Monday, August 4, 2008

Tinhattery, happy endings, and Breaking Dawn

Tinhattery, happy endings, and Breaking Dawn

First thing to know before you read the rest of this entry: I have not read Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer, nor do I plan to despite her excellent taste in naming characters. (Carlisle AND Carlie? Awesome.) My opinions on the subject of this entry are entirely speculation, based on a little fandom experience. That said...

Author Maggie Stiefvater noted in her blog today that fans of the Twilight Saga are not enjoying Breaking Dawn, with almost an equal number of 5-star and 1-star reviews. Currently there are 860 reader reviews and an average rating of three stars. Stiefvater suggests that this is due in part to the fact that Meyer ties everything up neatly at the end of the series. She compares the very neat ending of BD to the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which, despite the epilogue that I like to pretend doesn't exist, was not entirely happy. It left the readers with a mix of emotions. Not everyone got everything they always wanted and lived happily ever after. Stiefvater's conclusion is that readers like to be treated badly by an author, which made me smile in a good way. In general, Stiefvater's blog entry is made of win. The comments mostly agree and offer their own speculations as to why fans didn't like the ending, but none of them touch on one of my opinions: That Edward was taken away from female readers, and because he's living happily ever after with Bella, he can't live happily ever after with them.

Many readers of the Twilight Saga have said that Edward is the perfect boyfriend: He's hot (or cold, as the case may be), he's smart, he's rich, he's got amazing physical prowess, and he loves Bella no matter what. He does everything that he believes is in her best interest, including leaving without a trace for three months. But it's all okay, because it's all to make Bella a better person. Personally, Edward creeps me out, but there are legions of teenage girls who would disagree vehemently with me. Legions of teenage girls want a boyfriend exactly like Edward. They want to marry Edward and live happily ever after on a sunny island. They also know that the boys in their high school can't compare to Edward. How could they? So finding perfection in a boyfriend, at least at their high school is out of the question. They can, however, read about Edward and imagine being with him as described by Bella, and I think due to the book's being in first person they may even be able to imagine themselves as Bella, especially because Bella is devoid of most characteristics that would make her a normal high schooler (she has no extracurricular activities, for example). I haven't gone looking for Twilight fanfic, but I have a feeling there's quite a large number of fics in which Edward meets a new girl named Serena and he ditches Bella for her.

Are readers doing this consciously? I don't think so. They're of the same mindframe that leads fanfic writers to create Mary Sues: Often, readers want to be a part of a character's life and there's no way to do that other than fantasy. With Edward and Bella most definitely together forever and living a conflict-free life, the fact that the reader can never be with Edward is cemented. Romances work best when there's conflict, or when characters are flawed, or both. It's why Ron and Hermione's romance worked for me but Harry and Ginny's didn't. We all develop literary crushes and we all like to see romances succeed, but I think there's a degree of jealousy, small or large, on the part of the reader that spawns from not being able to have Edward.

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