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November 12, 2012

Comments

Tori

You make excellent points about the relationship! I find it disturbing, although I can concede that books are not made to teach lessons. I will say, however, that I don't find Edward and Bella's relationship to be the most disturbing part of the series. I dislike the concept of imprinting. As a process, it's inherently sexual. It's described as the wolves developing deep attachments to the girls who will be the best possible mate for them--and then Quil imprints on a two-year-old. The narrator tells the reader that he'll just be her friend and protector--until when? When will he switch from father/brother to boyfriend? What ramifications could this have? The girls who have been imprinted on don't automatically feel any sort of connection, like the boys do; it is just assumed that they will accept their roles in the new relationship. If they don't, the werewolves will suffer horribly (Jacob "can't" be too far away from Reneesme, for instance), and it will be their fault.

I also don't like that the undying devotion of the wolves in question always changes their imprint-mate's minds. In the books, werewolf Sam was in love with Leah until he imprinted on Leah's cousin Emily. Emily initially wants nothing to do with him, but he is so devoted to her that she cannot resist him and dates him anyway, ruining her relationship with her closest friend. It seems assumed that the girls will eventually be won over, and although Jacob (and Bella) both question the ethics of this, they both accept it in the end.

In the Twilight world, this is what makes me the most uncomfortable: that grown men are sexually linked to individuals who are currently children, and that it is assumed that the women upon whom the wolves imprint will love them back or else.

Malinda Lo

You asked: "Will reading ANY of my high school English texts convince girls that they are lesser beings than males, unworthy of having their own stories, and worth only being a love interest or model for bad behavior?"

I think it's important to remember that Twilight is part of a broader cultural context (just as parts of the story in Twilight exist within the context of the entirety of the Twilight novel) -- and perhaps part of the reason there is so much critique of Twilight is because it's one of the most popular representations of romance in popular culture today. I don't know if reading one novel will convince girls that they're lesser beings than males, but all novels exist within the broader cultural context. When the predominant cultural narrative (that runs through books, TV, film, etc.) suggests that girls are lesser beings than males, that is a real problem. And yes, I do believe that the predominant cultural narrative positions girls as lesser beings -- even though I also believe there are many people resisting this narrative from many angles.

It can feel overwhelmingly difficult to fight against ALL of popular culture, so perhaps people focus on one cultural product (e.g. Twilight) as representative of a broader trend. That is certainly not fair, but I do believe that culture changes one person -- or one cultural production -- at a time.

But I also agree that it's wrong to ridicule Twilight and its creator, and to laud those who do so. That is both unkind and unproductive.

Jessica

I really hope that books aren't causal to behavior- I read A LOT of Stephen King and the like when I was younger, and I'd hate to be possessed by an evil being and go on a killing spree. That would, like, totally ruin my year.

About 6 years ago I read a book called "Reading Lolita in Tehran". If you haven't read it- go read it. Right now. Seriously, it's amazing. In it, the author (Azar Nafisi) makes a point about reading fiction that has stuck with me. "A novel is not an allegory...It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don't enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing." This point that empathy is at the heart of a novel I think gets to the bottom of the point you're making here, Shannon. Books aren't perfect representations of perfect people doing perfect things. The entire point of reading fiction is to experience something other- another place, another point of view, etc...

Jenni Elyse

When I read Twilight, I'll admit that I was just as smitten with Edward as Bella was. And, I remember feeling so uneasy about the love triangle that I nearly couldn't finish Eclipse when Bella kissed Jacob. My husband and I were going through a rough patch at that time and the fact that Bella could be swayed away from the love of her life really upset me.

But, then, after I finished reading the series I realized how unhealthy Bella's and Edward's relationship was in the real world. And, yes, there are things even in Meyer's world that show that the relationship is very co-dependent. But, because it's fiction, I don't mind it. I can separate it from reality.

I'm a grown woman, though. If I had read this as a teenager, how would I have looked at Edward? I'm not sure. But, knowing how I was with my other crushes, I probably would've put him on a pedestal and ignored all his flaws. BUT, eventually, I would've realized how unreal their relationship is just like all the happily ever afters in the Disney animated movies. The struggle for their relationship is before they get together not once they're married. The thing I like about Breaking Dawn is that it shows that marriage isn't all peaches and cream. Spouses fight and disagree, but hopefully they can come to a mutual understanding and still love one another.

Honestly, though, I think if people are going to criticize Twilight for the message it MAY send to teenage girls, then I think they should also criticize Disney and for the message of selfishness, superiority, and unrealistic expectations sends to young girls.

For the most part, girls are going to grow out of it. They'll realize it's not real life and move on.

Donna

As a middle school librarian, I have to consider many things when ordering and checking out books to my students. I read the Twilight series and really enjoyed it but was a little uncomfortable with my youngest students reading the whole series. I am a big believer in keeping children children as long as possible and that means watching out for sexual content in the books that they read. There's nothing sexually graphic at all in Twilight but the innuendo is certainly there. If I were the parent of a little girl, I wouldn't want her to read that book until at least 8th grade because I would like to think that I would also be careful of what she watched on television, which, admittedly, shows far more graphic sex than anything Bella and Edward in the first book. I do not tell a 6th grade girl that she cannot check out the Twilight books but I will certainly try to talk her out of it. If that doesn't work, I will ask that she bring a note from a parent or guardian giving their permission. Twilight is not the only book I do that for but it's the most popular. The movies, I think, are actually worse because there's a good chance that a young girl might miss the innuendo in a book whereas the movie will splash it all over the huge screen! I do have a problem with how wimpy Bella is and I will suggest other books with stronger female characters and that are more well-written (Shannon Hale books, for instance, but also Kristen Cashore and Robin McKinley). But, if they want to check out Twilight and mom doesn't have a problem with it, then Twilight it is. I don't believe in censorship but it's a pretty fine line between censorship and protecting children from controversial content!

Bridget

I am not part of the Twilight fandom, so I have difficulty addressing your questions (which center around direct cause and effect real life examples). I am a Disney scholar, though, and I can speak a little to that and to princess culture.

I have friends who are mothers constantly complaining to me about the passive princesses their daughters have become rapidly obsessed with. I've read Peggy Orenstein's popular criticism of Disney Princesses, in which she laments her four year old daughter wanting to emulate Ariel, who gave up her voice, or Snow White, who passively waits for a man to rescue her.

