Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity… Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend .
The above quote has been mis-attributed to many, including Stephen King and Andrew Futral (who re-blogged it) but was actually written by someone named Robin Browne. Whoever she is, she hit the nail on the head.
(A note about spoilers: I will keep Harry Potter spoilers to a minimum, only letting go the kind of information that you could pick up from your standard movie trailer and have probably picked up on already, unless you live in a world without other people. Twilight spoilers, on the other hand, abound, because I can’t “spoil” Twilight any more than I can “spoil” a compost heap.)
Harry Potter is an epic tale of good vs evil.
One of the things I most appreciate about the Harry Potter series is its rich exploration of right and wrong, good and evil.
In Harry Potter, good guys and bad guys are not clearly defined. Good people sometimes do bad things, and bad people sometimes do good things. The person you percieve as a villain in the beginning of a book is rarely still a villain by the end, and some of the people you thought were good turn out to be pretty damn evil.
What if your intentions are good, but your actions are bad? Does that make you good, or bad? What if you do something bad “for the greater good”? What if you do bad things by accident?
Harry Potter addresses all of these questions, and answers them as well. Rowling’s answer?
No one is all good or all bad. You can even be on the side of “good” and still be deeply evil.
We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.
Twilight is… not.
One of the things that intrigues me most about Stephenie Meyer is the divide between what she thinks Twilight is, and what it actually is.
On Meyer’s website, she talks about the apple on the cover of Twilight and the quote that opens the novel.
I used the scripture from Genesis (located just after the table of contents) because I loved the phrase “the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.” Isn’t this exactly what Bella ends up with? A working knowledge of what good is, and what evil is.
Really? She does? Because I am not convinced that Bella would recognize evil if it tried to kill her.
On top of that, Bella herself is a right bitch.
Quick – what’s the first thing you think of when you think of “good”?
If your answer is “Bella Swan”, congratulations! First, you fully agree with what Stephenie Meyer thinks, and second, your medication dosage needs to be reviewed immediately.
Meyer certainly seems to percieve her own work as a thrilling tale about the nature of good and evil, choice and fate.
I see it as a story about a whiny brat with absolutely no morals, who never learns that she is not a good person.
So I can only form the following conclusion: Stephenie Meyer is seriously confused about what constitutes “good” and what constitutes “evil”.
The funny thing about good and evil in Meyer’s books is that they don’t seem to be largely correlated to right and wrong, being nice or being cruel.
As far as I can gather, having read the Twilight Saga…
“Good” means: Friends with Bella.
“Evil” means: Not friends with Bella and/or has red eyes.
Therefore, I am evil, and so are albino bunny rabbits.
What Bella Isn’t: A Reliable Judge of Good and Evil.
Edward steals part of the engine out of Bella’s car to stop her from hanging around Jacob. Jacob sexually assaults Bella on a number of occasions. Alice steals a Porsche. Even the adorable vampire baby drinks human blood.
But the worst of all of them is Bella, our wonderful protagonist, who gains this wonderful understanding of the nature of evil.
When I look at Bella, I see paragraphs like this:
Charlie wasn’t exactly aware that Edward frequently stayed over. In fact, he would have a stroke if that fact were brought to his attention. But I didn’t feel too guilty for deceiving him.
Only a teenage boy would agree to this: decieving both our parents while repairing dangerous vehicles using money meant for my college education. He didn’t see anything wrong with that picture. Jacob was a gift from the gods.
I don’t know how long I stood there weighing the pros against the cons – doing the right thing by Jacob, seeing my closest friend again, being a good person, versus making Edward furious with me.
“Thou shalt not kill” is commonly accepted by most major belief systems. And I’ve killed a lot of people, Bella.”
“Only the bad ones.”
I see no proof that Bella is in any way “good”.
Even her supposedly good acts, her constant selflessness for the sake of others, can be just as easily attributed to an enjoyment of the martyr act and a severe self-esteem problem.
Things that Bella does without much compunction:
- Gets sarcastic with people who try to make friendly conversation with her.
- Lies to her father. Repeatedly.
- Flirts with an impressionable young boy in order to tease out information about her vampire crush.
- Purposely says hurtful things to her father to stop him from asking further questions
- Steals money from her college fund in order to refurbish a pair of motorcycles and then learn to ride them, despite the fact that her father has forbidden her to ride a motorcycle.
- Condones murder in people she is attracted to.
- Repeatedly puts herself in danger despite the fact that she promised to do no such thing.
