Someone I know posted this comment (diatribe?) on Facebook by science fiction author David Gerrold. I am forced to respond, not because I’m crazy about Twilight (although I will admit there are some parts that I liked), but because I am a fantasy and romance author who commits some of the “sins” that Gerrold accuses Stephanie Meyer of committing, and also because I am someone who has researched vampires for 13 years (I shit you not, I wrote my senior history thesis on The Dead May Bring Us Death: Vampires in Eastern Europe; you can read it on my ancient website Everything You Need to Know About Vampires).
Obviously, the Twilight saga is the reason why the remote control was invented. So you can change the channel immediately. This mawkish series is the bastard stepchild of Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles, the first step down a long slippery slope to irrelevance.
Number one, it sounds like you’re judging the books on the movies (based on the reference to the remote control). I like the books more than the movies (I haven’t even watched the third or fourth movies). You really shouldn’t judge a book by its movie; everyone knows the movie is often worse.
The next step will be a Saturday morning vampire cartoon… who protects little children from the big blue boogeyman by turning into a bat and carrying them away to his secret cave in the mountains. And if you detect in the above scenario a subtext of pedophilia, yes — it’s there. The more we make our monsters lovable, the more we tell children not to be afraid of strangers with promises.
Who ever said the vampire’s existence in either literature or folklore (there’s a difference; read my website) is to serve as a warning to children to stay away from strangers? In fact, that was never the purpose of the folkloric vampire; it existed to explain inexplicable deaths, plague, etc. And the literary vampire’s purpose is almost always to highlight our darkest fears and desires–which often are only separated by a thin line. That’s why vampires tend to be sexy and vampire books tend to have a lot of sex (blatant or subtle) in them. This goes back to the original vampire literature of the Victorian period.
As for your fear of an eminent cartoon/kid-friendly vampire, where the hell have you been, man?
Count Chocula cereal. It’s been around since 1971.
Count von Count, that beloved vampire Muppet from Sesame Street, came into being in 1972.
Both of these vampires have been in existence longer than I have!
And when I was growing up, circa 1988, I watched the cartoon series Count Duckula. But contrary to your belief, I did not fall victim to any strangers because of it.
Perhaps instead of worrying that smiling vampires might make children less afraid of vampires in real life, we should be concerned that fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella make children afraid of their real-life step-parents. More kids have step-parents than vampires in their lives.
Stephanie Meyer can legitimately sing that classic Billy Joel song: [I] Didn’t Start the Fire. Vampires have been adapted for various non-horror reasons for decades.
Anne Rice’s books were a warning that the romance novel was about to colonize the horror novel. The Twilight saga is the completion of that process–an Invasion-Of-The-Body-Snatchers takeover while the genre was snoozing. It’s not a horror story, it’s a modern-day bodice ripper.
Sorry, but there’s always been a sexual element to the vampire. Even in medieval Eastern Europe, there is a tradition of some men coming back as vampires and draining their widows of energy/life force with repeated sex acts. The only real difference between then and now is that women have decided that, you know what, that may not be a bad way to go out. Let’s read about it!
Yes, the Twilight saga is a romance novel–and has never claimed to be anything but. Guess what? There’s an entire sub-genre of romance known as “paranormal romance.” Stephanie Meyer didn’t f-up the horror genre; she was never writing horror to begin with. And it’s unlikely that the literary vampire has ever been devoid of romance.
“The Vampyre” is a short story or novella written in 1819 by John William Polidori [it is the first piece of vampire fiction] which is a progenitor of the romantic vampire genre of fantasy fiction. The work is described by Christopher Frayling as “the first story successfully to fuse the disparate elements of vampirism into a coherent literary genre. (Wikipedia)
So, it’s not like there is a rule somewhere that all stories featuring vampires must be horror. Even the folkloric vampire of Eastern Europe was sometimes reported to have a kind nature–returning to help his widow with chores at night.
I’ve said it for years: the only rule for the literary vampire is that there are no rules. And, to some degree, that also goes for the folkloric vampire as well; he had many different natures as well. He might kill his widow or he might help her spin her thread. He might be out from sunset to sunrise, or he might be out from noon until midnight. Some vampires die instantly when staked, but reports of the vampire Arnold Paole in the 18th century were that he became especially violent after he was staked through the heart (he pulled it out and beat people with it). There has NEVER been a standard when it comes to the nature of vampires, how they came into existence, how they are killed, etc. Make up whatever you want; people always have.
The romance novel is a cancerous genre.
There’s a fabulous line in the fifth Harry Potter novel. Hermione acidly asks Rita Skeeter, “So, does the Daily Prophet exist to tell people what they want to hear?” And Rita replies, “No, you silly girl. The Daily Prophet exists to sell itself.”