I don't dismiss these mothers' concerns. I do tell them that so long as they are active engagers in their daughters' (and sons')lives that they probably don't need to worry about their daughters growing up to be passive and subservient to men. But I can understand their fear and concern when their daughters are telling them at age four that their greatest wish is to get married and live happily ever after with the man of their dreams. Women my age -girls born pre-Disney Princess franchise (2000)- rarely expressed such a wish. Since the Disney Princess franchise is so new, we have no way of knowing how it will affect today's girls (and boys).

I can thus understand the fear and concern that people have regarding Twilight and its teen readers. I know very few teenagers in my life (I am in my 30's and most of my friends have very young children). I myself have not read Twilight, mostly because it's terribly written and I just can't enjoy it (though I've certainly tried). Of the women I know who've read it, the more educated and academic women laugh at it and take pleasure in its awfulness, while the less educated women do seem to genuinely believe that Edward is an ideal man. Many of these women are social conservatives and adhere to social convention regarding a woman's place in society (keep in mind that I live in the deep south).

I am not part of the Twilight fandom, but I am part of the BL anime/manga fandom. A great many BL manga feature abusive relationships between the seme (masculine) character and the uke (feminine) character. I've encountered countless blogs and forums where teen and pre-teen girls praise and worship these abusive seme characters, claim they are the perfect boyfriends, and wish they could be in such a relationship. Let me be clear: in many of these depicted "relationships," the seme rapes the uke because he "loves him so much" and can't contain himself. And young female readers respond to this accordingly by expressing in various online spaces that they find this "romantic" and want to meet a guy just like that.

Twilight is part of a cultural conversation that advocates persistence of the conservative, submissive woman. The relationship in Twilight is not presented as abusive; it is presented as ideal. This is why it concerns many feminists (male and female alike) such as myself.

I have certainly never abused Stephanie Meyer or those who enjoyed her books. But I will say that the books are very badly written, and I will absolutely express a concern about what they advocate.

Now I'll try to answer the questions you posed since I do think they're interesting:

Will reading Harry Potter encourage children to engage in witchcraft?

Yes, insomuch as children will/have likely become interested in magic and spells and will maybe even hope against hope that magic is real, but of course... it isn't (as far as I'm aware). Only extremely religiously conservative people view "pretend magic" as threatening, however.

Will reading Romeo & Juliet encourage teens to commit suicide over love?

Unlikely, as suicide is generally attached to depression.

Will reading ANY of my high school English texts convince girls that they are lesser beings than males, unworthy of having their own stories, and worth only being a love interest or model for bad behavior?

Unlikely, assuming the teachers in your high school English classes led proper discussions of these texts. You're also more intelligent and thoughtful than the average person. (Educated people sometimes forget this about themselves.)

Does reading (and loving) a book make us into different people than we would have been? What effect does it really have?

Good books make us think about ourselves and our experiences. Reading Robin McKinley's Deerskin at age 14, for example, had a tremendous impact on my life. It helped me to recognize abuse.

Are some right to be genuinely concerned that Twilight will lead impressionable young girls into abusive relationships? Or convince them that the abusive relationship they're in at the moment is actually good for them? Has this happened?

I think my comments have already addressed this.

Amanda Brown

I don't think Twilight damages young readers, especially with all the controversy around it. At this point, if you want to be like Bella and be the center of worldwide ridicule, than I think you have more problems than just reading a book.

When I was in high school, we read lots of books with the same idea. A young-ish person finds something they love or think they will love whether it be a person or a life path or a philosophical realization. Then they attempt to pursue that goal, either with a relationship or whatever. Then, it fails miserably and ruins their lives forever, causing them to live in sadness or commit suicide or die. (Ethan Frome, Summer, The Awakening, 1984, and there were others). No wonder so many young people have depression. Literature tells us our lives will be miserable.

Julia

As a young adult reader myself, this post really spoke to me. This is completely off topic, but this post reminded me of the Nazi book burning. Books were burned because of the ideas that they explored and because of what the author believed. In my mind, this act in history is one of the most relevant examples of how powerful books are.

However, this act was completely unfair. Just to assume that whoever picked up one of the banned books would be completely turned against Nazism and hate Hitler's guts isn't right, is it?

I'm not saying that teenage girls shouldn't be cautious about what they read, but is it really our place to say that whoever reads Twilight will think that being in an abusive relationship is okay? Or, for that matter, will any of the other ideas expressed in the books have an impact on their thinking?

I love how Shannon says that reading is entirely personal, because I totally agree. Only we control what impacts us and what doesn't.

Kate Foley

Admittedly, I've never read Twilight, so in some ways I shouldn't be participating in the conversation. However, I do know enough about it to know that it is NOT my kind of book, since I'm not a huge romance person, and I've heard that the writing is pretty bad, and I really have no interest in a human, werewolf, vampire love triangle. Though I can't judge it too harshly since I've never read it.

I don't think we should let books influence our choices too much. I think we should look truthfully at the characters' faults and strengths. I don't think we should choose a book or character to be our "role model". I'm not a huge fan of "role models" since I think that no one is perfect. I might look to Taylor Swift as a role model for songwriting but I would not look to her as a role model for love.

So I guess I think that people should take away the good in a book or character, but not the bad. And realize that no book or character is perfect and that it really comes down to what we think is right.

Kate Foley

I would also like to add that I LOVE strong feminine characters like Miri, Katniss, most every girl character in books written by Tamora Pierce, and many others. I think this influences my writing, since most of my books have a female main character that doesn't need a prince or any other man to save her.

Amelia Loken

I may be a rare Twilight fence sitter. It seemed all my friends and sisters in law were reading Twilight a few years ago. Finally I picked up the first. It was easy to be swept inside the novel and feel the strong emotions of Bella. I went on quickly to the second. When Edward walks away in Eclipse and the following chapters were blank. I thought that was such a wonderful literary tool to show the emptiness in Bella's life. I have struggled with post-partum depression and seasonal depression and could relate to Bella's emotions throughout 'Eclipse'. Sometimes in life, there are situations that knock the breath out of us and it takes months to grieve and to come alive again. For me the portion of Bella's story that dealt with coming alive again was more powerful than the love story.

(It was probably indicative of the place I was in my life at the time.)
The whole introduction of the Volturi during the ending of the book seemed so jarring and horrible, I lost interest in reading any more of the series.

