Essay: What’s Up with the Twilight Phenomenon?

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I’m 43 years old, and I love vampires. I have always loved vampires.

When I was a child, I used to watch Hammer horror movies with my parents, and ask them why everyone hated the vampire. Admittedly, I was a strange child (as I am a strange adult), but I think the reason I rooted for the vampire was because I “got” the connection between sex and death that the vampire represents. Okay, at that age, it was love, not sex, but the connection between death and “sexual love” (if you will) still applies.

For me, the vampire was a far more compelling love interest than some callow young man who just wanted to marry the heroine and give her babies like everybody else. The vampire needed his paramour as much as life itself, and their love would last for centuries. Talk about romantic!

I read a review of Stephanie Meyer’s novel, “Twilight,” in Entertainment Weekly by one of my favorite writers, Stephen King. He said he could understand the appeal of the subject matter – chaste love for young teens – but he didn’t think Meyer could write. With all due love and respect, I think “Uncle Stevie” missed the boat on this one. That’s okay. Uncle Stevie (as he refers to himself when he address us, the “Constant Reader”) has written some damn good stuff about vampires, in “‘Salem’s Lot,” for example, and in the Dark Tower series.

The vampire is a very rich, fertile source of inspiration and association (especially for something that’s undead) for artists of all stripes. King himself is a very good writer, and his thematic exploration of how vampires prey on the living, especially their own living families, is darkly magical and unsettling.

I think, however, that for Uncle Stevie, vampires don’t resonate sexually, and for me they do. A vampire is like the hero in a Gothic novel: you’re not sure if he wants to rape the heroine, kill her, eat her, or all three, in no particular order.

Vampires conjure up almost Jungian associations of breast feeding: the simple, but all-consuming experience we assume newborn babies have when they suckle: the largely benevolent — but scarily omnipotent — power of the mother and the mother’s breast to feed and comfort or to withhold food and comfort, and the possibility of suffocation under the breasts of that much-larger body.

The unself-consciousness of nursing can become emotionally entangled later in life with the unself-consciousness of orgasm; the nurture from a mother’s breast can remind you of a lover’s emotional nurturing, and the sucking for dear life itself. . . best to leave that to your own imagination for now.

I have only read the first novel of Stephanie Meyers’s series, but I would venture to guess that she “gets” it. When I was a teenager — before I was sexually active — the light touch of a boy’s fingers running up and down my inner forearms would make me dreamy and aroused for days. My body felt exquisitely sensitive, which is how “Twilight’s” female protagonist, Bella, feels after the lightest physical contact with Edward, the vampire with whom she falls in love.

The setting of the book is high school, and the wish-fulfillment of “Bella the outcast” becoming “Bella the girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful and popular” will surely appeal to most teenage girls. Many teenagers will also understand the connection between sex and death on a subconscious basis in the age of AIDS, Hep C and the still scary specter of teenage pregnancy. Even if we take the attraction of those elements as a given, however, there’s a whole other level of depth to the novel that may not be apparent to the casual reader.

I am one of many people around the world who finds the imagery of dominance and submission to be arousing. The typical feminist explanation of a woman’s rape fantasy is that the woman controls the fantasy, so everything that happens to her in the fantasy is of her own choosing, and that the lack of consent frees her from responsibility for her own immoral sexual desire so she can enjoy the fantasy sex without guilt.

Additionally, I find the idea of someone wanting me so much that he has to take me against my will (in exactly the way I want him to, of course) to be very hot. Just for the record, fantasy rape and real rape do not exist in the same universe, and that when a potential sexual partner says no, they really mean it (unless you are playing with safe words, which is a whole different blog entry).

Reading through “Twilight,” I could not help but notice that Edward’s relationship with Bella is often one of loving dominance. He commands her. He compels her. She does what he tells her to against her own judgement because she trusts him. He is as obsessed with her as she is with him, but he’s afraid of losing control because he is just that attracted to her. In addition, she is the only woman who has ever inspired those feelings in him. Pretty heady stuff.

