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Courtesty of Twilight commentary by an awesome person (discovered via [info]kenzimone), I was reminded (while laughing up my spleen) that Wuthering Heights is mentioned in the book. Which I knew for some reason, because I remember a conversation about it once, but since forgot entirely because I don't care.

Now, I know that ridiculing Twilight is a fish-in-barrel sort of situation, and my familiarity with it extends to watching the movie (against my will, because I was expressly forbidden to snark), conversations with random fans, and interwub mockery, I nevertheless feel qualified to comment on this. I actually read Wuthering Heights when I was sixteen, and found it a completely awful, painful exercise, and I wasn't even doing it because it was assigned for school. In fact, a friend and I later refused to do it when it was assigned, and ended up doing Heart of Darkness instead.

Both of these books are actually very good, but I'm not ashamed to say that at sixteen I completely didn't get why. At that age, you need to be skillfully led through that kind of literature, something my high school did not excel at, because it is highly unlikely you'll have the experience to allow you to really grasp what's going on. I've since reread both, and although I can now appreciate Wuthering Heights, I've never enjoyed it. In fact, I'd be inclined to have a careful talk with someone who did, and an urgent one with someone who said it was their favourite book. Especially at that age. Especially if they think that Heathcliff is romantic and studly.

If we roll with the idea that Bella is an author avatar (and everything I've heard suggests this is very much the case), then what SMeyers has done is taken Heathcliff, defanged him (oh the irony), and written him falling in love with herself instead of Cathy. Crossed with her Mormon theology and presumably reading Anne Rice at a formative age. (If she says she hasn't – and I've no idea what she has to say on the matter, see above, re: don't care – then she's a lying liar who lies.) And somewhere in this stew of bookworm-appreciating-classic-literature-at-a-tenth-grade-level comes her dream which inspired the book, and there we have it. It's like teenagers believing Romeo and Juliet is a beautiful love story. It's a sixteen year old writing herself in a romantic adventure with her favourite lead man, indiscriminately including all her favourite romantic ideals (at a sixteen year old writing level, from the sounds of things). And that is precisely why it is so popular with anyone who never got around to graduating from that mentality. Which is a lot of people, frankly.

This peddling of wish fulfillment is a large part of the popularity of Harry Potter, too. Which I have actually read, although not because I much wanted to. I'm not lumping JKR in with SMeyers in terms of basic writing ability; for one thing, JKR's English heritage stands her in good stead, in that they seem to take a much higher pride in turning out functionally articulate human beings from their school system, and have a higher expectation of basic literacy from the general population. For another, she clearly has a much livelier imagination, as well as a sense of humour. Fair play to you, JKR.

What I will note, however, is that at the fourth-book mark, when she became popular enough to overrule her editors, the writing became sloppy and bloated, and not at all well plotted, which says a lot about imagination vs talent (and by that I mean the talent of the editors). And while something has been made of the books being written from Harry's point of view (and therefore has an element of unreliable narrator toward the characters he doesn't like), there is absolutely no evidence that JKR doesn't entirely share that point of view, to the point where she can't evaluate her own creation from the outside of it. The fact that she can't understand why people like, feel sorry for, or totally crush on Draco Malfoy illustrates that rather starkly. And then there's the fact that Harry Potter is essentially Enid Blyton + Wheel of Time. To be fair, Wheel of Time is basically Lord of the Rings + Star Wars, with no self-respecting editor in sight.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with borrowing concepts and characters and plots and producing something new with them. Writers have been doing it forever; good writers do it extremely well, because they understand what they are playing with, what made it interesting and gave it potential, and how to draw that out. Less confident or established writers, for some reason, seem to think not original = bad; Margaret Mitchell claims she never read Vanity Fair (itself inspired by a scene in Pilgrim's Progress) until after she wrote Gone With the Wind, which anyone who's read them both will find very, very hard to believe. Personally, I'm fine with her exploring the potential in Becky and Rawdon's relationship (which Thackeray hamstrung to serve the morality tale it was supposed to be), even if it was in historical romance pulp format. She did a good job. – And speaking of morality tales overtaking the actually interesting plot/characterization, hello Mansfield Park. Anyway.

Bad writers imitate without understanding. Which also means they lack the awareness to self-edit, which all good writers must do; it's one of the most critical parts of producing something worth reading. But if they can vicariously deliver on the uncritical desires of much of the public, they will still sell like wish fulfillment is going out of style.


