Lately, we merry fates have been talking about monsters. (Ok, we’re always talking about monsters.) Specifically, we’re curious about the attraction of teen ager girls (both real and fictional) to the undead. Maggie’s put forward some theories about Stockholm Syndrome on her blog, for example. I’m trying to write an ongoing series about what kind of girl *really* falls in love with a vampire, and Brenna – well, you’ve all read her Monday Fiction (and her teens are some of the most monstrous).
I think we’re trying to figure out what’s the deal with TWILIGHT. Because, frankly, most writers really want to know exactly what’s going on there so we can ALL be rich and famous and choose the music for the soundtrack of the film version of our novel.
I’ve finally come up with a theory of my own about the popularity of TWILIGHT. I blame Beauty and the Beast.
In the story, you have a teenager who is special. She’s kind and smart and lovely. Though her own virtues, she ends up the prisoner of a horrible beast. BUT she is wise enough to look beyond his monstrous form, to love him, and in the end her love transforms him. POOF. Handsome prince. HEA.
This was my favorite fairy tale as a kid (especially Robin McKinley’s gorgeous version, BEAUTY). I was obsessed with it, to the point of reading her novel out loud to a tape recorder so I could listen to it every night while I fell asleep. Thus began my love affair with monsters. Monsters with horns, with fangs, with wings – you name it. Or monsters with the faces of angels whose desires and needs perverted their souls into darkness. It wasn’t long before I found vampires. Epic love, epic emo, epic blood. What’s not to love?
I think you can probably see where I’m going with this, especially if you’ve read TWILIGHT. It’s a princess story, a fairy tale in so many of the old school ways (see pregnancy and birth in fairy tales, and you might rethink some aspects of BREAKING DAWN). There’s a lot to appreciate about the quartet, both positive and negative, as they reflect on our cultural assumptions and teenage flashpoints.
But there’s a lot of YA books out there that grab up the reigns of fairy tales and weave delightful stories filled with romance and darkness and adventure. What was the difference with TWILIGHT, specifically, that triggered so hard?
NOW I get to Disney! When I saw Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” when I was *mumble*, I was furious. The Beast was a total loser. Yeah, he was ugly and had a temper, but there was no class, no wit, no epic danger or long years of emo-deliciousness. For God’s sake, Disney had to invent conflict by creating a bad guy in Gaston, because their hero was so pathetic. They didn’t explore the give and take of learning to love, not deeply, and it felt like the Beast’s ugliness was sort of an afterthought. It sure didn’t take Belle long to get over.
What happens? The movie is nominated for an Academy Award in Best Picture. Not Best Animated, but Best freaking Picture. The only animated movie to be nominated thus in the history of the awards.
Ok. Now think about it. What is Edward Cullen but a Disney Vampire? He doesn’t drink human blood, is a total hottie, and *sparkles in the sunlight*! And falls for our Beauty so hard his very life depends on it. For a vampire, Edward is not scary. Just like Disney’s Beast. His monstrous nature is a facade that allows the supernatural a window in to the regular angsty soap-opera.
Ta da! TWILIGHT manages to make vampires safe. Safe for regular girls (those of us not obsesses with blood and death and psycho faeries) to crush on in addition to all the peeps already loving the blood-suckers. And that’s exactly what Disney does to fairy tales. Makes them safe for a wider audience.
(Obligatory note: I’m not trying to dog on TWILIGHT here. If it’s your favorite book ever, good on you. I’m continuing my attempts to understand it – which usually requires picking things apart until I’m surrounded by a bloody mass of individual bits and pieces only lightly connected by tendons and bones. I’m a dissector. And twenty years after Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” came out, I *do* appreciate many things about it, and Gaston is one of my all-time favorite Disney characters. POINT: Just because a work of fiction seems to be butchering a story, motif, or trope I love, that doesn’t mean it isn’t doing other worthy work.)