I’ve recently found that I do most of my writerly worrying on my way to and from the cornershop. It’s a semi-daily thing, that – going there. Especially these days, what with assessment deadlines falling left, right and centre, and nothing helps writing, I find, as much as a Cadbury bar and a mug of milk. The cornershop, as it just so happens, has both. (Milk and bars, that is. Mugs are my own, but enough about that.)
I cornershopped it tonight. Put my headphones on and pressed play on the 4 AM Writing Sessions playlist on my iPod (six hours early, yes, but yeah – whatever), which does nothing but inspire. Seriously, it’s amazing. Then I left my flat and as soon as that outer door closed shut behind me, my mind pretty much picked up where it left off last – with those girls who like boys.
First off, let’s face it. They’re a pretty common thing in YA literature. At least, to my limited knowledge, they are. L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries has Elena, The Secret Circle has Cassie; Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga has Bella, and The Host has Melanie/Wanderer. Hell, had there been less Hunger Games for Katniss to worry about, let alone participate in, in Suzanne Collins’ series of the same name, odds are she would’ve probably spent more time in those woods with Gale, and something was bound to have come of that. I mean, come on. What he said (at about 1.46, but yeah – the rest of it’s pretty true, too). And as for Hermione Granger? Well, she might have started out as a kid, but by the time the coolest girl in the whole wide world (song starts at around 4.00) became a young adult, even she eventually fell for one Ronald Weasley. Of course, they didn’t all fall in the same way, and that is undoubtedly what makes the difference.
Stephen King once said that ‘Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity’ whereas ‘Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend,’ and that’s stuck with me for some time now. Mostly because my former main character would undoubtedly fall closer to the Twilight end of that spectrum than she ever would the Harry Potter one, and I could tell from that quote, from the way the disdain kind of just reeks out of it, that that was not something you would or should want if you wanted your book to be at least somewhat good. But I wonder, now, if that is a fair point to make? Because, let’s face it, apart from both works being written works, they have nothing in common and I don’t think they ever intended to.
Harry Potter is, as King says, about confronting fears. It’s about the return of what is supposed to be the greatest evil and about how everyone must, at some point down the line, take a stand, for or against. Yes, there is love in it and love is a huge part of it, but it’s not a love story. Sure, some fangirls around the world squealed like fangirls do when Ron and Hermione finally kissed, when Harry and Ginny finally kissed, because they’d been rooting for that for years by then, but it wasn’t the biggest thing in the novel, it never would be. Harry beating Voldemort was. Harry sacrificing himself for those he loved was. Harry doing the right thing was.
Which, to be honest, is quite close to what Bella Swan spends most of Twilight doing, too. I mean, doing the right thing? Kind of check, what with the self-sacrifice to save her mum. Self-sacrifice? See aforementioned check. Beating the evil? She didn’t, really, and wasn’t intending to, but was Harry? I can’t remember, but as far as I recall, he was pretty sure he was going to die until he did, but didn’t, and then Dumbledore dropped by and said hi, because that’s what happens when you’re in Limbo? Is it me or did Harry Potter just totally jump into that death, head first?
If one were to compare, I think, in my books, Twilight’s saving grace is the fact that Bella Swan does what she does at the end to save her mother, not her lover. I always forget that when I do that annual Twilight watching, and every time it annoys me, greatly, until the end comes around and I remember she goes to that ballet studio to save Renée, and I’m all cool with it again. However. That is if one were to compare, which, as I mentioned somewhere above, I don’t necessarily think one should. Why? It’s quite simple. Twilight’s a romance novel. It’s about the love story. Harry Potter? Not sure what exactly I’d pigeonhole that as, but romance sure as hell wouldn’t be it. You can compare the writing (which is why I’m fine with King also stating that, ‘Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good’), but you can’t compare books that fall into different genres, you just can’t. Twilight may be unideal in more than one way, but it does what it’s supposed to – it gives us Girl Meets Boy, They (Eventually) Live Happily Ever After.
Which brings us back to the cornershop worrying because my main character isn’t on a mission to save her mum (though, I admit, I have thought about this). She is (as of a week ago when my novel had a sudden change of main character) on a mission to save her late ex-boyfriend (as opposed to my last main character, who was on a mission to save her late husband). Yes – she goes through all of her troubles for a guy. Did she give up her life for said Guy? No. I wouldn’t say so, but there is no denying that he had an impact on it, and a big one at that. Does she give up her friends for said Guy? No. They were there before he entered her life, and they are there after. Were there when he was there, too, so they noticed said impact, which might just be why they all decide to do theirs to help her out come Ex-Boyfriend’s death, and her suicide mission to bring him back.
Why, then, do I worry? Because the world makes me feel like I should: it’s King with his quote; it’s the Girl Cares About Guy, which, for reasons (almost) unknown, feels like such a no-no route to go down (though, I admit, that may just be me over-thinking it); and it’s the (fanatical ones among the) feminists with their anti-Guy attitudes – more than anything, it’s them. Because God forbid a girl actually liked a guy that much.
Do I think the Twilight love story is ideal? No. Probably not. Do I get where it’s coming from? Yes. Probably not to a Bella-extent, but yes. My mother and grandmother aside (the latter of whom outrode me on bikes well into her seventies), the people who have shaped me have undoubtedly been male. From my father leaving my mum when I was 10, to the first guy who found my ridiculously insecure 17-year-old self kiss-worthy, to that first boyfriend that I hurt, to that guy who told me he wasn’t good enough for me (and, what’s more, meant it), the moments that truly define me have been male-induced – from the lowest lows to the highest highs, I am who I am because of the men in my life. And I say that as someone who quite cherishes her female friends.
Which is why, quite frankly, I don’t get what the big fuss is about because, surely, I can’t be the only one – I can’t be the only product of the males in my life, can’t be the only girl who’s liked a boy too much, the only girl who remembers how willing, at one point or other (though, I suspect, usually in those teen years because weren’t they just a downright pain sometimes? I know some of mine were), she was to sacrifice just about anything for that one love because the thought of living without it was just unbearable (seriously? Do you remember those years? No wonder Bella Swan’s all f*cked up). I know I do – remember them – and I remember the Edward Cullen of that time. I remember two full years of unrequited, of just feeling hollowed out, of painfully despairing misery, of unsteady breaths, of repeated blows to my stomach. Non-literal ones, those last ones, but still – they sucked. And do you know what my only thought here is? At least Bella Swan suffered through all of that for a guy who had the decency to suffer through all of it with her. She may have been willing to give up her life for him, but he sure as hell was willing to give up his for her in return, and that’s something. Something they often fail to mention.
Do I think Twilight is the golden standard? No. By no means, no. Do I think people should stop complaining about girls who like boys? Yes. Absolutely. Because we do and we did (those of us who, y’know, like boys, anyway), and you know what? Sometimes they deserve to be liked – they really do.
Even the ones who don’t think they’re good enough for us.