I have since gone to the marathon movie nights with friends who are Twilight junkies and love the emotion of the moment. I do want to see the final episode this month. But it is a story that never fully connected with.

I have friends who still get starry eyed about Edward or Jacob. I have friends who roll their eyes at the very mention of Twilight. But for me, the most powerful book was the first half of 'Eclipse', the story about going on when nothing is left. That is what moved me.

Bridget

Reading over everyone else's great responses (Malinda Lo! OMG!)and just think Shannon, you are so awesome for giving your readers and fans a space to talk about these kinds of weighty and relevant but FUN topics!

Lori

I'm not an expert, but it seems to me that there must be something in the lives of those who complain so loudly about the Twilight books that causes such strong feelings. Also, I think that it may be the movies and not the books themselves that led to the strong dislike of the series. It seems that the actress magnified the weaker characteristics of "Bella", making her seem much less interested in her own story than the books, where you are constantly in Bellas head. Like many of the previous commenters, I feel that it is important as a parent to be aware of what is in the books your children read so that you can have a good conversation about what is healthy and what is not. But, I find that Twilight is fantasy, imaginative and enjoyable. There are many darker books out there aimed at teens. Kudos to Stephenie Meyer for creating such a thought provoking, original and creative story.

melissa @ 1lbr

I have been really enjoying reading others' comments and I find the discussion very lively and interesting. I have no experiences in seeing people in real life idealizing an abusive relationship because he's their "Edward." I'll be interested to hear people's stories.

But I think that you have a great point that these books are not read in isolation - people read (hopefully) and watch other things. They interact with people who have different opinions. Hopefully impressionable teens and tweens have adults in their lives to help them make healthy smart decisions. I believe one book will not shape their entire relationship ideal. I believe they will, like that wonderfully brave teen you quoted, see that some things in their lives may not be healthy and books can often highlight those things. And help us change them.

Autumn

One of the things Twilight does that no other YA book I've ever read does is have the characters talk about sex and then decide to wait. I'm surprised to read someone thinks Kristen Cashore's books are better for young readers because the sex in those is casual and I feel the health risks associated with portraying that as "good" or "normal" is far greater than Bella being "weak". I'd love a list of YA books that address the topic of sex and the main relationship in it is "healthy". Seriously, anyone feel free to message me some.

PS: Being a married woman I think my friends and I have discussed the relationship in The Actor and the Housewife much more extensively than anything from Twilight ;)

Kristin

I don't think that there's a huge danger of many people wanting to become a vampire because they read Twilight or trying to cast spells with a wand because they love the Harry Potter series. But I do think we're much more likely to pick up subtle characteristics from our favorite book characters, the ones in the stories that we reread over and over.

Kat

I love how you bring up the issue of context in Twilight. One of the most frequent criticism of Twilight I hear is, "Edward tries to control everything Bella does" referring, I assume, to the first half of Eclipse when Edward tries to prevent Bella from seeing Jacob. I always want to ask these people, "If YOU had a loved one who wanted to go visit someone who you genuinely believed could hurt or kill her, would you let her go without a fuss?" Does that makes Edward's actions right? Perhaps not. But I think it's important to consider the context of what you're reading and talking about. Also, Edward takes a huge character development leap when he realizes halfway through the book that he IS wrong and decides to let Bella do whatever she pleases, even if it makes him unhappy.
That's one of the things I really love about the books. I admit when I first read the books in middle school, I thought the characters were perfect. I loved them, so I didn't WANT to see their flaws. But as I got older and read the books over, I started to recognize the characters' flaws. Bella is reckless and selfish and has VERY poor decision-making skills. Edward is melodramatic and self-centered and jealous and pretentious. But somehow it makes me love both of them so much more. They have these daunting flaws but don't we all? Their flaws make them real, and when they overcome and learn from these flaws, it makes their successes all the sweeter. In Eclipse, Edward asks Bella why she likes Wuthering Heights so much and she comments that although the characters aren't great people, their love redeems them, and I think the same applies to Twilight.

Bridget

Autumn, FYI, in the Meg Cabot's THE PRINCESS DIARIES, Mia is very adamant about wanting to wait.

Amanda

So from one of the posters, this is what I took away, because I love Twilight, I must be uneducated. I have always read a lot, and quite a variety. Twilight inspired me to read Pride and Prejudice and Withering Heights. I had never read them and I loved them. I also love Austen's other works, and the other Bronte works. I even enjoyed Dickens. I study Latin for fun, but loving Twilight means I am uneducated? I am thankful for empathy, however, since I don't agree with the naysayers, I must be uneducated. Way before Twilight, my marriage could/would have been considered abusive. Maybe I should have left, but I didn't. I have been married 16 years and would have missed a decade of a great and growing and maturing relationship. So because I REALLY relate to Bella, what should that say about me? What it says is we all have our own oath to follow and should just quit judging others. I am educated, I learn new things all the time. Unless you have walked in my shoes, or Bella's, quit judging.

Jenny

You are so rad, Shannon Hale!

Miranda

I have to disagree with the idea that Twilight is poorly written. I think that was the first book since Harry Potter that I just couldn't put down. And, in most cases, I think it makes good points. I don't think Edward is abusive. Maybe a tad overprotective, but given the fact that Bella is constantly close to getting herself killed, I can understand that. My problem with the series comes in New Moon and Eclipse, when Bella starts to lead Jacob on. I thought it was cruel of her to make him think she liked him when all she wanted were hallucinations of Edward. However, I agree with the point made that in some instances, when you read a book what you take away from the characters is what you shouldn't be. After thinking about Jacob's situation, I decided I would never try to lead someone on. And there are many amazing qualities about Bella as well, particularly her devotion to her daughter.

Kathryn Purdie

If I wanted to write a book about perfect role models, I'd be writing non-fiction.

Characters have to grow, just like real people should. They're flawed, which is why we relate to them. Over the course of the story, they are tested. Their weaknesses are magnified, and they make BIG mistakes. The biggest enemy they have to defeat is themselves. With any luck, the main character and her friends will have grown and changed by the end of the novel. And by the end of the Twilight series, Bella, Edward and Jacob are all much better and "healthier" people than they began as. There's a lesson in that if people are willing to truly go on the journey with them. Believe me, sometimes I'm so mad at Bella, I want to chuck the book at the wall. But I keep reading, and Bella keeps learning. And I feel satisfied with the journey I took with her by the end.

