Who Is The Lesser of Two Evils: Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James?
SPOILERS AHEAD!!! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED!!
Insecure young girl with big dark eyes falls for a vampire who wants to kill her. Insecure young girl with big dark eyes falls for a rich bachelor who wants to beat her. These are the brief summaries of both series that created a cultural phenomenon for very different audiences; “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer, the one for insecure teenage girls, and “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James being the one for insecure sexually frustrated housewives. Much has been said and parodied about these two pieces of fiction. The questions I’m asking are, is the criticism valid, and if so, who is the lesser of two evils?
Before I make an attempt to answer these questions, let’s have an amusing little history lesson.
“Twilight” is a 2005 novel by Stephen Meyer, about a seventeen year old girl named Bella Swan who moves to a new town where she meets a vampire by the name of Edward Cullen, who has fallen in love with her, while wanting to kill her and drink her blood at the same time. This sparks a romance that’s chronicled over the course of four books, where stereotypes, clichés, and mythology about vampires are explored as well as those surrounding werewolves, how these different classes of monsters interact with each other and how they try to hide themselves from humans.
According to Stephanie Meyer, who hadn’t written so much as a short story before written her first published novel, the idea came in a dream where two people (they would become Edward and Bella later) were standing in a meadow and his skin sparkled as he told her he was a vampire, how he loved her but also wanted to kill her. She said it was a dream that opened the flood gates of ideas and in many ways, brought her back to herself. Meyer said how leading up to the dream about the book, she had become a zombie version of herself after having three difficult babies who didn’t sleep through the night, back to back. She said she loved her children, but she had become very burnt out and needed an expression, and “Twilight” became that expression for her.
Fast forward years later, Erica Leonard read the “Twilight” and became inspired by the work. Under the pseudonym SnowQueen Icedragon, wrote a “Twilight” fan fiction called “Master of the Universe”, taking the general structure of the original plot, while switching out the supernatural elements. For example, Bella is now a seventeen year old girl, but a college student who is a virgin named Anastasia Steele. Edward is no longer a vampire, but a billionaire named Christian Grey who is a sadist with a fetish for beating women who look like his mother. Jacob is no longer a werewolf, but a photographer named Jose, and so on along those lines. The following for the fan fiction reached massive numbers, to the point where a publisher picked up the manuscript, changed the names, and packaged “Master of the Universe” as “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
Much has been said about both of these works of fiction, some positive, while much of the criticism garners on some of the more negative aspects of the books. I’ll start with my own thoughts on Stephanie Meyer.
I have been on both sides of the argument in regards to Stephanie Meyer, starting when I was a sophomore in high school, when I first started reading the series. Around that time I had a love for dramatic and romantic stories like “Flowers in the Attic” by V.C. Andrews, so at that time, “Twilight” was right up my alley. However, as time went on, I more or less quickly grew out of the series, wanting something with a little more of bite to it, no pun intended. I discovered Stephen King, Jodi Picoult along with a wide variety of writers and was off and running. The more I read, the more I realized “Twilight” wasn’t necessarily the masterpiece I once thought it was. It doesn’t mean the work isn’t valid, since there are fun things about the series, but when compared to other authors, she was just no longer my favorite, which often happens when we grow up and our tastes change.
Now for E.L. James, this portion I will do my best to be polite; easier said than done.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” is a publishing mistake that in my personal opinion did not deserve to be published for multiple reasons. While Meyer’s book had more plot issues that even the best publisher can look passed, it was still written fairly well as far as grammatically. The same cannot be said about E.L. James’s work. The mistakes made in her books are colossal, laughable, and rage inducing knowing E.L. James fired the original editor assigned to her for trying to change too much of her “vision”, failing to understand that writing is rewriting, constant rewriting. The issues with the book’s structure is one thing, the story itself and all the messages that are implied, are very uncomfortable. This is where the fan fiction shows itself, considering James takes the weaker portions of the “Twilight Saga” and makes them worse. Edward and Bella’s relationship is without question a very unhealthy and at the very least a pedophilic, emotionally abusive relationship, that I will NEVER deny. What E.L. James did with her books was paint physical abuse by your partner as something to strive for if the man is handsome enough, while at the same time painting the BDSM lifestyle as something you only get into if you have deep psychological issues, when that’s not the case; people in the BDSM lifestyle lead more than productive lives, within the community, and out of it; and to paint it as something that people are forced into is disgusting, and totally false.
A good friend of mine is a retired dominatrix, and she HATED “Fifty Shades of Grey” with a passion. “Even if it did bring the BDSM lifestyle into the public eyes,” She said. “it’s still very negative and very misleading. If a sub doesn’t want to do any of the punishments or uses their safe word, you stop the session and never make them feel guilty. If you tried doing what this Christian Grey does in these books, you’d lose your job and probably be arrested for assault.”
I understand many women found E.L. James’s work to be sexually empowering, and I would never want to take that away from them. If this makes the women who read it happy, then that’s great. All of this is my personal opinion, an opinion many do share with me. I personally find these books to be potentially harmful and for the novels as they are, not within the structural and grammatical requirements to be published.
My final thoughts on this will go back to my original question, who between these two women are the lesser of two evils?
Without hesitation, I say Stephanie Meyer. By the time you come to the ending of her series, characters have grown, have changed, and a lot of insane things have taken place. The messages aren’t the greatest in regards to the kinds of relationships young women should strive for; however, it also does send the message to save your virginity for someone you’re truly in love with. Yes in the book it implies to wait until marriage, which I don’t personally agree with, and I can’t say for sure if this was intentionally, but if it was, that’s not the worst message in the world to pass to young woman. While her work may not be the best fiction out there, you can feel through the books and through Stephanie Meyer when she talks about these books that she loves this world. She loves it for what it was about to give her, a way back to herself.
E.L. James, I can’t say the same thing. While I understand Fan Fiction to be its own genre, her book is a complete plagiarized rip off of “Twilight”. Everything down to the version of James’s first novel to be told from Christian Grey’s point of view, an idea Stephanie Meyer had scrapped a decade before, at least until recently.
After well over a decade of waiting, fans of the Twilight Saga have finally been given “Midnight Sun”, the edition of the first novel in the saga, “Twilight” told from vampire Edward Cullen’s point of view. I have started listening to the audio book, and I can say while it’s still too early to say, I’m not mad at “Midnight Sun” in the slightest, where I was furious with “Grey”.
Only time will tell what the future holds for both of these women. I will say I think the one with the brighter future in the world of fiction will be Stephanie Meyer. E.L. James will recreate anything she can copy, without giving it anything close to a real beating pulse.