protection from Phoenix's weather or her life there. Forks, however, is another story.

Wuthering Heights? Here we go; chapter one, paragraph one: "I have just returned from a visit to my landlord--the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's heaven; and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name."

Look at the language. Lockwood will be troubled with Heathcliff (whose name embodies the harshness of their surroundings). They are removed from society, a misanthropist's heaven--this will mean more when we find out how much hatred exists between those living in the surrounding area. They will divide the desolation. Unhappily, if we examine Heathcliff's body language.

Heathcliff withdraws and continues to do so, even after he knows who his visitor is. Readers may also look for race as a theme in the novel--hinted to with Heathcliff's eyes. This becomes more evident as we learn more about Heathcliff's background. Heathcliff will not shake his visitor's hand; we know he is avoiding others. Later we find out that he has taken to concealing weapons on his person--perhaps that was what his fingers were seeking under his coat.

We also know that the land they live in is a contradiction--the contrast between all that is evil and all that is holy and good--almost as if the moor divides heaven (Lockwood's rented property and home to the Lintons--Thrushcross Grange)and hell (Wuthering Heights--home to Heathcliff and the Earnshaws).

Lockwood likens himself to Heathcliff, but even as we read the opening paragraph, we know that to be untrue. Lockwood, no matter his faults, is a saint compared to Heathcliff.

Okay.

I'm stopping myself now, you've had enough literary analysis.

I could go on with Wuthering Heights, though.

But I won't.

I'm afraid I made a bit of a scene in Barnes and Nobles. It started with my proclamation that Wuthering Heights is one of the great enduring classics of English literature, that we owe Emily Bronte and her family a debt of gratitude for the gifts they left us, that for 162 years we have read and loved Wuthering Heights as a civilization and Twilight barely has five years of existence and it is but a pale retelling of the former.

I got kind of loud.

Mom left me by myself, so not only was I yelling, I was yelling alone.

Crazy looks worse when you don't have an audience.

I knew this, and I knew that it would all get worse if someone didn't try to talk me down. So I called Jennifer. She said that, as long as people were reading Wuthering Heights, it was okay. Because people who might not ever have read Wuthering Heights might read it now.

This is perfectly reasonable. But their motivation to read Wuthering Heights is flawed, as they are depending on the endorsement of two fictional characters to prompt them to read Wuthering Heights.

That's kind of like listening to the voices in your head when they tell you what movie to go see on Saturday night.

But, fine. If that's what makes them happy...

Then I wandered over to philosophy and found a copy of The Philosophy of Twilight.

That was it.

I am using this forum as an opportunity to declare that I am sick and tired of the Twilight phenomenon. I don't want to see another display with Mr. Without-a-Shirt, Mr. Widely-Set-Eyes-and-Untidy-Hair, or Ms. No-Facial-Expression. I don't want to hear another person extolling the virtues of this work, showing off their new t-shirt, etc.

That being said, I have to go to see the movie. Why? Work, that's why. I have to see it. And I don't want to. So here is my solution: I will go. I will see it mid-day during the weekend and then I will drive over to some restaurant to eat some delicious food. I and my companion(s) will then commence a reaming of the film, complete with personal insults to the characters we dislike (all of them).

Then, when I have finished this, I will move on with my life until such a time as I am faced with another film, book, or all other things Twilight related.

This thing has been merchandised to death. Stephanie Meyer's will never have to work another second of her life. She can sit back and not drink (because of the Mormon thing), and watch (some) television, and sleep as long as she wants. She's making so much money, you would not believe it. But she has the right to make money off of her work.

But I hate how much the publisher is making, the misery that they are inflicting on us. The sickening thing is how many journals, bookmarks, coffee cups, bumper stickers, fashion dolls, jewelry, and related board games the publisher is selling to the world at large. You can't go anywhere without it. And other writers are cashing in too, writing Twilight-esque novels to ensure good sales and better contracts. They're like leeches, feeding on teenagers with endless cash and no fiscal responsibilities.

I am certain, though, in the tenuous place Twilight has in literary history. It will never have a place on the shelf next to Austen or Bronte(s). This means that my ordeal will, perhaps, end.

Someday.

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