Sherry

I find Bridget's comments to be horribly snobbish. To try to stereotype Twilight readers as absolutes by education level is ridiculous. I would think the very fact that Shannon is here defending it would suggest your circle of experience is too narrow.

I read Twilight, I also just finished Tolstoy. My favorite writers are mostly feminists. I'm educated and working towards my PhD. My dearest friend has a Masters degree and works for the government. We both like Twilight. And we laugh about the fact that we both like it. It's not something either of us would have expected. It's certainly not the type of book we typically read.

Neither of us are ashamed of liking the book. It was entertaining and a fun escape. A chance to remember the extreme emotions we had in high school. We see things that are wrong with it, sure, but I wasn't reading it to learn anything or for literary merit. I wanted a fun, easy escape, and I got one.

My husband, who has a Masters in English Literature and a JD, also read the first book. He runs a book review site, mostly focusing on works in translation. This is as far from his typical fare as possible, and yet he enjoyed it. It took him to a different world, one he never would have gone to on his own. I think broadening our experiences so intentionally is a good thing.

Reading is an experience. We shouldn't begrudge anyone their experience, or make blind assumptions about their character based on the experiences they choose. At the very least, lets not try to lump them into a group of "thems."

Terri

The first time I read New Moon I felt that if a real person responded to their boyfriend leaving the way Bella did then that real person would need some serious therapy. My dad died when I was fairly young. I have watched my mom struggle to raise her children on her own and then suffer from lonliness now that most of the kids have grown. I have seen that you don't just give up when you loose someone close to you.

However, even with this experience in my background, I felt that Bella's reaction worked for the novel. I do believe that books can create workable situations that would never be plausable in real life. If a girl did develop an unhealthy view of relationships because of Edward and Bella it wouldn't necessarily be the fault of the novel. I believe that the girl would already have been influenced either by poor examples in her life or a negative self image.

I do have some serious reservations about the books though. I feel there are several parts (especially in the last two books) that are inappropriate for young teens and even one or two parts that older teens shouldn't be exposed to. I realize that my opinions are very conservative and will not be shared by everyone (maybe only a few). I was very uncomfortable with the part in Eclipse were Bella tries to convince Edward to have sex with her. She even laughs at him when he explains why he doesn't want to have sex before he is married. She then agrees to getting married not because she wants to make that commitment but because she wants to have that one "human" experience before she becomes a vampire (which I believe is much scarier decision than marriage).

I bring up this specific example because I think girls will be more negatively influenced by Bella's attitude about sex than they will be by the power dynamics of her and Edward's relationship. Even if Edward could be classified as abusive; unhealthy relationships are not socially acceptable. Not in the way that premarital, and even teenage, sex is. I believe that teens in general are constantly being exposed to unhealthy and unrealistic ideas about sex. I applaud Stephenie Meyer for having her characters wait until marriage. Not every author chooses to do that. I am concerned that Bella only abstains because Edward is "old fashioned". This is a much more concerning because almost every form of media makes it seem perfectly acceptable for young people to sleep together. We need to consider that these are books that are generally considered clean when compared to some others. What does that tell our girls when even a "tame" book still portrays the main character as not only wanting to have sex but trying to convince her boyfriend that it is a good idea even though he is uncomfortable with it?

I do want to say that Stephenie has an amazing ability to pull emotion out of her readers. It is because so many people love these books (I even counted myself among them at one time) that I am concerned about their influence on teen girls and the girls ideas about sex.

Ellie

I read Twilight in middle school and just ate it up. I loved it to death. When the anti-Twilight fad first started growing, I defended the books to my last breath. To those who claimed poor writing or plot, I said, “Pshaw. What are you talking about? They’re fantastic!”

But as time went on, I started looking back on the series and thinking about what I’d read, and I realized that a lot of the things people had been saying were true. And the more I thought about it, the more I came to dislike the series.

It’s hard to explain exactly why I don’t like the books anymore. To be perfectly honest, it probably stemmed at least a little bit from peer pressure--everyone else hated the books, and I felt silly saying that I liked them. But even though it may have started as trying to join the crowd, I really do have legitimate reasons now. I’ve never really been able to articulate them before, but these blog posts and comments, especially, have gotten me thinking about exactly what it is that I dislike about the series. I don’t know if any of this will make much sense, but here goes.

First of all, the books really are poorly written. (Sorry, but it’s not just an easy reading style--Dr. Seuss books are easy reading, but they’re beautifully well-written. Twilight... isn’t.) Also, the reasons Edward and Bella fall in love really bother me. She falls in love with him because he's gorgeous. He falls in love with her because she smells good. That’s it. That's not love.

But my main problems with the series lie in Bella herself. The first thing is that she’s too perfect--her only "flaw" is that she's clumsy, and, really, that's not a flaw. But it’s not just that--Bella is too dependent on Edward for her own good. The first time I read the second book, the part after Edward leaves and Bella becomes so depressed hit me hard. I thought it was really romantic and sad. And, yes, depression is a very real thing--believe me, I know. But at the same time, looking back after reading the book, I realized how much it bothered me that Bella is so dependent on her boyfriend that she is incapable of rational *anything* until she has him back. When I read The Actor and the Housewife, it didn't bother me that Becky becomes so depressed after... well, I won't say it if someone hasn't read the book. But it felt realistic and... I don't know. It felt like that’s how someone would and... well maybe not should, but that’s how they would reasonably react. That’s the only way I can explain it. Bella's reaction to Edward leaving her, on the other hand, bothers me to no end. I’m not really sure why. Maybe the difference is that Bella is a teenager--she's still young, she'll have plenty of other chances at love in her life, this is her first relationship, relationships in high school very rarely last--but Becky... argh, can't say it without spoiling it. Becky's been married for a long time, and now she's lost the one person who she *knows* without a doubt she wants to/is going to be with for the rest of her life. It's not that she won't have more chances at love, but... it's different. I don't know if that makes sense, I'm not feeling very eloquent today...