- Runs off to Italy without telling her father where she is going.
- Labels the people who get pissed off with her as being “evil”
- Not loving Jacob
- Loving Jacob
- Being hunted by angry red-eyed vampires with a taste for her blood
- Being hunted by an angry red-eyed vampire who blames her for the fact that Edward’s brothers killed her red-eyed boyfriend in Bella’s defence last year (yes, the bizarre circle of blame IS that complex).
- Giving her werewolf friends an opportunity to attack and kill angry, red-eyed vampires, which is their favourite past time.
- Smelling good.
- Getting to date Edward.
Now, check out Bella’s application of the word “evil” in Eclipse – TWO BOOKS after Bella supposedly learned all about “what good is, and what evil is.”
Before Edward’s return, my school friends had polarized into two groups. I liked to think of those groups as good vs. evil. Us and them worked too. The good guys were Angela, her steady boyfriend Ben Cheney, and Mike Newton; these three had all very generously forgiven me for going crazy when Edward left. Lauren Mallory was the evil core of the them side, and almost everyone else, including my first friend in Forks, Jessica Stanley, seemed content to go along with her anti-Bella agenda.
Okay, let’s go through all the things wrong with this paragraph step by step.
1. Actually, all of Bella’s supposed “friends” stuck by her when she “went crazy” after Edward left, as well as they could considering that she just totally ignored them for four months straight. They continued to let her eat with them, despite the fact that she had entirely stopped talking to all of them and paid no attention to what they said. Jessica got fed up for the last time with Bella half-way through New Moon when Bella badgered her into going to a movie, and then persisted in attracting the attentions of some dangerous looking rough necks.
But then, Bella doesn’t seem to have empathy for other humans.
Observe this quote from New Moon:
It had been weeks, maybe months, since Jess had even greeted me when I passed her in the hall. I knew I had offended her with my anti-social behaviour, and she was sulking.
SULKING? How about, “hurt”, “had given up on trying to be nice to me”, “was sick of being snubbed”, or “HAD REALIZED THAT I AM AN EVIL BITCH”?
2. Mike Newton has the hots for Bella, so it’s not so much that he has”forgiven” but that that he “still wants to get into her pants”.
3. Lauren Mallory and her “anti-Bella” agenda seem to exist purely in Bella’s mind, since we’re rarely if ever given any indication of Lauren’s supposed bitchiness except through Bella’s interpretations of her vocal inflections.
Forget vampires who want to eat you and vampires who just want to control your life and friends who may or may not be murderers. This girl uses insolent tones when addressing Bella!
Damn her and her anti-Bella agenda! EVIL! EVIL!
The only thing you could legitimately accuse Lauren of is the use of sarcasm. Only evil bitches would use sarcasm, right, Bella?
“My mother is part albino.”
He studied my face apprehensively, and I sighed. It looked like clouds and a sense of humor didn’t mix. A few months of this and I’d forget how to use sarcasm.
Choice: You have the right to remain wrong
Okay, so maybe the protagonist of Twilight is a bad egg. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the overall message of the books is bad.
But it is, nonetheless.
Meyer has identified “choice” as being one of the most prevalent themes in her novels. Choosing not to be the person that fate seems to have set out to make you. Fighting negative impulses in order to do the right thing.
I really think that’s the underlying metaphor of my vampires. It doesn’t matter where you’re stuck in life or what you think you have to do; you can always choose something else. There’s always a different path.
The funny thing is, that’s also a major theme in Harry Potter. If you replaced the words “my vampires” with “Harry Potter”, it could have been J.K. Rowling speaking.
The characters in Harry Potter, most notably Harry himself, are constantly being asked to choose whether to do what comes naturally to them, or to do what isright. She often uses the character of Dumbledore to spell it out to her readers.
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort.
I can see why Stephenie Meyer believes that she is also following this noble theme. After all, her “good” vampire characters are what they call “vegetarians”. In other words, they eschew human blood and instead feast on the local wildlife.
Essentially, Meyer’s vegetarian vampires are in a little Al-Anon type club, where they constantly support each other in resisting their lust for human blood.
That’s definitely non-evil. They are certainly, like the characters in Harry Potter, choosing the difficult but moral path, as opposed to the easy but immoral one. Dumbledore would surely approve.
But is that all it takes to be “good”? To NOT kill people? Isn’t that a little broad?
I mean, look at me, here I am, not killing people.
Does that automatically make me a good person?
Or is it the resistance of temptation that makes one “good”? In that case, does that mean that an alcoholic is only a good person when he is on the wagon?
