Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Believing in Happily Ever After: Part 1, Stephen King on Potter VS Twilight

 In July, I was invited to Google+ by one of the Chat moderators on Twitter who runs #Litchat (which I recommend to readers and writers -- find times by following http://twitter.com/#!/LitChat )  Today, Google+ is open to anyone.  Back then you needed an invitation to beta-testing. 

Immediately, I had a whole raft of writer friends turning up on google+ via the #Litchat connection so I made a circle for those folks, and before I knew it, here came a marvelous post with a quote from Stephen King -- this was just before the weekend when the last Harry Potter film was released.

So I'm trying to learn how to construct links that will lead you to elements on Google+.  So far, no dice. 

So here's a link that might lead you to the jpg with the quoted words on it.  It works for me.


This quote jpg of text is posted on:

Brandon Withrow, who got this interesting post from someone else on google+ known as Adm Chrysler, posted that image linked above, which had apparently already "gone viral" and which is a quote attributed to Stephen King.  It says:

"Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity.  Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend." -- Stephen King

I commented on Brandon's post, saying:

I admire Stephen King for his true professionalism. I met him once and learned he does what he does on purpose! However, I disagree with his summation here only because it leaves out some important words.

Twilight is about how "confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of diversity is necessary in order to have and maintain normal Relationships, even if you or your boyfriend aren't exactly normal people."

Potter is about dealing with the situation you are in through no fault of your own; Twilight is about choosing your situation and committing to see it through no matter what happens as a result of your choice."
---------end quote--------

Kate Shellnutt commented with another reference to what Stephen King has said, and Brandon Withrow answered:

I suppose being a big HP fan skews his objectivity, where Jacqueline is giving a more even-handed take on the two. Not to geek out on it, but fan intensity for one or the other reminds me a bit of the Star Trek vs. Star Wars type of thing.
------------end quote---------

So of course I had to say:

Oh, but I love my geeks! And of course you know I'm a very emphatic Trekker, having been primary author on the Bantam paperback STAR TREK LIVES! which outed ST fanfic (which I contributed to by creating the Kraith alternate universe for Trek fanfic). But actually, you're right, there's two takes on this, and I think it might be worth a blog post. I'll copy your quote and see what comes of it -- that would be late Sept/ early Oct for the topic on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com where I post on Tuesdays on writing craft, and THIS quote is definitely a "craft" and "romance genre" related quote!
-------end quote-----------

Kraith is, as you know, posted for free reading on http://www.simegen.com/fandom/startrek/ 

Both Harry Potter and Twilight are Romance based.

Potter's parents were obviously deeply in love, and battling toward a Happily Ever After and didn't make it.

Potter then recapitulates their battle, and becomes involved at the teenage romance level with admirable women, and  then "notices" such an admirable girl his own age.  And presumably things will go to the HEA for Potter. 

Twilight is more star-crossed-lovers, possibly more like the story of Potter's parents in the no-win situation where only their descendents make it to the HEA.

As a matter of "taste" - I think your concept of Evil and where that fits in the overall universe you live in - determines which you like better, Potter or Twilight.  They're both seminal discussions of the plight of good swamped by Evil.

I suspect King seems to prefer Potter simply because Potter is battling Evil head-to-head, and in his world Evil is an accepted social element (studied in school as a magical discipline).

I don't "buy into" that concept, so I have to work to suspend my disbelief to 'get into' the Potterverse -- which I have no problem doing because that's what being a Science Fiction fan, reader, and writer is all about. 

I can buy into the Twilight universe a little more easily simply because it extends my own view of the whole Vampire mythos that I've been a devotee of since my teen years.

Both universes are rooted in the discussion of whether the HEA is "plausible" in real life.  Both have the HEA as "the stakes" in the plot, as King pointed out. 

But the Potterverse says graphically that HEA isn't a given.  Potter's parents got killed by Evil, and that proves the HEA is not a real element in that universe.  Yet Harry is set up to go for another try at it. 

King's assessment of Twilight is correct, too, because in the Twilight universe, the HEA is at least plausible, reachable, imaginable, and the most "Evil" creatures strive for it because it is apparently there.

So King has nailed (I'm not surprised) the philosophical nexus of the entire discussion you and I have been having on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com for a few years now. 

The reason the Romance genre isn't widely respected as a genre is that the HEA is not seen by the general public as realistically plausible. 

The plausibility of the HEA is based on the philosophical concept that Love Conquers All - an absolute axiom of my existence for a huge variety of reasons.

When you believe (not "those who believe" but "when" you believe because it's mood-based for many) that Love Conquers All, then the HEA seems the inevitable if hard-won and high-priced result of the battle between "Good" and "Evil." 

When you don't - the HFN (Happily For Now) is the best you can hope for, and that's what Potter's parents had.

So the question becomes, "Why does it seem plausible that Love can't conquer Evil permanently?" 

Oh, this is a deep topic, and the richest source material for Romance writers looking for "conflict" building themes.

This is the main study of writers in all genres, but especially Science Fiction and Romance, PNR, writers.

Science Fiction is "The Literature of Ideas" and so requires a deep study of philosophy, and a system of relating that abstract subject to today's reality.

Romance is maybe "The Literature of Love" and so requires a very deep study of philosophy, and a system of relating that abstract subject to LIFE in today's world. 

These two, not at all disparate, subjects naturally crystallize into the thematic base of Science Fiction Romance, where as all good SF does, the story poses knotty questions about the value of "having a boyfriend/girlfriend" and how to acquire the character traits required to achieve a Happily Ever After union.

SF has long written of the process of acquiring those traits, as King points out -- though Potter is ostensibly Urban Fantasy.  King nails the process: Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. 

And that's what every good Horror, SF, or Romance novel is always about, isn't it? 

Ah, but what is fearful?  Where does strength come from?  Which way or action is "right" and which "wrong?"  What really does adversity consist of, and what is just an annoyance?

We have a lot of work to do on the process of tossing all previous Romance genre work onto "the Potter's Wheel" and shaping it like wet clay into Science Fiction. 

That work is what leads to the skill sets needed to handle Theme.

See Part 2 of this BELIEVING IN HAPPILY EVER AFTER series here next Tuesday when we'll look at the power of Theme-Plot Integration.  

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. Hi Jacqueline -

    I really like this theme! HEA should never be a given, should it? At least in adult fiction. (Disney has certainly made a fortune off formulaic HEA.)

    You asked - "What really does adversity consist of...?"

    I think it consists of the wants/needs of one getting in the way of the wants/needs of another.

    Neither side is necessarily evil. It can even be quite comedic! And I think we could use more laughter these days! :D

  2. Great stuff! Must ponder.

  3. I know I'm late to this party, but I just wanted to say that my biggest problem with Twilight is the fact that the writing is absolutely awful. I couldn't get through more than three chapters of Stephanie Meyer's ghastly purple prose. Harry Potter is, at the very least, readable.

  4. @Spectra Ghostseeker:
    Have you ever noticed that the most POPULAR items (text, TV, Film) are usually BADLY WRITTEN?

    Big blockbuster films may be an exception in some regard because they are written to conform to exacting standards. But to achieve that, they have to trash the standards most beloved by the readers of the text version of the story/genre.

    AVATAR might be a case in point -- excellent script, excellent FX, "GROAN" in the story-originality department.

    In general, the more popular, the lower the intellectual standards.

    Stuff for kids is like that, treated as work-for-hire, read-and-toss (like Romance), it's considered to be "escapist" and therefore of no moment.

    I stand against these attitudes and keep looking for ways to change the situation.

    If you read the book I wrote on this topic, STAR TREK LIVES!, you'll see what I'm talking about.