Strangely enough, I'd never really noticed the abusive relationship apart from Bella being so dependent on Edward. And... well, I don't know why, but it doesn't really bother me as much as the fact that Bella is a weak character. I mean, obviously it’s not really a good thing. But I've never seriously thought to myself, "Oh, this book is going to teach girls that abusive relationships are good." I just really dislike the characters. I don't like reading about a heroine who doesn't/can't do anything for herself. I mean, yes, she decides to wait to have sex, and she decides to keep the baby, and she tries to save Edward (and gets everyone into more trouble... several times...) and all that, and those things are great and all, but... I don’t know. I think I have two reasons for disliking her--one is that she’s so weak, and the other is that she doesn’t *grow* over the course of the series. She gets a boyfriend. And tries to save the boyfriend. And lets the boyfriend save her. And fight over her. And she has a baby. And... that’s it. By the end of book four, Bella (and everyone else) is basically the same person she was when she started. She’s static. She’s boring. My favorite books, like Goose Girl, have main characters who learn and grow throughout the story--they change. For me, my dislike of the series is less a question of whether or not Bella is a good role model and more about whether or not I enjoy reading about her. Well... okay, a lot of it is that she’s such a passive character and that she’s annoying because of it. But it’s also that I just don’t want to read about her. She’s boring and unrealistic, her only purpose in life is her boyfriend, she doesn’t change. And so I can’t connect with her.

(I apologize for the rambling nature of this post... I still don't think I quite expressed what I want to, but that's as close as it's getting tonight.)

Ellie

(I think I need to clarify something--when I say that it bothers me that Bella doesn't learn anything over the course of the series, I'm not saying that I think the books should have some kind of moral. I don't. Bella should be growing throughout the books, not so Meyer can teach her readers a lesson through Bella's experiences, but so Bella is interesting to read about.)

Julia

While I think that Edward and Bella's relationship is not necessarily a healthy one, I do not see Edward as abusive. He, for the most part, behaves in a kind and chivalrous manner. What I notice about there relationship is that they, both of them, seem to cross the border from love to obsession. You notice it more with Bella than with Edward because she is the more fragile one, the primary readers of these books are in more of a position to identify with her, and you see more of her thoughts, but Edward is just as bad. He breaks into her house and watches her sleep, when he thinks she's dead he tries to commit suicide without even confirming her death, and his over protectiveness does become controlling.
I would never suggest that this series alone is a bad influence, in fact it's better than allot of others. I think the bigger problem is in teen fiction in general. There is this theme running through far to many teen romances, of girls who fall madly "in love" with some guy, often with supernatural abilities, and will do anything for for him, but he's to perfect, to amazing for them, never mind the fact that he's unkind especially to them, they love him anyway. The Mortal Instruments/Infernal Devices, the Iron Fey, the Gem trilogy, and many others, set forth this idea of a damaged bad boy who falls for the girl almost immediately and feels protective of her, but is unkind anyway. I haven't even mentioned the uncontrollable physical attraction no such books can be without, which definitely doesn't seem healthy. If they were things that just came up now and again, I wouldn't think much of it, but as it is I worry that it could affect the mind set of allot of teen girls, and give them the wrong idea about romance.

Connie Onnie

In Georgette Heyer's novel Black Sheep two characters are discussing if novels put romantic notions in girls heads.
"I might be wrong, but I fancy that however much a girl may admire, or envy, the heroine of some romance, who finds herself in the most extraordinary situations; and however much she may picture herself in those situations, she knows it is nothing more than a child’s game of make-believe, and that she would not, in fact, behave at all like her heroine. Like my sister’s children, when they capture me in the shrubbery, and inform me that they are brigands, and mean to hold me to ransom!”
—Black Sheep, Georgette Heyer (pg 30)
I think we need to give more credit to teenage girls. Reading Twilight reminded me that it is ok to read for pleasure and it is fun to be enthusiastic about things like books.
I talked to a lot of guy friends who were upset about girls liking Twilight. They were upset because girls wanted them to be better gentlemen not because they wanted them to be abusive.

Sheri

First point: I have never read Twilight or Harry Potter. But I would like to address the larger point, regarding the influence of books.
If a book didn't influence us, why would we be concerned about having strong women role models in books, and discussing whether boys should be given books to read that are essentially about girls?
I'm going with the idea that you believe they do influence us. And I do too. I have read thousands of books in my thirty years, and as I've grown I become more critical of what I read.
That's because although I never want to stop growing as a person, my ideas and principles have become very fixed and it takes something really powerful to influence me. Teens often have (to their detriment)a more flexible way of looking at the world. It's not the bold statements a book makes that can influence the teen. They aren't stupid, after all.
It's the steady, subtle undercurrents of popular thinking that leak into books, movies, television and so on.
Sometimes this is good (like my grade school books with pictures of families of different skin colors-yay!) and sometimes this is bad (like-dare I say it-the idea that there is no such thing as morality and everyone should just do what they want to do, made popular by certain authors of the twenties).
'Time Enough For Drums' by Ann Rinaldi was a revolutionary book (ha! no pun intended) for me as a teen. It included a saucy heroine and a romance, which got me reading in the first place. But it also explored the idea of actions having consequences: when you do things right, it doesn't mean things will go good for you. Is it still worth following what you believe in?
To this day I remember the book vividly, and think about the questions it posed. Books definitely influence.

Sarah J.

You hit it on the head when you said you have to take everything in context. I remember reading the parts in Twilight where Edward cuddles with Bella while she sleeps. Every night. I would never allow my daughter's boyfriends to sleep in the same bed as them. But in Twilight, because of the supernatural elements that make it so far removed from the real world, I'm okay with Edward being in Bella's bed.

Thank you for these posts. I have also never understood why people think it's okay to be cruel towards authors. If I don't like a book, I simply say, "It's not for me." If I do like a book, I don't want people to say I'm stupid for liking it. We are all allowed our opinions.

Stacey

I want to address the comment that was mostly about Disney princesses. And relate it to Twilight.

For me what bothered me most about the relationships in Twilight was not that Bella was weak, but that for me she was too feminist. And that of course is coming from my own personal life experiences.

Now to Disney. Is it really so bad if a girl at age four wants to grow up and meet her prince and be married happily ever after? Why do we as a society see it as weak to want to fulfill our highest roles as wife and mother? (particularly as being a mother). It is in our DNA to create and nurture our creations. So why is that bad?

Bella on the other hand doesn't want this, and like Rosalee that bothered me. I really didn't like Rosalee until book 4, and then I understood. And in book 4 I really didn't like Edward for not wanting his own child.