Mr. Gerrold, you’re entitled to your opinion about romance; certainly the vast majority of men have no use for romance novels. But, you know what? Romance novels weren’t written for you; they were written for women. And they exist to sell themselves, so of course authors put in things that women like to read.
It [the romance] seeped into science fiction with The Time Traveler’s Wife, it’s long since manifested itself throughout the fantasy genre, and the horror genre is the perfect place for it now since the gothic romance passed out of fashion.
Again, books exist to sell themselves. Fantasy, horror and science fiction books aren’t high-brow literature. We are authors who generally don’t want to starve, drink ourselves to death, or slip into depression and commit suicide like tortured artists; we want a comfortable living.
More women read fiction than men. According to this article on NPR, 80% of fiction readers are women. Sorry, but most women want romance–even as a subplot. So, if you want to sell books, you put in the things women want. Of course, you are still free to aim for the male market, but recognize that most authors won’t because they want to make that comfortable living.
The so-called flip side of this trend is Pride And Prejudice And Zombies in which it looks like horror is colonizing romance. Nope. That’s still romance reaching out and grabbing pieces of other genres. But coming back to Twilight — one of the sappiest and most incredibly stupid series (at least until next year) — there’s no logic here.
Remember that the novels were not written for adults, but for teenage girls. Teenage girls, by and large, are sappy and–when it comes to romance–not very bright. Guess what? No one is very smart about romance (or anything else in life) when they’re a teenager. If that’s who you’re selling to, you write what they want to read and what they can understand. You can’t apply adult standards to a teen’s book.
Imagine a vampire, a couple hundred years old. He’s lived through some of the most remarkable history of our species. He’s seen wars and revolutions, scientific marvels transforming the world, cultural changes beyond comprehension, styles and fashions, music and art that would make him a resource that most historians, sociologists, and writers would kill to get their hands on. As a person, he would be detached and dispassionate, easily engaged but not easily involved or committed. Think about your dogs and your cats. You love them, but you know you’re only going to have them for a few years. That means you have to enjoy them in the moment, for the moment. And I can see that a vampire would be a hedonist, playing with his food for a bit. Because, yes — that’s all she ever can be for him. Food. A tasty morsel, a meal, a confection of the moment. If he doesn’t kill her, he’ll still move on. She’ll get old and he’ll find some other morsel to play with for a few years.
This problem does plague Bella (Edward seems bizarrely immune to it, however; it’s rather opposite what it should be, admittedly). It’s also a problem that plagues the humans who become involved with the vampires in my trilology.
Kalyn, my human heroine, is talking to Joshua, the oldest living vampire:
“Why is that? Why shouldn’t we mix?” Kalyn asked.
“Have you ever thought about your future, Kalyn?”
“Um, some,” she said, wondering what that had to do with anything.
“Does Anselm figure into it?”
She felt herself blush in the darkness. “Well… yeah. I mean, I hope he does.”
“And then what?”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s say you and Anselm marry when you finish university. Then what?”
“I… don’t know.”
“You can’t have children with him.”
“Yeah, I know….”
“And will you turn or stay human?”
“I… hadn’t thought about it.”
“If you stay human, what happens when you age past him? How will you feel when you’re fifty, and you have aches in your joints, and you’re going gray and getting wrinkled, but he’s still a handsome, fit man in his late-twenties? What happens when people stare at the two of you when you’re out together?
“And if you turn, what about your soul?” Joshua pressed. “Would you risk giving up your soul for him?”
Kalyn didn’t have an answer because she had never considered it.
“Do you see now the problem inherent in mixing?” he asked.
This decision of to-turn or not-to-turn is what creates character and relationship conflicts. Relationship conflicts are not only necessary in any romance, but in pretty much anything women read. We are character-driven more than plot-driven–which is why the third book of the Twilight series is popular, even though there is very little action or plot to it; it’s pretty much nothing but characters wrestling with themselves and their relationships.
Endless agonizing–it’s what teenagers do. And, again, this was written for teenagers.
But falling in love? A permanent companion? Someone to spend eternity with? OMG — kill me now.
Okay, I’m going to agree with you on this one. This is the difference between teenagers and adults (or, rather, people who are emotionally adults; age doesn’t necessarily correlate to wisdom). Teenagers are terribly unrealistic about love–it always lasts forever, people can change (always for the better), you will always love with the same intensity, etc. Rabbi Akiva Tatz, is a lecturer that I like to listen to, and he addresses this as something which even adults today have a problem with.
