The Politics of Wizards and Vampires

by Guest Contributor Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, originally published at Write.Live.Repeat

Twilight, the movie, comes out this week. It is based upon the bestselling novel by Stephenie Meyer, and, like the book, is said by many to be the “next Harry Potter,” meaning it is the first young-reader book series to come close to the astronomical sales of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Meyer still has a lot of catching up to do, having sold “just” 17 million books worldwide, compared to Rowling’s 400 million.

While both sets of books deal with children and their adventures with the supernatural, that is where the similarities end. Potter is aimed at a slightly younger demographic (9 to 12) and is loved by boys and girls alike; Twilight appeals mostly to older girls (14 to 19) and their sexually frustrated mothers.

The most startling difference between Twilight and Potter, however, is not demographical; it is ideological.

Put simply, Rowling and Potter live on the left; Meyer and Edward dwell on the right.

Both sets of books are popular in the United States, but I believe it is for drastically different reasons, however subconsciously those reasons may reside. Just as the nation continues to more of less split into the red and the blue (with high hopes that our President-elect can change this), the fundamentalist and the forward-thinking, so too does the world of children’s literature.

In the character of Harry Potter, and in the characters of his friends, teachers and associates, Rowling has created an essentially progressive “green” (and possibly agnostic) universe where people and wizards are good and kind by nature. Here, compassion and goodness are the norm, and students are taught to be ever-watchful for those few among them who make the unusual and shocking choice to be bad.

Harry is a goofy, bespectacled everyman, a reluctant geek of a hero who is out for the collective good of his community. He is champion of the little guy, the discriminated against, and the outcast. He basks little – if at all – in his own glory, and often shrinks from attention. He is frequently aided by animals and nature, because he is a respectful part of the natural world, which is perfect and loving.

By contrast, the lead male character in the Twilight series is Edward, a “vegetarian” vampire. Edward is heroic not because he is good by nature, but rather because he makes the choice to be good, against all his “natural” instincts. In this way, Twilight is the ideological polar opposite of Potter.

Edward, like all vampires, is by nature sinful – a human-killer. But with incredible effort and an endless thirst, he manages to live off the blood of “inferior” animals, a nod both to the Bible and to the assumed superiority of human beings in the natural order. In the Twilight universe, as in many fundamentalist religions, the default state of the soul is to be sinful, and the challenge of its characters is to be led not into temptation. To be saved from their evil natures.

Both books deal with the notion of heredity and ancestry, but they treat it very differently. In the Twilight books, fate is determined by birthright. In the Potter books, birthright is presented as purely a social construct designed to oppress. Think Jacob and the Native American werewolves in Twilight, doomed to their fate through blood ties, versus Hermione and the other ‘half bloods’ or children of ‘muggles’ at Hogwarts, who are continually shown to be deserving of their place at the school in spite of elitist snobbery from Malfoy et al.

No surprise, then, that Rowling herself is a progressive. She was a single mother when she wrote the first Potter book, living on welfare. Now estimated to be worth $1.1 billion, she gives massively to progressive causes the world over. No surprise, either, that her books terrify Christian fundamentalists. Potter books have been banned by many far-right Christian groups.

No surprise, either, that Meyer is a devout Mormon, a graduate of Brigham Young University who says on her Web site that her religion colors everything she writes. She describes herself as “very religious,” and her series ends with the female protagonist, all of 18, marrying Edward, becomming a vampire, and bearing his monster child.

There are many examples of Mormon theology flooding Meyer’s work, some of it racist against Native Americans, Latin Americans and anyone with dark skin, much of it sexist in the sense that Bella does not exist but to love Edward. (Meyer’s adult novel, The Host, is essentially a retelling of the Book of Mormon, set against a sci-fi backdrop.) The constant criticism the Twilight books have received is that Bella is not much of a character; there is no core to her, other than her adjective-laden obsession with the vampire.

By contrast, the main female character in the Potter books is painted as the smartest pupil in school, devoted to her studies, assertive and opinionated; again and again Hermione is said to be the brightest witch of her generation, destined for greatness. It is unthinkable that Hermoine would go the Meyer route, and drop out of school to marry Ron and bear his child at 18.

It will be interesting to see which book and series, and which ideology, comes out on top.

At the moment, US bestseller lists fabulously are dominated by Meyer. The movie will certainly help push the books more. However, as of this writing, Obama is our next president, and Rowling is still far out ahead.

But, every good wizard or progressive knows, we must be ever-watchful for that to change.