John Granger made his bones as a renegade academic writing about Harry Potter. Having exhausted the Rowling canon, he has now turned his formidable critical faculties on the Twilight series. His new book Spotlight: A Close-Up Look at the Artistry and Meaning of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga is the result.
The revelations it contains are truly fascinating, and only a rigorous and resourceful reader like Granger could have found them. [<--- Hermione Granger joke goes here]
We’ve talked to John before. We will talk to John again. Here he is now on the challenge and rewards of Studying Stephenie, and popular fiction in general. And the secret of the Mountain Meadow, and why the Cullens are the Holy Trinity (Edward being Jesus).
So how does Stephenie Meyer’s work require a different critical approach from Rowling’s? Or does it?
It doesn’t, Lev, not really. The different approach each does require, though, is an approach that takes an author’s work seriously as artistic works of merit. Rowling is pretty much over this critical hump but Meyer is still dismissed as a genre hack (by Stephen King no less; he ought to know a genre hack), terrible writer, and as a corrupter of children’s morals.
We’ve seen this before, right? Bloom said Harry Potter was “slop” and Safire that that boy wizard was “unworthy of adult attention.” Mrs. Meyer has sold well over 70 million copies of her Twilight books, a number I expect to double before the films are done, and she’s a bad writer unable to deliver meaning that satisfies what readers look for in a good read? The more obvious and logical response, I think, as it was with Rowling, is to assume that the writer who sells a gazillion books is doing something right and to look at these books as works with depths of meaning to which readers are responding.
Unfortunately, the postmodern critical tool box doesn’t come with the instruments necessary to plumb these depths. The “Three Literary Pigs” of the academy, if you will, of deconstruction, literary taxonomy, and aestheticism, only probe the surface words of the text-as-artifact and miss the “why” of people reading fiction and the “how” of writers meeting the human need that brings readers to novels. As you’ve written, plot today is only valued by readers, not critics.
In an analogy your tech-o-phile readers here might like, the critical tools used to dismiss popular fiction and genre writers, however successful these authors may be (and go ahead and tell me all the writers more successful than Rowling and Meyer…), are a little bit like insisting on judging a circuit board by its appearance or superficial elegance (aestheticism), the atomic weight of the metals used (deconstruction), or by what type of board it is supposed to be (genre hierarchy or taxonomy). A board’s real elegance or beauty, of course, is in how it works, which requires an understanding of the properties of the materials used, say, conductivity rather than specific Periodic Table identity, and the right alignment of these materials with other components on the board.