Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The trouble with Twilight

I've been appearing at book stores across Newcastle, the Central Coast and Sydney to sell and promote The Wounded Guardian over the last few months - and one topic that keeps coming up, as I chat about books in general and fantasy in particular, is Twilight.
Time and again mothers and grandmothers have asked me if The Wounded Guardian has strong female characters in it, because they are concerned about the portrayal of women in Twilight. The final straw, so to speak, came when I spoke to a high school principal, who said she loved the way Twilight has her girls reading but was worried about some of the messages within. She purchased a copy of my book to see if there were other options to get girls reading.
Although I have not read Twilight, it was obvious to me that there was a story here. That much community concern, across so many different areas, was too big to ignore.
Wearing my other hat, that of The Sunday Telegraph, I spoke to a variety of people and came up with an article that was published on Sunday November 15.
With thanks to The Sunday Telegraph, here is that article, with some added quotes that were edited out of the finished article for space reasons:

It is both a love story celebrated by millions and a textbook abusive relationship, a light-hearted fantasy aimed at teens and tweens that has disturbing messages about sex. Welcome to Twilight.
The best-selling book series and now blockbuster movies have captured imaginations across the world and inspired devotion in its fans.
Twilight also has many lining up to attack it, with accusations of everything from bad writing to betraying the vampire genre to Mormon brainwashing.
But leaving aside the mud-slinging, the literary world and schools are warning parents not to simply go along with the marketing hype and peer pressure, but to first understand exactly what it is their children are reading.
While they sing Twilight's praises for encouraging people to read and inspiring debate about reading, the concern is the way the book portrays women - its key readership - and their relationship with men.
While older readers should be able to distinguish fantasy from reality, and put the story in context, along the lines of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, the concern is what effect it will have on younger readers, particularly those who are using Twilight as their entry point to reading. Twilight centres on Bella, a human girl, and her relationship with Edward, a vampire and Jacob, a werewolf. This love triangle is resolved when Bella has a child with Edward that begins to rip its way out of her, breaking her ribs and pelvis, forcing Edward to tear open her stomach with his vampire teeth to deliver it in an emergency caesarean - and so Jacob falls in love with this child.
While this is a disturbing end to the tale in many ways, critics say the problems begin much, much earlier.
Literary agent Sophie Hamley, of Cameron's Management, likes vampire stories but says fans should get into Buffy, not Twilight.
``Basically the books, especially the fourth, detail a textbook abusive relationship,'' she said.``The message seems to be that you can't live without a man, particularly an idealised one.
``In many respects Edward is constructed as a classic romantic hero - brooding and handsome, and even Mr Darcy was withholding. But the constant threat of violence, while possibly exhilarating for readers, is unnerving. If I were convinced that Twi-hards were reading other books to balance it out, fine, but for a lot of people this will be their first plunge into reading a series so there will be no context. ''
Abigail Nathan runs Bothersome Words, a book editing agency used by publishers such as HarperCollins. She enjoyed the books but does have concerns.
``Adults are frequently disturbed by the nature of Bella and Edward's relationship, describing Edward as a stalker and Bella as a victim,' she said. ``Although Bella and Edward do not sleep together until they are married, it's hardly a delicate affair, with Bella waking up covered in bruises.``It's an interesting selection of messages, with Bella constantly pushing Edward to sleep with her, and ultimately ending up bruised and battered.'
``One message that is clear is once Bella has Edward she forgets about her other friends and is all too willing to leave her family to have her "forever" with Edward. The message to women that they don't need anyone else if they have their man, or their true love - that they can be happy that way, is a little disturbing.''
Fantasy author Glenda Larke is also concerned by the way Bella never finds strength within herself and must instead be always saved by Edward.``It harks back to a different age. Women my age had to fight to escape that kind of thinking. To present a heroine who never stands on her own two feet is to present a ghastly role model for today's youth.
''But no matter the criticism, it is clear the books have struck a massive chord with young readers.Fantasy author Kim Falconer said this cannot be ignored.
``How do we get past the fact that they want it? They're eating it alive _ what is it fulfilling in them?''
She finds it concerning and wonders whether it is a symptom of a wider problem: Can women tell the difference between abuse and love?
Nevertheless, simply banning teens from reading it would make the problem worse and, anyway, Falconer is a ferocious supporter of free speech.``We can criticise it but we cutting off the lines of communication. You must talk about it, be there for dialogue.''
She applauds the way the series has women and girls reading but laments: `What a missed opportunity to inspire women.''
Mount St Benedict College is an independent girls' high school at Pennant Hills. Principal Maria Pearson said it is very important for girls to develop the ``skills, resourcefulness and resilience'' to find ways themselves to get out of difficulty situations, rather than ``expect to be rescued''.``We have it in the library and it does engage our girls,'' Ms Pearson said.
``But it is important to deconstruct some of the themes. They need to have a conversation with concerned adults in their lives (about the issues it raises).''
So read Twilight - but it needs be accompanied by discussion of the issues raised, as well as a selection of books with strong female characters. Virtually any of the Voyager list, including the likes of Karen Miller, Glenda Larke, Kylie Chan and Kim Falconer would be suitable.
Duncan Lay is the author of The Wounded Guardian (HarperCollins) and the soon-to-be-released The Risen Queen, neither of which contain vampires but do have strong female characters.


  1. I can't get into Twilight, but ask me anything about Trueblood, who has a rocking female central character who is strong minded, and won't take any bullshit....excuse language!

  2. Some people have tried to force Twilight onto me. I resisted because of what I heard and read about it. I like strong female characters like Karia and Merren