The choice to do good is a big theme in Harry Potter, but there is also a complex discussion of what “good” IS.
The Continuum of Goodness.
The ultimate definition of good, in Harry Potter, is based on caring and concern for others. Acts of kindness, protection, and self-sacrifice are good. Acts of cruelty, hatred, or self-interest are bad.
Both the protagonists and the antagonists occasionally do good or bad things. The difference is that the protagonists generally try to do the right thing, while the antagonists do not.
Interestingly, often the characters do harm when trying to do good. Hermione, for example, is so ardent about freeing house elves who don’t want to be freed that she ends up saddling the only free elf, Dobby, with all of the housework in Gryffindor Tower, because the other elves won’t go near the place. Does that make her acts good, or bad?
Harry, in defending himself against an evil curse cast by another student, uses a spell that he has never tried before, only to discover that it inflicts terrible damage on the other student. He is horrified with himself. And yet, later on, he attempts to use that same curse on an adult in a battle with a known murderer.
When is it ok to hurt someone else? When is it an evil act, instead of mere self-protection?
These are the kind of questions that Harry Potter makes you ask yourself.
It is rare to discover such shades of grey, especially in children’s literature.
The good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad. Think of books like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Dark Is Rising, and The Hobbit. The protagonists are good, and the supernatural evils that they fight are bad. How do we know this? Well… we just know!
Even more adult literature makes this sharp distinction.
Think of The Lord of the Rings: Let’s look at the story of Sauron, supposed bad-guy of Middle Earth. You know, the big eye from the movies?
What did he actually DO?
Yeah, okay, his army and his country of Mordor was full of Orcs and Goblins, but is that what all of this Good vs Evil stuff was based on? Racism? Interracial breeding? Jealousy over someone’s baddass ring-making skills?
But at least in Lord of the Rings, the “good” characters do actually seem to be good. A little racist, maybe, but otherwise, they’re ok guys.
Evil: Hot or Not?
I’ve always been fascinated with appearances because evil doesn’t appear evil, it doesn’t. It’s clean and shiny and pretty.
The above quote is yet another example of Stephenie Meyer saying the right thing, even though it doesn’t actually apply to her writing. Much of Harry Potter is taken up with that same notion – that you can’t judge based on appearances.
Unlike Harry Potter, however, Meyer doesn’t actually make it difficult to tell good from evil, because she has handily colour-coded all of her bad guys by giving them demonic red eyes, while “good” vampires (i.e. those who just murder animals, and not humans) have lovely golden eyes.
So basically, in learning “about good and evil”, all Bella learns is that she should stay away from people with glowing red eyes, and if she didn’t know that instinctively, well, maybe Darwin should have been allowed to take his course.
And yes, I realize that Voldemort has red eyes too, but only LATER on. One of the most chilling moments in Harry Potter is a flashback to Voldemort as a handsome young child.
He was already using magic against other people, to frighten, to punish, to control. The little stories of the strangled rabbit and the young boy and girl he lured into a cave were most suggestive…”I can make them hurt if I want to….”
Voldemort gives us an excellent insight into Rowling’s concept of evil:
The use of powers to control and hurt others. Murder. Torture. These are the hallmarks of evil in the Potterverse, and personally I consider them to be the hallmarks of evil in any other universe as well.
Instead of colour-coding good guys and bad guys, Rowling makes us explore what evil is, and shows us how her protagonist responds to evil acts.
Harry is a flawed character, but he is always repulsed by the persecution of others. When he discovers that his dead father, whom he idolizes, was once an arrogant bully, he is horrified and disgusted.
The part that baffles him the most is that people have always told him how GOOD his father was.
“Your father was the best friend I ever had, and he was a good person. A lot of people are idiots at the age of fifteen. He grew out of it.”
But Harry can’t reconcile meanness and good in the same person. It totally messes up his view of his own father, basically forever.
And then there’s Bella… who actually seems to have a strange attraction to evil.
The Friendly VampMeyers, despite being handily colour coded, don’t always ACT good. Luckily, Bella seems to like that.
Then again, since Bella has a mean streak, she probably has an affinity for evil. Right from the beginning, Bella mentally scorns those who are being nice to her.
a gangly boy with skin problems and hair black as an oil slick leaned across the aisle to talk to me.
“You’re Isabella Swan, aren’t you?” He looked like the overly helpful, chess club type.
