My name is Vicky and I like the Twilight series. And Harry Potter for that matter, very much.
As mundane a confession as this appears, I see it as a valid precaution: that’s right Twilight fans, you can put down your pitchforks and flaming torches now.
Perhaps I am exaggerating, but there can be no doubt as to the ferocious loyalty inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire saga. Such reactions to these mass-produced, mass-marketed and mass-hysteria-inducing series have become extolled in the media as a triumph of reading in the restless MTV generation. However, as a student of English this praise makes me edgy. Can we really rely on Stephenie Meyer to introduce the masses to reading for pleasure?
In 2008, 29 million people bought Twilight, and in 2007 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold 11 million copies in 24 hours. Both J. K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer have since appeared in the Forbes top 50 most influential celebrities, quite a feat for writers of children’s fiction. What then, we may ask, is their secret: how did they come to enter into the public consciousness with such force? Dan Brown’s latest effort beat The Deathly Hallows’ figures, but he is yet to be honoured by Forbes. Perhaps what sets these novels apart is their ability to transcend their given demographics. But what about Phillip Pullman, whose novels appear in both the adult and children’s sections? I believe that the overwhelming success of both series comes from their abilities to create fantastical worlds that that instead of capturing the imagination of the nation capture the attention of the nation – no imagination is required for the enjoyment of the stories.
This lack of imagination concerns me. My best reading experiences have always been times where I could bring my own experiences to a novel. Although Meyer and Rowling’s style of writing is engaging, it can be overwhelmingly cinematic. We may be transported to another world, but we have our hands held constantly as we walk through it. Chapter Two of Twilight includes Bella the beautiful heroine who goes shopping, drives home, unloads the shopping, makes dinner, takes a shower, and puts on some comfy clothes. You can almost see the montage sequence as you read; it’s a director’s dream. It feels as though we have no choice but to follow the action through a camera lens, despite the first person narration.
The relentless hype and exhibition that surround the release of a new movie in either series is unavoidable, as we’re saturated in promotion for months leading up to the film’s release. The result being that I now remember the Harry Potter films better than I do the books, despite my committed readership for the entirety of my teens. It saddens me to think that I can no longer remember how I thought Harry would be before Daniel Radcliffe’s Pinocchio performance made him someone else.
What is lost then is the possibility of the ideal. In deliciously escapist series such as Twilight and Harry Potter there should be the chance to project one’s own ideals on the protagonists and one’s own consciousness onto the plot. For a whole generation of readers to only know this hybrid book/film reading experience is just short of tragic. Maybe future social analysts will have marvellous time discussing why the 21st century imagination has so taken to these series of books, but for now I hope that the next vogue for mass-circulated literature showcases the magic of reading in an entirely different way.