Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Twilight Craze Hits Classic Literature

The other day I was browsing through Barnes and Noble when I happened to stop by a display of books with Twilight-inspired book covers. Figuring that someone had decided to capitalize on the Twilight craze, I looked closer and, lo and behold, the books were Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Romeo and Juliet. Ah, public domain. Sometimes you're not so great.

Now, I have to admit that I think the Twilight series cover art is quite good. It's simple, but at the same time all a person has to do is see a book cover with an image against a black background to conjure up a Twilight association. (For example, this is the Wuthering Heights cover that tipped me off.) So well done on that account.

But something about this doesn't sit well with me. I googled this phenomenon yesterday, and many people have already chimed in, so I'm not going to repeat a lot of what I've heard. I just thought I'd share my own reaction.

I don't think there's anything wrong with getting turned onto classics through pop culture references. Heck, that's how I learn about most classics. I saw Clueless before I'd ever heard of Emma. I was first introduced to Kate and Bianca through 10 Things I Hate About You. And I enjoy performances of Twelfth Night because I think She's The Man is one of the greatest films ever made.

But those are modern retellings of classic stories--an obvious homage. Wuthering Heights is just a reference in the Twilight series.

If you look closely at the book cover in the link above, you'll see that it advertises Wuthering Heights as "Bella and Edward's Favorite Book." That's going a little too far. That's turning Wuthering Heights into an homage to Twilight, and that's just wrong. Furthermore, I can't imagine that Stephenie Meyer would ever want anyone to think that she's comparing herself to Emily Brönte.

But ultimately I'm uncomfortable with all this because I think it's rather patronizing to the young (and not so young) readers of Twilight. Slap a similar cover on and they'll suddenly want to read it? First of all, the girls reading Twilight are readers, clearly. So they've probably heard of Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Romeo and Juliet. If they haven't read them yet, they probably won't be moved to read them by fancy new covers. They know what they are--classics written in centuries-old, sometimes difficult to understand language. Heck, there's a reason they're reading Twilight and not Moby Dick. Similarly, even if Twilight did inspire in them a desire to read Wuthering Heights, Twilight has been out for years now. They have probably picked it up on their own already.

I know I just wasted a lot of energy critiquing the advertising world, because the whole point of its existence is to try to manipulate consumers, but it still pisses me off because I do not fall for that shit. I roll my eyes and groan every time I see some Austen sequel/tribute in the bookstore. Classic literature is, in my opinion, sacred. It shouldn't be used as a gimmick to get us to buy some modern crap. It's even worse in a case like this, where the author of the new work has not brought this upon her/him, but instead some idiot marketing person dreamed it up.


Amy said...

I absolutely couldn't agree more.

The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

I get what you are saying but I don't know if I completely agree. I'm for anything that gets people to read. Particularly, young people even if it's a little gimmicky.

Morose-Mary said...

I agree as well. To me this is an insult to Austen, Dickens, and the other great literary giants that still surpass the contempary literature of today, in both unqie plots and style.

how distrubing in my opinion to see these literary giants, being compared to contempary mindless, knock offs.

Traxy said...

Getting kids to read is good, and if they read something that's good (i.e. Brontë) as an outcome of the Twilight association, so be it. Hopefully they'll realise why the Brontës, Austen and Dickens are popular today, 150-200 years after they were written. Because they're great literary works. Twilight? Well, let's wait 150 years and see who can still remember them.