Now, that is also not to say that girls should not have other goals. Of course they should. I received my Bachelors degree from an excellent university. I was not saying my life was worthless without a man by my side. But being a mother is what I always wanted to do, and so that is what I did.

I also now have a four year old that wants to grow up, meet a prince, and get married and have her own family. But she also wants to be a ballerina, a doctor, a teacher, an astronaut. And I encourage ALL of her dreams.

It drives me nuts when people say Disney brainwashes girls to be less than who they should be.

And it drives me nuts when people say anything can influence them THAT much to destroy their self worth and dreams. Creating dreams is one thing, destroying them is pretty darn difficult.

Teenagers are not sheeple. They are not quite as guillable as us "adults" think they are. Maybe, just maybe, we should be encouraging them to read all and everything and have honest discussions with them about how it made them feel and what it made them think instead of condemning literature because we think it MIGHT have a bad impact on them.

Sarah J.

PS - One of the reasons I love Twilight so much is that it made me want to be a writer. I fell in love with the characters and story and I wanted to provide that same experience for other readers. I don't agree with the people who say Ms. Meyer is a bad writer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We all have different tastes, and there's plenty of ways to "skin a cat." I thought the world was all about "being yourself" and having "freedom of expression." I hear plenty of songs on the radio where I think that the singer is technically terrible, but I respect the singer's artistic license and those who love his/her music. We need to allow the same respect for all artists, whether they be visual, musical, or literary. Ms. Meyer is an artist in her own right who sparked a worldwide phenomena. Who are we to say she is "bad" at what she does. I applaud her for her talent.

Julia

Sheri, yes exactly. It's the subtle undercurrents, not the big actions that can get into people's heads.

Jae Randall

Okay, I'll be the first one to admit it. Twilight probably did influence me to be in an abusive relationship. Not so much that the behavior was okay, just that I didn't see it. It wasn't actually my boyfriend, but rather a girl that began manipulating me the moment she stepped into my life. I honestly believe that if I had had Edward's faults pointed out to me before that, I wouldn't have been as blinded to Sam's.
She ruined my life to a point that I am no longer able to trust new people. I am down to only five friends that I regularly hang out with because those were the only ones that could withstand the lies she told about me. She was jealous of other people in my life and tried to make it so that she was the only one I saw. She did this to at least one other person as well, and did her hardest to set us all against each other.
She was way worse than Edward is, as I honestly believe that she is a sociopath and as much as I do not approve of Edward or his relationship with Bella, I do believe he cared for her in an awkwardly disturbing way. But I think if I had seen more of the problems in their relationship, I might have known enough to get away from Sam earlier on.

liza lee grace

Does Twilight affect teens? I don't know. I've seen news reports about how right after the books first came out, teens would go to parties and pretend to be vampires and bite each others' necks. Ummm....isn't that called a hickey? Something that's been happening long before Twilight.

My problem with Twilight is that people in general take it too seriously. They complain that it's not "literature", or that the relationships are too overbearing and unhealthy. Let's see...

A sparkly, vegetarian vampire falls in love with a human. She falls in love with him, making it incredibly difficult for him to stay vegetarian. Meanwhile, her best friend (who is also hopelessly in love with her) is a werewolf, the sworn enemy of the vampires, only he's not a true werewolf; just a shape-shifter.

Does anyone see the ridiculousness in this? With characters like these, how can you have healthy relationships?

It seems that people are missing out on the irony of the book. Meyer took the "classic" vampire story and completely twisted it around into something that while written seriously, is anything but. It's not meant to be literature. Or real life.

That's how I see it, anyway.

Oh, and I would like to say that teens are much smarter and much more perceptive than they get credit for.

Matthew MacNish

I just have one quick point to make: as the father of two young girls (16 and 11), it's not the books they read that teach them what kind of things they should put up with in their adult relationships. It's how they see their parents treat each other.

Oh, and one other thing: if I was concerned about any book damaging my kids, I would read it myself, so that we could discuss it. Not disallow them from reading it, or belittle them if they did.

S.P.Bowers

My roommates at BYU thought I had an unhealthy relationship with my fiance. They begged me to break up with him. They thought he was controlling and insensitive. What they couldn't see is that we worked things out together. sometimes we went with his option or schedule, sometimes mine, but it was always decided together. They couldn't see the whole relationship and so they labeled it bad. We have now been married 14 years and are still happy and he is still the best of men. Maybe they would have done things differently, but the way we worked things out worked for both our personality types. Just because we were different than them doesn't mean that their way was better or our way was "abusive" yes, there is a danger than women (or men, lets be honest there are some relationships that go that way but people aren't outraged by that, just amused) who don't know better will blindly let their partner control them. I personally don't believe this is something that can be learned in a book. That is something that is so much more, much deeper and much more complicated.

One thing that Stephanie Meyer did is that she got many people to pick up a book that hadn't read in years. those people are now buying and reading more books. I think that is a good thing.

Caroline

The question of whether Harry Potter encourages kids to engage in witchcraft is something I find interesting. It's been banned, I believe, or at least strongly disliked, by Catholics in particular because it apparently makes kids want to engage in witchcraft. But the books actually have a lot of good role models that encourage good behavior. And it's labeled Fantasy, kids aren't supposed to really believe it's true. I don't think the solution is banning or hating books, I think for Catholics it's helping kids understand how great their religion is, so they don't want to abandon it for something more fanciful (as a side note, I am Catholic, and I'm not trying to offend anyone).
I have to say, when I read books I disagree with, I think they make me more certain of my beliefs rather than make me feel bad about them. The Golden Compass, for example. I thought that was a great series with master storytelling. I cried at the end. I disagree wholeheartedly with everything Phillip Pullman indicates and says about Christianity, but I feel stronger in my Christianity because of his books. I feel like now that I understand what the other side has to say against me, and I feel like the arguments not that good. If you (as a cardinal or someone high on the hierarchy) need to ban a book to make sure kids don't leave the religion because of it, you're not teaching them enough about their religion.
I think this can be applied to Twilight as well. I agree with you, Shannon, that books are supposed to make you think. Books always make me think. So long as you think about why you agree with a book or not, it can't damage you. No matter how badly it's written, no matter how bad the morals, if you think about why or why not you agree with it, it can't hurt you. That's one of the only good things about public school english that I see; they make you think about what you're reading, and that's a habit that's good to be in.
Oh, and I'd like to agree that it's how kids see their parents treat each other that teach them how a relationship should go.