One day, I will get the hang of a short, chatty lj post.


Or maybe not.

Comments

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fleurlb
Jul. 11th, 2010 10:49 am (UTC)
One day, I will get the hang of a short, chatty lj post.

I certainly hope not. :) Seeing one of your writing posts pop up in my flist is one of the highlights of my day.

I have to confess that I am not particularly well-read and have never read Wuthering Heights. However, I have read all the Twilight books, since that's the genre I write in normally, so I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

What disturbs me most about the books (esp the first book) is that Edward is a creepy stalker and Bella is a two-dimensional character with little or no agency of her own. It's a terrible and depressing message for adolescent girls. Perhaps if we end up having a girl, I can ask you and my other smart, well-read friends for suggestions on what books she can be encouraged to read to counteract the Twilight-effect.

I also take your point on JK and the bloatedness of subsequent books. I've often thought that just eliminating half of the -ly words would have cut word counts substantially. But JK does completely win out in terms of imagination and humor. If my kid wants to read those books, I've got no problem with it.


themonkeytwin
Jul. 12th, 2010 03:58 am (UTC)
one of the highlights of my day

*blushes* – Thank you! :)

Oh, hell yeah, the creepy stalker thing is incredibly disturbing. I didn't want to get started on that, though, or the ranting would have gone much longer! The amount of times I've felt the need to point out that Twilight is grooming girls to believe that putting themselves completely into the power of a predator is romantic, brave, and will be rewarded ... *shudder*

Honestly I think counteracting the Twilight-effect is more about learning to read it critically – but good reads do help with that! Same goes for Harry Potter, I think. It's the way they misrepresent reality, and make it attractive so that we subconsciously start believing it, that is what makes them dangerous. But the same can be said of the best literature, too! Humans, man. What are ya gonna do?
deepbluemermaid
Jul. 11th, 2010 11:02 am (UTC)
I agree with you about Wuthering Heights. I read it in first year varsity, voluntarily, because some friends were studying it in English 101. I hated it. I didn't like either the hero or the heroine, and the whole thing seemed overwrought and unpleasant.

I don't know if I'd have a very different opinion if I re-read it now, as an adult who's actually experienced the kind of love that overcomes caution and rational thought!

And yet I adored Jane Eyre, which I first read at high school and have re-read several times since. Jane recognises that she loves Rochester, but is self-aware and realistic enough to know that he's highly unlikely to reciprocate. And she later has the iron will to say no, when he's offering her a tainted version of her heart's desire.

Also: I believe that Smeyer claims not to have read any vampire literature, or watched shows like Buffy. If she never read Charlaine Harris' books about Sookie Stackhouse and the vampires who love her, then the apparent similarities between that series and Twilight are truly remarkable. So quite possibly the 'lying liar who lies' thing is applicable to more than Anne Rice!
themonkeytwin
Jul. 12th, 2010 04:17 am (UTC)
the whole thing seemed overwrought and unpleasant

Oh, totally. The ending isn't really all that "happy", either, but after some-hundred pages of utter misery, it feels nearly ecstatic by comparison. But when you read it as a cautionary tale, like Romeo and Juliet, for example, it becomes rather more fascinating. These days we're not so keen on cautionary tales, though. Because we can make anything happen if we just belieeeeeve.

Jane Eyre is awesome, I loved it. Of course, I was a little bit older when I read it, too, and that helps. It is a very mature love story, in that (unlike WH or Twilight) it extols genuine self-control. Have you ever read The Eyre Affair (and subsequent series) by Jasper Fforde? Totally brilliant and slightly unhinged take on classic literature, it's amazing.

Oh, Buffy. Right, forgot about her! I'm not really into vampire literature; I read Anne Rice before I knew any better and my guess is SMeyer did, too. I actually skimmed her wikipedia entry in a half-hearted attempt at being informed, especially the section on inspirations, and she mentioned she read voraciously growing up, the thicker the better. Yeah, she totally read Anne Rice. Probably Anne McCaffery, too, but that's neither here nor there. Then she listed her favourite books, including Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Shakespeare, Austen, Anne of Green Gables – at which point I just wanted to smack her, which I've never cared enough to want before. If she'd listed North and South, I don't know what I would have done, but that's probably too obscure to be an illustrious inspiration for her work....
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