I am not one to throw stones about pop culture addiction. I am a devourer of stories.
I’ve been a rereader and rewatcher of stories for as long as memory serves. I watched “Cinderella” every day when I was 4. In second and third grade, I read the “Little House in the Big Woods” series a bagazillion times, and when I was a little older, I probably flew through “Anne of Green Gables” about as many times. In middle school, I was devoted to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Daria” and the entire canon of John Irving.
Then I discovered Harry Potter. If ever there was a series of books to feed my addictive personality, Harry Potter was more than manna for the soul. I came into the series a little late — after the release of the fourth novel, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” when I was 14 years old. I was instantly hooked and in love with waiting and speculating and tearing each book apart for clues about what would happen.
The night the final Harry Potter was released was probably the best night of my life. I read all 759 pages of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” between the midnight release and 9:30 a.m. It was the most thrilling and satisfying singular experience of my life thus far. Chapter 34 gives me the chills just thinking about it.
My ardor for the Harry Potter novels can border on humiliating — especially when I start waxing rhapsodic to the uninitiated. Would you like to hear all about how Harry Potter is a classic mythical hero or an analysis of the philosophical implications of magic?
Sorry, I didn’t think so.
It would perhaps seem, to a casual observer, that I would at least enjoy the “Twilight” novels written by Stephenie Meyer. A series of four very long novels about the supernatural and a bookish girl, with some romance and action, could be perceived to be right up my ally.
And the casual observer would be wrong. Oh. So. Very. Wrong. There is no hatred in pop culture like my hatred for “Twilight.” I have read all the books and even seen the movies. The novels are addictive in the worst way: The prose is awful, the content of the story alarming and the heroine a downright bore, and yet I couldn’t stop reading them. I got no joy from the pages, only a sick compulsion to continue.
I could perhaps forgive this if “Twilight” was merely poorly written with an uncompelling narrator. By the time I got to the fourth book, “Breaking Dawn,” I realized these books were an unwitting assault on any ambition a woman may have in this world outside marriage and children.
SPOILER ALERT: Bella, the heroine, decides to skip college, despite her supposed smarts, so that she can marry her immortal and creepily obsessive boyfriend Edward. Postnuptials, he knocks her up with a half-human/half-vampire. Bella almost dies in childbirth, so Edward makes her into a vampire.
What is the message to the flocks of devoted young women from all of this? If you have sex, you will get pregnant and die.
I know that personal biography can have a profound effect on interpretation of literature. Considering I watched my older sister leave college at 19 to get married (and soon divorced), have three children and work in fast food, glamorizing this epic failure of a life choice seems downright foolhardy to me. It worked out for my sister, who is now a registered nurse and very happily married again (I love you Katey!), but to say that the “Twilight” series managed to push all of my crazy buttons is an understatement.
There are other disturbing things about the “Twilight” series, including Edward’s bizarre infatuation with the smell of Bella’s blood; Bella’s suicidal mindset when Edward abandons her in the second book; really terrible allusions to classic literature ("Romeo and Juliet?" Seriously? Could a literary allusion be less original?); and ickiest of all, Jacob the werewolf falling in love with Edward and Bella’s infant daughter.
My problem is not so much with the content of these decisions but how they are portrayed. I’ll give Meyer credit for making Bella the one who wants to go all the way more than her vampire boyfriend, but the tone of the romance is sexy love without the actual sex. There is no discussion or thought of realistic consequences. The beauty of the best fantasy is that despite its fantastical flourishes, it reveals something true about the human existence. “Twilight” does not come close to this — it is divorced from any semblance of reality.
“Twilight” teaches young girls that skipping college and teen marriage is the very definition of happily ever after. And this is what makes it worthy of my virulent loathing.
Now, please excuse me. I’d like to go watch the new movie trailer for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Again.
Erin K. O'Neill is an assistant director of photography for the Missourian and a master's degree candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism. Her favorite book, of the Harry Potter series, is “Prisoner of Azkaban.”