Just when I was starting to find the love story just a tad sedate, however, a threat was introduced that threw all of the qualities of vampire / victim love and dominance dynamics into sharp relief. I’m not going to tell you what it was, in case you haven’t read the book yourself, but having two crazy sexy guys willing to fight to the death to possess you isn’t the worst predicament you could find yourself in, even if at least one of them does want to kill you.

No, “Twilight” has not taken over my life, nor have I bought any fan paraphernalia. However, I have signed up to read the next book in the “Twilight” series at the library, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival. It’s not the next coming, but it is pretty entertaining, and in today’s world, you could do a lot worse.

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Brief Takes: Duma Key: A Novel, by Stephen King

Duma

One of King’s better efforts about memory, age, connections, hauntings, curses, and dysfunctional families. I had a hard time getting past the downer beginning about a man whose life has completely fallen apart, but loved it once it started rolling.  Get ready for ghost ships and pirates.

Brief Takes: Just After Sunset, by Stephen King

Just After Sunset

Stephen King’s first book of short stories in many years shows his growth as an author and also gives his old fans a good taste of what they’ve come to expect from him. The stories vary in tone much more than in previous collections, and Mr. King has clearly been energized from his recent work editing short story collections for others. If you’ve avoided Mr. King because of his reputation as a horror hack, now might be a good time to reconsider.

Book Review: The Dark Tower, Book 7 by Stephen King

Roland the Gunslinger’s journey to the Dark Tower has been a long and difficult one, and it has been long for his readers as well. I read the original novel “The Gunslinger” the first time because I loved Stephen King and I read everything he wrote.

I didn’t care much for the novel at the time, and I still don’t. I find it bleak and arid, much like the desert the gunslinger crosses – much like his soul during this opening chapter. King gives us some interesting glimpses of the world he is creating, but his characters are the real heart of his stories, and this one seems to be missing its.

The second novel, “The Drawing of the Three,” is much better. King introduces us to other characters which will help Roland on his quest, and they begin to revive his ability to care for other people. I think, however, the jump in quality between the first and second novels is due largely to King’s growth as a writer and his confidence in the story. From the very beginning of the second book, Roland seems more alive and more thought-out as a character than he does in the first one.

By the time Stephen King got to book 7, The Dark Tower had become his magnum opus. He had begun tying all his books and stories into Roland’s universe, and King seemed to invest a lot of his own energy and emotions into it as well. He himself appears as a character in this series, and his presence in it is a meditation on the artist’s part in the creative process. King seems to come from the musomania school of creativity, in that the “Gods” literally inspire him (“sh*t on his head” is how he puts it), and even if he is the physical creator of the stories, he is somehow channeling a higher energy, being or force when he is writing.

Here is where King addresses the automobile accident that nearly killed him and indirectly, the suffering he enduring during rehab, which is alluded to in his descriptions of Roland’s painful ailment, the “dry twist,” which I think of as arthritis. In coming to the end of this story, King ponders his own mortality as he examines the completion of Roland’s quest, and one individual’s small place in the universe, which will go on without him after his death.

The ending could be considered bleak. I absolutely hated it the first time I read it. It grew on me a little as time went by and I considered the mythic nature of the story, and how King draws from different mythologies in writing his conclusion. There are happy endings for some characters, which in a way feels like a cheat, even as I am happy to have them. They feel almost “tacked on,” like the 2nd ending of “Dirty Dancing,” with the big musical number, after the first, grittier, more realistic ending where Baby is left in the corner with her memories and her family. The characters in The Dark Tower series have earned their happy endings, but I’m not completely sure the story has. However, I might have found the series unbearable to read if they had not been given their due, so I understand why they were left in, even if they are not perfectly in alignment with the rest of the universe King has created.

I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but I do want to say that – in the end – the Gunslinger realizes that in some ways, the very approach that allows him to finish his quest, the violence and disregard for human life, has tainted it and his soul. I want to believe that the experiences he has had with his friends have given him a depth of self-understanding that will ultimately lead him to a more satisfying resolution.

If anyone else wants to discuss the story – especially the ending and what happens to the characters – I’d love to hear from you, so please send me an email, here or at lee@resun.com.