Friday, November 28, 2008

Fascination with vampires

This was my column last Wednesday, November 26.

Twilight, the movie based on Stephanie Meyer’s bestseller book, opens today in most theaters in the country. I expect long, very long lines at the box office. A group of people I know camped out last night at SM malls as it was the last full feature in most theaters last night.

In case you’ve been living under the proverbial rock in the last year, Twilight is turning out to be the next big thing after Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings. Potter fans, however, need not feel threatened. The Twilight book has spawned into a series composed of four books so far (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn) have sold a phenomenal 17 million copies worldwide; quite a feat actually, but nowhere near the almost half a billion copies of Harry Potter books sold in the last few years.

I’ve read the first two books in the series and yes, I intend to read the two others over the long weekend. I make it a point to read whatever it is that my kids and my students are going gaga over not necessarily because I want to exercise parental supervision over their reading but more because I am genuinely interested in whatever it is that is catching their attention. Parents and professors really need to keep up with what’s going on in the lives of kids today to be able to relate with them. And the series is big; very big among college-age people.

Meyer writes in a style that is really very easy to read so it doesn’t take as much time to read the books. Many might feel intimidated by the thick tome, but like I always tell my students, book length is really measured not by the number of pages therein but by how easy or how difficult it is to read. And going by that rule, the books are very short. Each book can be read in one sitting.

Let me get one thing out of the way because I feel it is an important point to make—any book that encourages young people to read deserves commendation. God knows how difficult it is to get kids to read today given the fact that there are just far too many other options for them both in terms of recreation and research. So I feel that any attempt to make some semblance of an analytical review of the books is irrelevant. Besides, as has been said many times, it is difficult to argue with success and there is no accounting for taste.

But for people who want to find out what I think about the series, here’s my quick review: It’s a relatively well-written Mills and Boon novel. Wait, I don’t think Mills and Boon novels are still in vogue today, so I think that’s a reference that younger people can’t relate to. So okay, it is a Danielle Steele book without the adult content, the convoluted plots, and the intellectual and aesthetic pretensions. How do I know about Mills and Boons and Danielle Steele? I read most anything and my mother was into these sappy romance novels for the longest time. My mother is going to kill me for saying this, but I figured very early on that the best way to get on her good side and get what I wanted was to discuss with her the plots and characters of her favorite novels. But I digress, as usual.

I know it is not fair to make comparisons among authors but there’s really not much that can be said about the Twilight book per se—it’s a straightforward love story with only one complication: He is a vampire, she is human. In fact, the first book in the series only offers one wrinkle in the plotline—a third vampire. And that’s it. It’s not Wuthering Heights nor is it The English Patient, of that I am very sure.

What is more interesting about the series is the way it has become a phenomenon. What I think deserves discussion is not the books per se, but how it is affecting people and why.

At the college where I teach, I’ve seen a number of guys who can be described as typical jocks proudly lugging the books in the series around. One of my favorite students who had an aversion to reading anything that does not get graded read the series because he said it boosted his stock among members of the opposite sex.

So perhaps that also explains the enigma behind the main character of the series, the vampire named Edward (he is played in the movie by Robert Pattinson—Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter movies). A lot of people I have talked to (mostly girls, I must note), holds him up as the perfect specimen of a lover. And why not, indeed; he is immortal, he is supposed to be perfectly handsome, and to top it all, he is madly, hopelessly, desperately in love with Bella and is totally into her. I got a headache reading his profuse and unabashed declarations of affection and devotion. As a result, almost everyone I know hopes for one and only one thing to happen in terms of the book’s plot: That she becomes a vampire too so that they live happily forever.

But what’s with this whole fascination with vampires, anyway? There’s been a profusion of vampire books and all of them bestsellers from the Anne Rice series, to the J. R. Ward books, to T. J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries. Meyer’s books are probably the most successful of the lot, and with movies in the works, they can only get more and more popular.

What I find astonishing is that contemporary literature about vampires no longer depicts them as scary characters. On the contrary, they are romanticized to the point of absurdity. rism?

I guess this whole phenomenon can be explained logically as a manifestation of our inherent hunger for the ideal. I’m not sure everyone wants to be as handsome or as cloyingly romantic as Edward, but am sure everyone wants to overcome human frailties, limitations and imperfections. These are not necessarily terrible things to aspire for. If vampires do exist and if they do live forever, that pretty much solves the problems of medical science. Anyone with cancer or AIDS can simply opt to become a vampire; one gets to live forever and in style. It’s not such a bad deal too, considering that vampires are always portrayed as having in possession of superhuman strengths.

One can only wish that people don’t lose sight of the fact that vampires and for that matter, witches, werewolves, sorcerers, and other paranormal creatures are really just figments of the imagination. A world where vampires exist for real is inconceivable.

5 comments:

Twin-Skies said...

Not to offend, but it does scare me when it takes a book like Twilight to get our younger generation engaged in reading again.

I haven't read the tomes myself, but just about every critic and book fan of a friend I've talked to said the same thing: Reading them is like having all the Mary-Sue and Gary-Stu material on fanfiction.net's Vampire section pureed into one messy mass, and tossed into a hardbound.

Certainly, there have to be better books out there.

Keep note this is strictly my personal opinion - one I intend to fiercely defend against angry fangirls of the series (joke!)

Bong C. Austero said...

Yup, it's a bit disconcerting. And there are certainly lots of better books out there.

Bong

Twin-Skies said...

Speaking of movie releases, you might want to keep an eye out for Milk, starring Sean Penn.

The film's about Harvey Milk, among the US' first openly gay politicians who went through hell during his career to provide his demographic with equal rights under the constitution.

The movie's been getting rave reviews ever since it released in the US, and is expected to release internationally by this December 5.

It's atrocious that I find next to no articles regarding its possible release here. Here's to hoping that our distributors decided to bring this gem into RP.

Otherwise, I'll be flipping the distributors - along with the moralistic homphobes who may protest against the movie - the proverbial bird as I download a bootleg copy.

Marius said...

cy,

that's stephenie and not sthepanie. she says her "father's name stephen + ie = me"

anyway, i think i get the charm of the book to the youth but it's tad high-schoolish and puppy-lovish. and sometimes just overboard romantic.

marius

Bong C. Austero said...

thanks for the hat tip re: Milk. Should be something to look forward to.

marius:
yup, stephenie. thanks for calling my attention to the typo.

bong