I’d like to see a post on Twighlight vs Harry Potter please. Apparently that is incredibly important in the world of 14 year olds.
If you’ve been following my blog at all over the last few months, you may remember a post here about needing a challenge in my writing, so I asked people to leave a comment with a particular topic for me to write about. I’ve had a bit of a gap since the last one, but I’m taking up the baton again. So, thanks to Rebecca for this one, and I’ve now done my homework. Such a hardship, having to read four new books. Sigh, the things we writers do for our art…
First off, this is absolutely NOT a discussion of the theological or moral arguments around either Twilight or Harry Potter. I’m happy to write about my thoughts on this but this isn’t the place. If you’re interested in hearing my views, say so in the comments and a post shall be forthcoming. This one, however, is purely around the merits of either series as stories, in my own humble opinion. Second, THERE ARE SPOILERS! If by some miracle you haven’t read either of these yet and you want to, don’t read this post. Bookmark it and read it later, once you’ve read the eleven books in question (I’m not counting Bree Tanner as that’s a spin-off).
Ok. Now that’s out of the way, I really enjoyed both series. I resisted reading Harry Potter for so long out of a kind of mis-placed snobbery – there was Potter-mania, and I was determined not to read them just because everyone else was. When I did, I absolutely loved them and devoured each book as it was released. When Twilight was released, I resisted for different reasons – I knew it was about vampires and I have a kind of love/hate relationship with vampire stories. Also I was broke and there were other books I wanted to buy first. But when I did read them for this assignment, I enjoyed them and found the storyline rather compelling. Overall though, I think the writing in Harry Potter is better than Twilight. Rowling gives me more of a connection to the characters, the language was lighter and more engaging without losing any of its power. If asked to recommend a series for a 14 year old, I would certainly choose the Harry Potter ones.
I found the Potter books more universal in appeal as well if I’m honest. They deal very well with a range of issues that adolescents face, including but not limited to relationships and insecurities, whereas the Twilight books concentrate more on a young girl’s intense love and her own deep-rooted insecurities without really expanding from that theme. They did, however, deal more thoroughly with these issues.
In terms of storyline, obviously both series have a similar arc in that the protagonists deal with varying degrees of danger both to themselves and their loved ones and as they grow the danger also increases. In both series, too, the threat is almost always targeted at the one specific teenager rather than a general threat to mankind.
The story for the Twilight saga was, as I said, compelling, and I wanted to find out what happened to Bella, Edward and Jacob. I certainly did not expect the harmonious resolution to their triangle. BUT, this brings me neatly on to the problems I have with the series.
I found it just a little too safe. This may seem bizarre in a series where a young girl is fairly constantly fighting for her life against vampires and werewolves. But that’s the problem. She always won – in fact no, she was always saved. This isn’t as heartless as it seems – it’s just that the happy endings were just a little too contrived, and fortuitous. There was a lot of arriving in the nick of time – in every situation to be honest. In a book of our current era, starring a pretty feisty and strong girl, it seems little backwards to have the damsel in distress always rescued at the last moment, and this was only saved by the use of her shield in Breaking Dawn. This, though, wasn’t the resolution, which happened when Alice arrived in the nick of time with the evidence needed to stave off the Volturi attack. And, also, every fight situation ended happily, in every book. No-one that we cared about lost. I have two problems with this. First of all, tension-wise, in a series I would have thought it would be better to have some losses to ratchett up the suspense a little. If you think everyone is always safe, why bother about the outcome of the next fight? For example, in Star Wars – Han Solo seems lost in The Empire Strikes Back, and you need to watch Return of the Jedi to find out if or how he’s saved. Yes, you kind of know he will be, but it looks tense. More pertinently, in Harry Potter, Dumbledore dies. How, HOW can Harry go on without Dumbledore? How does he have a chance without his mentor? How can Sirius die – the first adult to take responsibility for Harry and provide a pseudo father-figure?
Secondly, it doesn’t fit. In a series which discusses intense relationships, sex, violence in some pretty graphic detail (dismemberings and beheadings occur frequently as well as burning bits of vampire on fires), supernatural monsters and drinking human blood, you might expect more casualties. No-one dies other than a couple of villains, a few human extras and one very minor character at the end of Breaking Dawn. Now, I am all for the victory of good over evil. I think it is absolutely right and proper that the bad guys are punished and the good guys aren’t, especially in what is marketed as a teenage book. But in the interests of a good story, surely there should be a little more tension than that? As I said, in Harry Potter there are actual casualties, people we care about. The final battle kills off one of the Weasly twins, Lupin and Tonks, and more. It’s upsetting, because we’ve come to care about these people, but it’s more real and it makes the survival of the protagonists more meaningful because you can see they were actually in danger. In the Twilight world, the good guys are, apparently, never in real danger because it’s always going to be a happy ending. This is good because you do care about the characters – the good guys really are good, Alice in particular is wonderful, but it does take away from the tension a little. To be honest, by the third book Bella’s preface, just as she’s about to die for someone she loves (yes, in every book), was getting a bit tiresome rather than suspenseful. Now, if you decide that your teen is old enough to deal with the issues discussed above, and to deal with the idea of a vampire romance, then surely they are old enough to deal with characters dying? Not the main ones – this is still young fiction after all, but important ones nonetheless?
I know the later Harry Potter books have been criticised for being a little too dark, too many deaths, and I would certainly want to feel that my children were mature enough to cope before they read them, but after all, fiction is one place where kids can explore issues like death and bereavement safely. And in defence, Harry Potter has the death without the gore. Twilight has the gore without the death – the visual without the substance. Without addressing grief and bereavement and mortality, it glorifies violence and gore. This is, to me, a disappointment in what is otherwise a very enjoyable series.
Character-wise, I think both books are very good. Twilight has a heroine almost all teenage girls can identify with, heroes girls would give their right arm for and an engaging supporting cast. Of the main three, Bella is a little on the depressive side for my taste, but Edward and Jacob are lovely, and their triangle is very interesting as the power shifts around. The relationship between Edward and Bella is very intense and believable (leaving the immortality aside!), and probably key to the series’ popularity. The idea of an incredibly attractive man waiting for decades or centuries, searching through the most attractive women possible, for his soul mate and deciding that you are it, with all your frailties and ordinariness, is intensely powerful and has drawn women to vampire romances for years.
Harry Potter has a wonderful cast of characters, who probably make bigger journeys than the Twilight crew – perhaps excepting Jacob. The fact that they are all ordinary teens who grow and develop and deal with minor issues like spots and dates as well as fighting the forces of evil speaks to all readers, who have been through the same torments themselves – apart from, I’m assuming fighting the forces of evil! It gives us hope that even we can fight evil if needed to, even we can rise to the occasion.
In conclusion, because I know this is a LONG post, I have to say that both series are excellent, with good plots and strong characters. Whatever my personal opinion on the weaknesses as I perceived them, there is no doubt that they are appealing, and I can only hope that in years to come my own books are read enough to provoke a blog post from someone about them. My preference though, has to go to Harry Potter. If you’ve read this and haven’t read the actual books yet, and haven’t been put off by the spoilers, here’s a link to Stephenie Meyer on Amazon and here is J K Rowling.
This is, of course, all my own opinion which is only of value to me and hopefully of interest to you! I’d be delighted if you commented on any of the points I’ve made, in agreement or otherwise, and please let me know if anyone is interested in the theological or moral aspects as I mentioned earlier.