We sat at the end of a full tables with several of her friends, who she introduced to me. I forgot all their names as soon as she spoke them. They seemed impressed by her bravery in speaking to me.
Mike, who was taking on the qualities of a golden retriever, walked faithfully by my side.
She then focuses on the Cullens because they are attractive, and asks to know all about them. Not the people who are being nice to her, introducing themselves, and so on. No. She wants to know about the VAMPIRES. The ones who are totally ignoring her.
Contrast this with Harry, will you? He befriended the first person who was nice to him, and when someone all pale and shiny and snotty showed up, he sent him packing.
You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.” He held out his hand to shake Harry’s, but Harry didn’t take it.
“I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks,” he said coolly.
But Bella, Miss Telling-Good-From-Evil, rejects the nice ones and starts mooning over the good looking rich undead ones.
Okay, sure, you say, but that’s at the START. Obviously there needs to be some character progression.
As far as I can tell, there is none. Bella is immediately attracted to the moody creep who keeps telling her that she should stay away from him, because he wants to drink her blood. She decides that she is in love with him. Three books later, they are still together and living happily ever after.
But that’s ok, because luckily, this clean, shiny and pretty guy is the good guy. You can tell because he’s clean, shiny, pretty, and has golden eyes. The evil ones are the crumbly hobo-dressed red-eyed guys.
In Eclipse, Edward asks Bella why she likes Wuthering Heights so much.
I think it’s something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart — not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, in the end…“
That’s Bella all over. It doesn’t matter to her if someone is evil. If they are her friend, or her lover, then they can do all the evil things they want, and they will still be good in her eyes.
And in Meyer’s, too, apparently.
Jack The Ripper: Nice Once You Get To Know Him?
Let’s listen to Bella, for example, ponder the right and wrong of, oh, say, MURDER Edward tells Bella that he wasn’t always a “vegetarian” – that he went off on his own for a while and got killing humans out of his system.
Really?” I was intrigued, rather than frightened, as I perhaps should have been. […]
“That doesn’t repulse you?”
“I guess it sounds… reasonable.
Okay, maybe he had somewhat good motives, but on learning that you boyfriend has been a vigilante executioner, you should be a WEE BIT repulsed.
But afterall, Meyer says that Bella GAINS a working knowledge of good and evil over the course of Twilight.
So let’s move ahead to New Moon.
You know, after Bella has that “working knowledge”.
Bella has figured out that Jacob is a werewolf, and she thinks that he has been out killing tourists. She wonders, is it wrong to warn him that the police are after him?
Should I warn him if he and his friends were…. were murderers? If they were out slaughtering innocent hikers in cold blood? If they were truly creatures from a horror movie in every sense, would it be wrong to protect them?
The answer, I think, should be “HELL YES, ABSOLUTELY.”
Bella’s answer, however, is this:
Once you cared about a person, it was impossible to be logical about them anymore. Jacob was my friend whether he killed people or not.
Yes. She seriously says that.
Harry is willing to reject his own father because his Dad once once dangled Harry’s least favourite person upside down, but Bella is willing to embrace a friend who may be rending hikers limb from limb.
Well, I’m glad that she got that whole good vs evil thing sorted out.
The scary thing is, in BOTH of these someone-I-love-is-a-murderer situations, Bella does not refer to right and wrong, but to reason.
It is okay that Edward killed people, because it is reasonable for a vampire to want to do so, and because he only targeted bad guys. It is okay if Jacob kills people, because she loves him and therefore she has license to be illogical about him.
So if murder is not wrong when it is reasonable, and if protecting a murderer is okay if you love them enough, then what does constitute good and bad, right and wrong, in the Twilight world?
Having a Boyfriend Trumps All.
Bella needs men in her life so she loves them unconditionally, no matter who they kill.
That’s some good morality there.
Let’s face it:
Meyer’s characters, Bella especially, are the good guys because… well, because we assume that the protagonist is always the good guy.
Meyer loves Bella, and therefore she can forgive anything bad Bella does, and Bella loves Edward and Jacob, so she can forgive anything THEY do, whether it be sexual assault, or simply befriending a nitwit.
Unfortunately, I do not forgive any of that.
Conclusion: Your Fruit of Knowledge Was A Bad Apple
Dear Ms. Meyer – I sure hope you are a better person than your protagonist. The next time you write a story that addresses knowing good from evil, maybe you should do some research on it first.
Maybe try a pomegranate next time.
**I wrote a book! Twilight annoyed me so much that I decided to write a story that was the exact opposite. You can check it out here.**