Marriage has two distinct phases: romance, and love. Romance is the initial, heady, illogical swirl of emotion which characterizes a new relationship and it can be extreme. Love, in Torah terms, is the result of much genuine giving. Love is generated essentially not by what one receives from a partner, but by the well-utilized opportunity to give, and to give oneself. The phase of romance very soon fades, in fact just as soon as it is grasped it begins to die. A spiritually sensitive person knows that this must be so, but instead of becoming depressed and concerned that one has married the wrong person, one should realize that the phase of work, of giving, is just beginning. The phase of building real love can now flourish. In fact, in Hebrew there is no word for “romance” – in its depth it is an illusion. However, in the world of secular values, the first flash, the “quick fix”, is everything. “Love” is translated as “romance” and when it dies, what is left? No-one has taught young people that love and life are about giving and building, and so the tendency is to give up and search for a “quick fix” elsewhere. Of course, the search must fail because no new experience will last. Understanding this well can make the difference between marital misery or worse and a lifetime of married happiness.
It is romance, not genuine love, that characterizes Stephanie Meyer’s characters; I know–because I’m an adult–that that level of crazy-mad passion cannot be realistically maintained. But, again, the Twilight saga is not a handbook on life; it’s what people want to read. And young girls (and obviously grown women too) want to read, “And they lived happily ever after. The End.” As I said in a blog post when I finished the books, they are fairy tales. As long as you recognize that, they’re alright.
Like Rabbi Tatz, though, I worry that many people will never realize the difference between romance and love and they will set themselves up for a string of ruined marriages. However, we can’t blame Twilight for that; it’s an old trend. Hollywood stars perpetuate it with their lavish, high-profile romances and weddings. Disney and fairy tales perpetuate it. Romance novels perpetuate it. Sitcoms and movies perpetuate it. The wedding industry perpetuates it. Songs perpetuate it. Jewelry store commercials perpetuate it. Everyone perpetuates it. Romance gives us a high. When we can’t have it for ourselves (either because our relationships have progressed beyond it–for good or ill–or because we’re single), we enjoy reading about it and getting a vicarious high.
I like reading/watching romance and fairy tales. I write romance too. But I don’t apply those unrealistic standards to my husband, because I know he’s a flesh and blood person, not a fantasy.
Most of the Twilight backlash is from men, and I think it’s because Edward is a completely unrealistic man. He’s also most women’s fantasy. He has no flaws and he caters to his girlfriend’s every desire; he’s safe and protective, but dangerous and forbidden at the same time. Men–even subconsciously–get irritated by women swooning over that unrealistic figure because they know they can never live up to it.
If you (as a woman) can’t separate the fairy tale from reality, you will ruin your relationships, because no man can be like Edward (or any other hero in romance novels). On the other hand, guys, women still like that idea of a knight in shining armor. One of my husband’s best moments was when he saw a snake on our front porch, stopped me and told me to stay back, then he went to examine it to see if it was poisonous or not. When he decided it wasn’t, he picked it up and threw it out into the yard. Dealing with potentially dangerous snake (or any snake, for that matter) = major brownie points. (Squishing bugs and spiders and trapping mice are also acceptable knightly deeds.)
And, just for the record, I have been known to run off snakes, regularly wage violent wars against wasps, squish spiders, and I’m the preeminent mouse killer in our house (I seriously outperform two cats). It has nothing to do with a woman being unable to do these things for herself and everything to do with the fact that women like to be taken care of–that illusion of being protected. Rabbi Tatz might call it an act of giving on the man’s part–and it’s that which is a true act of love.
My 10th grade English teacher taught us a wonderful distinction between infatuation and love. She said when you’re infatuated with someone, you are in denial that they are a real person; you can’t stomach the thought that your love interest goes to the bathroom, farts, blows his nose, etc. When you truly love him, though, you’ll take care of him when he’s sick in the bathroom.
Or, as I told a friend the other day, love has three stages:
- Can’t see any faults.
- Sees all faults.
- Accepts all faults.
Not everyone makes it to #3. And notice “change the other person” is not there. You either accept the person’s faults or you move on. If you move into marriage without doing #3, you’ll move into divorce just as quick.
I will admit that my fantasy trilogy has a strong romance subplot to it. But I try to be more realistic than Stephanie Meyer. For one thing, Kalyn goes through the three stages of love. First, Anselm is perfect. Then she realizes there are things that he does which she very much doesn’t approve of. Then she grudgingly decides that, okay, maybe he does have a good reason for doing what he’s doing, even if there is something about it that bothers her. She also decides to outlast his fear of commitment.
My vampires are also more realistic when it comes to marriage.
“This isn’t a marriage.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a declaration of kinship; I’m not marrying you.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference is you can walk away at any time; you’re not promising yourself to me for life—which, may I remind you, can be a very, very long time.”
“You think I wouldn’t want to put up with you that long?”
“You’d be crazy if you did.”