Rachel Fike

I read Twilight as a teen and many of my girl friends did too. It did not affect me negatively or anyone of them either, to my knowledge. I didn't realize some people viewed Edward's and Bella's relationship as abusive until I read this post. I think it's crucial not to take people out of the context of the book, as you said. Edward is a vampire, for goodness sake! That's going to change what their relationship is like. If he was a normal human living in the real world, yes, his actions would be pretty freaky, but this is fiction.

Everytime I enter a book, I leave the real world behind and view events and actions as the characters do. Yes, there were things I didn't agree with in Twilight, but seen as just a story, it is interesting and entertaining. There were more books I had to read in highschool that were much, much more disturbing and horrifying than Twilight, and these were even more so because they did not have elements of fantasy in them.

It's fine to critisize and find good attributes in characters, but as readers, we must keep these attributes and opinions built on the world created in the story. Taking relationships, character traits, etc, out of the context of a story and making harsh judgements about those things is foolish and dangerous.

Caseykins

Thanks to everyone for the great discussion, and to Shannon Hale for starting it! I loved the comment from the dad above, and I completely agree. Books should not be censored, only discussed! Now on to my own rant:

I think you have a lot of good points here, and I would agree with most of them. I will also admit that I don’t know anyone who has been so influenced by Twilight that they have changed the way they behave. I do want to say though, from personal experience, that a book can change the way you view the world.

I realized as an adult that many of my ideas about marriage, about how to be a woman in the world, and about how families should treat each other came directly from Louisa May Alcott. I read her books over and over all through junior high. I didn’t even realize how completely I had adopted her mores into my own until I was married and trying to set up a new family. I essentially tried to be Meg Brooke when I got married, and learned the hard way that many of Alcott’s ideas just don’t work in modern relationships. Luckily my husband thinks I’m just quirky and not outright insane…

It’s because of this that I’m so worried about Twilight and the ideas it’s passing along. It’s just so very easy to adopt a world view at that age and not even realize it. I mean, I was reading Alcott, for Pete’s sake. Those are books no one worries about. If I can be so affected by Little Women, I know other girls can be just as affected by Twilight. Maybe not all of them or even most of them, but some. And I think that’s worth worrying about at least a little. Just saying...

Kalyn M.

I read books all the time; everything from Jane Austen to Stephanie Meyer. I see myself looking at books as an escape. If I'm upset or angry, or sometimes really excited about something, I'll pick up a book and dive into another world for a little while. I'll ignore what's going on in my life and look at things through the characters' eyes. At least thats what I thought.
As I've gone back and reread books, I've realized that most of the time, the way I interpret books depends on how I'M feeling, not the character. I can read a story after I've had a great day, and the book will seem like a positive story to me. If I've had a bad day though, every little trial that a character goes through is magnified and awful.
At the same time, I can read a sad book for a while, come out of my room, and my mom can tell that I've been reading. It's because my mind is still so wrapped up in the story that it reveals itself through my mood. This did happen when I was reading "New Moon". Bella was so depressed when Edward left, and her depression was rubbing off on me. Since then, I've always been careful about watching my mood and not letting my reading effect my attitude. I'm only as happy as I want to be, and even after reading something sad or upsetting, I can still CHOOSE to be in a good mood.
However, even though books can effect my mood, I have never been in a situation where I read something in a book and it has effected my life in a negative way (that I can see anyway). There are some books that I wish I hadn't read (ie- for content, not story). And there have been some books that after I've read and looked at the situation that a character was in, they've helped me to make decisions or change my course of action.
As far as books making people think, I completely agree. Anything you read makes you think. You automatically develop an opinion about it. I think thats why reading is so great. You can begin to understand things that you haven't even had a chance to experience before. Also, it opens your eyes to how others think. It makes you more prepared for life's situations and exercises your mind.

Sheri

I apologize in advance for posting again! Caroline, I absolutely agree with you about religion. My parents took me to church four times a week, and they lived what they believed in front of me every day. Therefore, their actions were an even more powerful an influence in my life than my books, and I followed in their footsteps. Furtherthemore, they didn't generally ban or censor books. They just read them and discussed them with me.
But tying that in with what others are saying about people having more influence than books: what about kids who don't have strong role models in their lives? They will absolutely latch on to something...video games, tv, books! And those kids especially can be influenced in some really bad ways because they haven't been given any foundation in what and how to think. No, kids aren't stupid. But they are immature, including in thought process. Brainwashing works, otherwise it wouldn't be used by militaries.
A message that really messed up my life for awhile was "It's all about you".
As a Christian, this is the ANTITHESIS of everything I profess to believe, and yet I bought into it as a teen. It was everywhere!It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I figured out that I was practicing it. And I'm not generally known as a stupid person. So Caseykins, I agree with you: it's so easy to adopt a worldview [at a young] age and not even realize it.

Annie

I am fifteen. So this means I am a teenager. I find it ABSOLUTELY INSULTING that people think that ALL teenagers are so influeciable that the merest of books can influence our decisions. We can learn from our mistakes and others as well. Reading books changed me into the person I am today. I have loved so many books that could be considered negative and "influential" and I believe I am perfectly fine. I am an honors student, I do not engage in unhealthy activities, I am a very nice and well-liked person, I have dreams to become a writer myself, and I know all of these fancy words. I probably would be very different without having read books. So I guess my point is that boycotting "influential" books because they might brainwash teenagers is stupid. We are smarter than that!

Anne

Of course, not all teenagers would be greatly affected by Twilight, or any other book with less-than-ideal morals or relationships. I, a teenager myself, did not read Twilight and label Edward Cullen as the perfect vampire boyfriend, nor did I consider Bella a role model. Actually, due to the limited nature of a book character, why would such a character have enough information and personality attached to it in order to become a role model? However, reading can temporarily influence one's thinking, if only slightly. I become greatly annoyed after reading too many successive texts from a time where women were inferior, for example. Reading affects each reader differently. Some teenage girls reading Twilight may be disgusted, others may daydream about their own imaginary, less controlling Edward Cullen. Many may not be affected at all: too intelligent to take an interesting fantasy story to heart. Unfortunately, there could be those select few who take the story too seriously, and lose their understanding of the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior through the example in the book. One can hardly blame this particular book for those select few, however. They would probably be just as easily influenced by anything else.

