Sunday, October 21, 2012

How Rowling eclipses Meyer

First, an admission, then some thoughts.

The admission: despite the fact that I swore I would stop reading the twilight books after number two, new moon, I found myself in the Owl's Nest in Fredericton last week dropping five bucks on a used copy of eclipse, which of course is book three. I guess I'm a little bit hooked. And, surprisingly, it seems to have been the movies that did it, not the books themselves. I was impressed with the first two film adaptations and then felt I had to read books three and four before watching the films made of them.

Some thoughts: One of the great advantages that I think the J.K. Rowling series has over the Stephenie Meyer series is that Rowling adapts her style of writing to her maturing audience with each new book in the series. Meyers' books are all written for the same, young teen audience.

I can understand why Meyer would choose to do this, to be consistent in her style so that her readers would know what they're getting.

But I have a huge admiration for Rowling's realisation that her readers are themselves maturing in the interim period between the publication of her books. A reader who was thirteen when The Philosopher's Stone first came out would be 14 or so when The Chamber of Secrets was released, 15 to 16 when The Prisoner of Azkaban was published, and so on.

Rowling clearly understood that fact and made sure that the level and sophistication of each new book matched the level and sophistication of her reader. It's quite brilliant in its conception and really impressive in its execution.

Even now, I can enjoy the differing charms and attractions of each novel in the series. With Meyer, I find myself bemoaning the fact that each book offers the same tone, the same level of diction, the same sophistication of characterization and plot.

For example, the Bella Swan who works so well in twilight as a 16-year-old is less convincing in new moon as a 17-year-old and, as I'm finding out now, comes across almost embarrassingly infantile as an 18-year-old in eclipse. And the writing style doesn't mature either.

All of that being said, Meyer must be doing something right because I'm still reading.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

new moon takes things too far

I haven't posted in a while, mainly because I've had other reading obligations drawing my attention away from Harry and the gang.

The latest novel on my list, however, is the second entry in the twilight series, new moon. I'm not liking it half so much as I did twilight itself and that got me to thinking about why that might be.

I think I've figured it out. And I think it shines some light on a question faced by all writers of these kinds of books, including J.K. Rowling when she sat down to start writing Harry Potter.

The question is this: how closely do I plan to align the invented, magical parts of my novel's world with the "real" parts of that world? If I don't wish to write novels of pure fantasy but to maintain some level of connection between my stories and the real world of the reader, how do I balance the novel's "real" world with its magical counterpart?

It appears to me that writers have to decide either to create some barrier between to the two worlds, which allows the magical world to grow and develop, or to integrate the two worlds together, which requries that the magical aspects remain limited in depth and scope.

J.K Rowling decided to go the former route: using Diagon Alley as the doorway and the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy as the wall, she has created two seperate worlds that exist in parallel, rarely if ever meeting directly. She asks the readers to accept that Harry and Hermione, for example, can be born and raised in the real world, then invited to join the magical world when they reach age 11. In order to enjoy her novels, we must suspend our disbelief and accept that the magical world could possibly co-exist with our own. The limited interaction between the two and the efforts made by the wizards and witches to erase any trace of such interactions make it easier for us to go along with the fiction.

C.S. Lewis' Narnia series, the Peter Pan stories, the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland are all examples of authors who took similar approaches. They all involve a magical world that exists in parallel with our own, connected only by a single doorway through which the human characters travel.

Stephenie Meyer's twilight series, on the other hand, takes the other route: instead of creating a completely independent magical world, Meyer asks us to accept that vampies walk among us, that they have their own society, culture and history that exists in our own reality. There is no doorway between the worlds because there is only one world: the world the reader lives in.

In order for this approach to be effective, the writer must be very careful not to ask us to accept too much and I think that's where Meyer goes off the rails in new moon. I was able to accept that vampires exist and that a star-struck romance like that between Edward, the vampire, and Bella, the human, was possible. So I enjoyed twilight. But I'm having a lot more trouble now accepting the expansion of that magical world to include werewolves in new moon, and further that our unfortunate Bella could possibly end up with two perfect, wonderful star struck lovers, one a vampire, the other a werewolf and each the mortal enemy of the other.

Meyer appears to wish to "have her cake and eat it too" in that she wants her readers to accept that her books take place entirely in the real world and yet she wants to be allowed to add layer upon layer to the magical world she develops.

At some point, she has stretched reality so far that it actually breaks. And I think that happens in new moon.

Because she wants to set her stories in the real world, she can only add so many magical elements and expect her reader to accept them.

And,a t this point, I can't.

I would compare the effect to the horror genre. In order to be truly scary, a horror novel or movie must be based in the real world. We are not going to be afraid unless we identify the the character who is in danger or we fear that the scary stuff could happen to us. Either way, the characters and their world must be close enough to us and our world to make the story effective.

When the horror story strays too far from reality, it loses its effect. Sure, there's an entire branch of horror (the British call it "Hammer horror") that prides itself on being so ridiculous as to be funny but the really good horror movies and books are scary because they don't stray too far from reality.

In new moon, Meyer is starting to stray a little too far. And she doesn't have the protection of the seperate-world trope that makes Rowling's books so good.