While some of my vampires do get married, many more (especially the older ones) do not. In fact, there’s not even a word in their language for a spouse. No distinction is made linguistically between a spouse and a lover/significant other. They understand love well enough to know they can outlive it, so why make a promise you know you can’t keep? Instead, they have a system whereby they announce their relationship (declaration of kinship) publicly, and that confers certain benefits–e.g. people who are kin cannot be forced to live apart.
Aside from the fact that both of these characters are incredibly dull people, you have to ask yourself why a vampire who has already had several lifetimes worth of experience would find a sixteen year old girl emotionally or intellectually interesting? I love my pooch, but we don’t talk about Sartre over dinner. Either this vampire is retarded (in the truest sense of the word “retard,” not the epithet) or he himself is stuck at the emotional level of a 17 year old — which is even scarier to think about.
I have to agree with you in that I have wondered what Edward sees in Bella–namely because she’s weak and self-conscious to the point of extreme annoyance–but I admit to having a similar scenario come up in my books: an older vampire falls in love with a young woman.
Joshua–dirty old man that he is!–actually prefers to take young, human women as lovers (and by young, I mean twentyish to his 1,900 some-odd years). If you ask him why, he’ll tell you that he enjoys their zest for life, their boundless optimism, the fact that their entire lives are before them, the idea that they can do anything. He finds older women are more cynical and worn down by reality.
All of my vampires have difficulty with depression; it’s to be expected when you’ve lived through as much as they have. Suicide accounts for 80-90% of all their deaths. They just get tired of living or they lose someone they love and can’t go on. So, if you’re going to have a lover (and Joshua is definitely not the marrying type), and you’re already prone to being tired of life, why would you want someone who is also weighed down by life? Why wouldn’t you want to spend time with someone who is chipper and optimistic?
Granted, young people can be silly, but, hey, talking about Sartre for 1,900 years is really boring (I think having more than one conversation about Sartre would be boring). Gerrold makes the right comparison, but draws the wrong conclusion: for someone as old as Joshua, having a young lover is rather like having a puppy; she’s enjoyable precisely because she’s young and silly. He is a man who watched the Temple in Jerusalem burn and Judea fall to Rome. He spent more than 30 years of his human life as a slave; he was raped for all 30 of those years. He’s witnessed innumerable wars and skirmishes in the Holy Land; he’s seen all manner of brutality and death for 1,959 years. The man needs a freaking puppy.
Anselm is a different story. I will admit there’s an element of predestination between him and Kalyn, but he specifically enumerates what he enjoys about her:
“I enjoy your company—your sense of humor, the way you think, your compassion. You are… a brightness in my life.”
Anselm is a loner. He’s quiet and introverted–terribly introverted by vampire standards (they’re much more social by nature). He and Kalyn are very similar in personality–kindred souls. She’s not quite as quiet and introverted, but they’re both perfectionists and neat-freaks. They’re both naturally intelligent and love to learn. They both have a similar sense of humor–droll and often self-depreciating; Kalyn is especially prone to break tension with a subtle, intellectual joke.
But, even with all of that, Anselm would not have developed a romantic relationship with Kalyn while she was still young if it hadn’t been for the fact that she lives through some very horrible situations. It ages her well beyond her real years. And that is what really allows them to relate to one another.
“I’ll be perfectly fine tomorrow.” Anselm looked at her seriously. “What about you?”
She shrugged. “I’m okay, I guess. I’m not hurting either.”
“Not where it shows,” he said quietly.
She rolled onto her back with a sigh, and stared at the smooth, white ceiling overhead. “You know, when I was a kid,” she said slowly, “I thought it must be great to be a vampire—to live forever, to never get old.” She looked at him again. “You get old on the inside, don’t you? Where it doesn’t show?”
He was quiet a moment. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it described so well.”
She looked back up at the ceiling. “That’s how I feel; I feel old on the inside. I guess the more you live through, the older you feel. And you must have lived through a lot.”
“You have no idea.”
A far more honest and more bizarre exploration of a relationship with a vampire can be found in the brilliant Let The Right One In or even the not-too-shabby American remake, Let Me In. You want to be really disturbed about relationships with vampires…? This is the real stuff. But Twilight? The only scary thing about this tawdry tacky mess is that there will probably be more sequels.
Let’s hope not (for different reasons). Many writers (Laurell K. Hamilton comes to mind) don’t know when to stop a series. And then they end up killing their own characters because they become boring or unrealistic. That’s why I’ve firmly decided Kalyn gets three books and no more. I plan on writing prequels, but all of those will belong to other characters and will have their own plotlines separate from the trilogy. Stephanie Meyer has written her “happily ever after, the end” for her series and she needs to stick with it.