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The Monsters and the Critics: Or Why Do Gothic Scholars Hate the Twilight Saga?here(01 Oct 2014)
By Miss Meghanne Flynn
Perhaps the title of this post is unfair. It’s not just Gothic scholars who seem to hate the Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster series the Twilight Saga. Pretty much all critics seem to hate it. Which is baffling when continually confronted with opinions on it; opinions which seem to be given extemporaneously with half of a dry, condescending laugh whenever it can conceivably come up in a conversation.
To confront a few reasons hating Twilight:
It’s ideologically troubling.
If you’ll pardon the pun, ideologically problematic texts haunt the Gothic genre. Whether you believe that the Gothic emerged at the end of the 18th century in a fit of Romantic anti-rationalism, or as the result of a systematic Othering of the variated minority figures of a potently xenophobic British identity (or some combination of the two), as a genre the Gothic can be defined in part by the restrictions and prohibitions which it places on gender, racial, religious, economic and social groups. Is there a Gothic text which you can think of that isn’t problematic? If so, please leave the name and author in the comments section below.
It sets a bad precedent or idealised version of love for its impressionable teenage readers.
This statement makes the same assumptions which proponents of Horror films have been fighting for years: that the consumption of ‘negative’ influences will necessarily have negative effects on the audience. Like the debate in 1980s Britain regarding video nasties that ‘Joe Public’ would be driven to commit violence by consuming violent images. The assumption exists that just because a ‘less intelligent’ group consumes a possibly problematic ideology, they will want to exemplify it. However, to quote Tolkien 'On Fairy-Stories', as a child “I had no desire to have either dreams or adventures like Alice, and the account of them merely amused me. I had very little desire to look for buried treasure or fight pirates....I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood.” The interest or consumption of a media does not mean that one confuses it with real life, even as a child.
It’s poorly written.
More poorly written than most of Bram Stoker’s works? More poorly written than Varney the Vampire? More poorly written than Dracula 3000?
Vampires Don’t Sparkle.
This seems to get to the heart of the critical issue for Gothic critics. This texts is a “monstrous” interloper into a world of the dark and dangerous. We don’t want to claim Twilight into the realm of Gothic criticism. I mean, even I can admit, these vampires simply aren’t cool. Particularly living in a post-Buffy (although, can we ever truly be post-Buffy?) vampire media, vampires are supposed to be sexy, snarky, smouldering, potentially evil, but they are not supposed to be dorky. The ones who are typically get staked by other vampires after a bit of off-the-cuff humour in later seasons. It was one of the elements which was so innovative in the early books of the Anita Blake series by Laurel K. Hamilton, when she created vampire characters who reminded us more of accountants than motorcycle gangs of European Aristocrats.
But this just demonstrates that in the literary history of the vampire figure in the Gothic, there is no one vampire tradition. There are elements of each story which leak into eachother (in a truly mind-boggling exercise of analytic intertextuality), and at this point in Western culture, the Byronic Vampire has become such a culturally pervasive figure that texts are not longer even referenced, the myth survives in a type of omnipresent cultural imagination. But each author has the right to create the vampire in their own image. Or, create their own history and “tradition” of the vampire. There may be similarities, but the truth is that vampires are interesting for their plurality of representations, as each incarnation gives rise to a new facet or site of transgression dependent upon the society in which it was created. We can’t say that vampires don’t sparkle. They just haven’t sparkled previously.
What seems to be more problematic is that in opposition to what most see as Horror being the natural progeny of the Gothic tradition, the Twilight Saga is the genre taken in the other direction, that of Gothic Romance, whose predecessors we can think of as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. And like most of Romance, it faces an audience who is unable or unwilling to read the codes of the Romance. Much as Tolkien describes in his own essay “The Monsters and the Critics:”, the people who criticize the Twilight Saga for its Romance elements, such as the young, naïve, inexperienced heroine, the dark and brooding love interest with a “bloody” past, and the high melodrama, are missing the fact that these elements are the point of the story.
We can’t blame a Romance for being a Romance. Nor can we deny that it continues to be relevant to a Gothic tradition.
Thoughts? Comment below.