Sunday, January 04, 2009
I try to resist hype when it comes to books but I'm often driven by curiosity to see what all the hype is about. I waited about two years before I read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and two years seems to be my limit since Stephanie Meyer's Twilight was published toward the end of 2006 and I finally succumbed to curiosity and picked it up. You have to hand it to Stephanie Meyer. I'm sure that she, like J.K. Rowling, didn't see herself as such a huge success when she wrote her first book, but her books seemed to have hit a similar chord in people. Her books currently hold the top 4 positions on Amazon's Best Seller list and the movie "Twilight," based on her first book, has pulled in almost $180 million so far. I wish I was her. But the really remarkable thing is, her book is just okay. Just. Okay. "Twilight" is easy and entertaining to read but is it something you could call special? I wouldn't. I'm not knocking the book--seriously-- I just don't think it rises above standard teenage fare into the 'exceptional' category. So why is it such a huge hit? I could take the easy way out and say that it appeals to teenage girls and pre-teens who have catapulted the series the same way Hannah Montana has made Miley Cyrus a household name. But I know better than that. Why? Because I know of far too many 30 (and 40)- something year old women who have read the books and gone and seen the movie. That's the whole reason I picked up the book. I figured the story would have to have some special qualities to it to appeal to an adult audience. Maybe I'm jaded. I've read a lot of vampire fiction and nothing in "Twilight" stands out to me. In fact, if you're looking for good vampire fiction I'd point you in several different directions. I'd say read Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt series or Let the Right One In (originally "Let Me In") by John Ajvide Lindqvist. At least those books don't take the conventionally romantic route when it comes to vampires. So I suppose there is the possibility that I too would love "Twilight" if I hadn't already been so exposed to vampire fiction. The reason I say this is because Meyer managed to do one important thing when she wrote her book-- she created a character that every girl, and woman, could imagine as herself. She tapped into the power of the everyman, or everywoman in this case. I don't need to tell you too much about "Twilight" to give you the basic idea. The main character, Isabella "Bella" Swan is the new girl in town. She moves to Washington from Arizona to a very small town and a school where everyone knows everyone's business. Bella's an ordinary girl, clumsy and maybe a little plain. She's smart, mature and every so slightly unconventional-- enough so to feel out of step with the other kids. The very first day she notices a group of kids at school who are different from the rest. They're unnaturally beautiful, pale and they don't associate with anyone outside their group-- until, predictably, Bella comes along and attracts the attention of Edward, this story's vampire hero-- and garners his vow of everlasting love. "Twilight" is in many ways like any other story where the ordinary girl gets the most desirable guy. This is a story that provides the backbone of most romance fiction I have ever read. When I was a teenager Molly Ringwald was the every-girl heroine of movies like "Sixteen Candles" and "Pretty in Pink." She was my generation's Bella Swan. And I think that's why "Twilight" is such a huge success. We like the character of the everyman, even if it's a woman. If you look at the most beloved actors of the last few generations it's men like Jimmy Stewart and Tom Hanks that we find really endearing. Oh sure, we like George Clooney and Cary Grant, but can we really imagine ourselves in their shoes? Not likely. That's the power of the everyman- and everywoman. The characters who are just like us, who get to live extraordinary lives-- lives that we can imagine ourselves living. If we're lucky enough.