Angela

I haven't read the Twilight series. I don't really want to. It's as simple as when I started to really hear about them, I researched them like I do all potential reading material, and didn't like the idea of it. But that's not the point of my comment.
I hear a great deal about what Bella and/or Edward represent as role models. And that makes me reflect on the characters I have created. I try think of what kind of role models I want them to be, and came to the conclusion that I cannot control what sort of role model they are. I wrote up a short thing about it using my main character, pointing out the good and the bad of her, and I think the opening paragraph of it sums it up well:
"So what makes a good role model?
"I believe there is no uniform answer for that. What makes a good or bad role model depends heavily upon each individual reader: his personal experiences and how they relate to the character, how he interprets a character’s actions and traits, and what he chooses to learn and take away from it. What one thinks is kindness another thinks is weakness, caution for cowardice, bravery for recklessness."
The only conclusion I can make is that you cannot tell someone what kind of role model a character is. That's up for each person to decide.

Becky Williams

No damage unless the reader has the inability to separate fantasy from reality. If that is a problem, perhaps a list of psychiatrists should be listed on the last page of every book. Not the same world we live in, believe it or not. Reading Twilight reminded me of how much I loved to read and got me back on the wagon again and very few, if any, of the books I read have anything to do with vampires. Not harmful, unless you happen to live in the world of Fahrenheit 451.

Isobel

I don't base my life on the books I read, I base the books I read on my life. By criticizing books for holding negative sway over the young, I think we're giving too much power to books. We should be encouraging people to think about what they're reading, not assuming they'll blindly follow the hero or heroine's lead.
Of course books influence people, any part of culture influences people, but we can take the influence consciously if we so choose.

Cordelia Crewe

I have read the Twilight Saga. Many times. I was initially drawn to it because of it's vampire/romance elements. Reading the first book, I was drawn in by the almost hypnotic way Ms. Meyer wrote. I'm not saying her work is going to be read by our decendants for centuries, not in it's current format; what I am saying is this: the books worked for me. They helped me frame and focus and also alter some ideals I'd built up. My friends and I discussed them for years. For us, they are not books looked to for guidance about how to live, necessarily, so much as they are means for connecting to a greater community.

As far as being influencial, I can say that they influenced my reading, my thinking and my belief that if Ms. Meyer got published and grew as a writer, so can I. As I've thought about the accusation that the stories promote acceptance of abuse, I've reflected on the reality that these are novels and dark fantasy novels at that. Like so much else, they only have the power that they are given by the reader of books. I found them a comforting respite from the dull dailiness of my life. I also found Bella to be thoughtful, stubborn, tempramental and more authentic than some readers give her credit for being. No, she's not high on ambition, but so what? It's a fantasy. All this said, they entered my consciousness when I was in my early 20's. I have always been bookish and these books have led me to Austen and more of Shakespeare than I encountered in school. I have enjoyed underlining stolen lines and making notes in the margins. I think that any book in the hands of a young person, if the book is of any worth at all, may be dangerous. That is why we read them. Because reading gives us a measure of power over the danger. In real life, some of us live in dangerous neighborhoods or have families that are less than ideal. Reading is a way out. It's also why reading isn't over when the book is over. It is also a way in. In the same way many writers create characters based in part on themselves or people they know, as a reader, I have learned how to be and how not to be through examination and re-examination of the characters with whom I identify. Who I want to be and how to become that kind of person has been shaped by what I have read. But the amount of influence a book or movie or t.v. show or record has on us has not only to do with the work itself. Demonizing Twilight is like demonizing fire or knives. It's about how you read it, about what you do with it and how you've been taught before you encounter it. Before you pick it up, it's just a book. Afterward, it's up to you what it becomes.

P.S. I still love the books. But I am waiting for the other side of the story to be finished.

Jessica

I have nothing against those who love Twilight or anything else for that matter. They are NOT neccisarily stupid because of it. One of my best friends loves Twilight and Justin Bieber. She's an amazing girl. What I think is That Twilight teaches anyone, not just girls, anyone, that it is most important in life to have a girlfriend or boyfriend instead of cherishing morals and being a good friend, getting over hard trials, or finding out who you are.
What you get from a book is what you personally think and feel. For example some may look at say Harry Potter and see a boy who becomes arrogent and a little mean but you can also look at it as a boy who is trying to get over something bad that has and is happenening to him. Or Pendragon, to some it's terribly violent, even boring, to others an exciting adventure in which a boy tries to save all of Halla. It's all about perspective. It has been said, "An author starts a book, a reader finishes it."
It's true a book's job shouldn't be to control one's thinking but make them see things in a way they never thougth possible. To influence and give information. It isn't right to read one book and be involved with only one thing it's like staying in your home your whole life, not even going to school or talking to anyone. That is our job as readers, to take what the reader wants us take and something of our own to it and then to spread that around and add ourselves to other books, talking and instructing others of what we learned from it and learn from them.

Diana Fourall

I'm going to go right out and say that I'm not a part of the the Twilight fandom. I don't hate the books; they just aren't to my taste. I haven't read them and don't plan to, so I'm not going to criticize an author or a novel I haven't read.

I do want to answer two of your questions that particularly intrigued me: "Will reading Harry Potter encourage children to engage in witchcraft?" and "Does reading (and loving) a book make us into different people than we would have been?"

As a Christian who (gasp!) believes that the Harry Potter books contain a surprising amount of lessons that can actually be interpreted as Christian, I find labeling them as "demonic" or "witchcraft" absolutely absurd. No, they are not a substitute for the Bible; no man-made book is, but they do contain sacrifice, redemption, and love, all of which are themes I've found in the most Christian of books.

Yes, there are certainly parts of the Harry Potter books that need to be taken with a grain of salt; ghosts, for instance. At the same time, I've noticed that many of the themes can appeal to a Christian audience, or perhaps even ESPECIALLY to a Christian audience.

But I just wanted to throw that out there; I think the more important question by far is the second one. "Does reading (and loving) a book make us into different people than we would have been?"

To be honest, I think it does. Or at least, reading and loving any well-written book does. When I read a book that really makes me think, then I do think it changes me. I'm not sure how, since I don't have a base to compare it to, but I don't doubt it.

I'm trying to think of a good analogy, but I can't think of anything. :/ Thanks for such an interesting discussion!

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