Monday, September 7, 2009

The Attack of Some Vampires from my Past

When I first posted on Twilight I mentioned a series of books called the Vampire Diaries L. J. Smith.

These books are very similar to Twilight. Vampire Diaries even has a werewolf making an appearance. It makes a very useful comparison in that the Vampire Diaries serves to demonstrate how easily Twilight could have gone wrong in the hands of a less talented author.

I read Vampire Diaries when I was in fifth grade. Like Twilight, Vampire Diaries is built on the premise of girl meets guy, girl falls in love with guy, guy falls in love with girl, guy just happens to be a vampire and stuff ensues from there. The Bella Swan character here is named Elena Gilbert and the role of Edward Cullen is taken up by Stefan Salvatore. Stefan, a vegetarian/black-ribbon vampire, comes from Renaissance Italy where he had a brother named Damon. Both he and Damon, while hating each other, fell in love with the same woman, Katherine, and asked her to choose between them. Katherine, unbeknownst to them, was a vampire and, unwilling to make a choice, decided to go with both of them. Stefan and Damon proved unwilling to live with the arrangement. Seeing this Katherine committed suicide by stepping out unprotected into sunlight. (The obvious plot twist does occur. We later find out that Katherine faked her suicide and shows up in the present.) Elena looks almost exactly like Katherine and, once Damon shows up, she becomes caught up in this centuries old brotherly war. Damon in the right hands could have been an interesting character along the lines of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He is the villain through the first two books, who becomes good, at least sort of, and provides the cynical commentary. As it plays out in the book though, Damon comes out as making no sense. When the books needed him as a villain they made him a villain and then make him one of the good guys once Stefan needs a brotherly side kick.

Just to be clear, I do not consider Vampire Diaries to be worthwhile reading. They are like the Twilight series, but without the charm, Bella’s running straight-man commentary and the long supply of characters that one actually cares about. The quality writing is about the same as two better known young adult horror authors of that generation, R. L. Stine with his Fear Street series (This is before he turned to writing for pre-adolescents with the Goosebumps series.) and Christopher Pike. Smith is on the more chaste side of things, more Stine than Pike. I find it to be an interesting reflection on our society that Twilight has been controversial for its abstinence message. There is more sexual content in Twilight than Vampire Diaries. Vampire Diaries was written long ago in the early 90s when one could write young adult novels without any sex and no one would think twice. (One had to be careful on the off chance that ten year old Orthodox boys might read them.) To be fair to Smith, I did read all four of the books in the series back then. (I have since found out that she has continued the series in recent years.) Despite the fact that I viewed the books then as trash and would likely have an even lower opinion now, there must have been something that drew me in. I even fantasized about being able to play Klaus, the “big bad” who appears in the fourth book as the vampire behind the scene pulling the strings of the story. I do think I would make a great vampire and would love to play one. Klaus, though, would be too head man Dracula vampire for me. I would be better off as the second-in-command vampire who gets to run around, kill people and laugh.

Soon after Twilight became really big with Breaking Dawn, I noticed Vampire Diaries on sale in a two volume edition. I had a laugh at that; apparently Twilight was powerful enough to resurrect a book from the netherworld of used paperbacks. Now I find out that Vampire Diaries is being made into a television show by the CW. That counts as taking the desire for something Twilight-like to an extreme. Since the source material was mediocre at best and is being made, one assumes, because it is like Twilight, I do not expect the show to be any good nor do I expect it to last for more than a few weeks. I would like to say that will have the good sense to not bother watching it at all. I suspect, though, that I will find myself watching at least an episode for all time’s sake.

I would like to add a side note as to the nature of young adult/teenage fiction. As it should be clear from the post, I regularly read young adult fiction before I was a teenager when I was a pre-adolescent reading on a teenage level. I still read a fair amount of young adult material since I have a strong inner-child and like a good story no matter what age category. In this sense I represent both ends of the market for young adult literature. This begs the question of is the audience for young adult literature really teenagers. The book reading population is quite small and those who do read are likely to be significantly above average readers. Teenagers who actually read books are likely to be at an adult reading level and therefore reading adult books. Pre-adolescent readers, though, are likely to be reading at a teenage level and will therefore turn to young adult books. On the flip side there are also going to be adults who are going to be attracted to young adult fiction. Sean Jordan argues that since most adults are not capable of reading adult fiction there is a large market for children’s books that are mature enough to appeal to adults but are “childlike” enough for such people to read. He makes this argument in regards to Harry Potter. The model would also fit Twilight and to a large extent the Da Vinci Code (a young adult book openly marketed for adults from the beginning) as well. In the end audience for young adult books are not teenagers, but pre-adolescents and adults.


Miss S. said...

In regards to your last paragraph....

It seems more likely that books geared towards a particular audience that find popularity outside of that audience are more often than not just marketed very well. I do not know if many adults would have broken down to read the Harry Potter series if they did not see the big shebangs at Barnes & Noble and see the sophisticated presentation many of the retailers gave to these books. The same about Twilight (i.e. - Hot Topic, a store frequented by teenagers presents Twilight in images highlighting the characters and their likeness; while Barnes & Noble adopts the red & white iconic theme that is more appealing to adults).

Of course you can just blow off my comment as nothing more a chance to root for the successful demonstration of ingenius marketing at work :-)

Izgad said...

If you were right then it would be very easy to produce multimillion copy selling books. All you would need is the right marketing and any book would do. I would also point out that that both Potter and Twilight were not the creations of any slick marketing campaigns. Both of these series became bestsellers over several years as cult hits away from the eye of the media. People liked these books and told other people about them either in person or via the internet. Once these books were already quite successful, in both cases starting with the third books and certainly by the fourth, then the media picked up on them, making the books not just successful but obscenely successful. In Rowling’s case this was something positive as she used her clout to create a type of book that would have been unmarketable before, the large young adult novel. Before Goblet of Fire the unwritten rule was that you could not write a young adult novel over 350 pages.

Miss S. said...

If you were right then it would be very easy to produce multimillion copy selling books

Perhaps it very well is; but there is not so much of a demand to market books nowadays [unless, like you said, they have the potential to become "obscenely" successful]. Of course quality writing is a given to truly capture the success. However the best writers are not always the most popular writers. Take the Sweet Valley Twins books by Francine Pascal which in my humble opinion were not well written books. However they seemed pretty popular during their time due to a constant push via Scholastic (when I was in school, Scholastic had this newsprint they would had out once a month in class and you would order the books you wanted from their list and hand it in with the money to your teacher. The days before!).

I was only mildly aware of the history of the popularity of Harry Potter...interesting.

Anonymous said...

I have watched the entire Vampire Diaries that have been on C.W and I have loved every single one of them. I have also started to read the series and I, for one think that they are much better than the Twighlight series!! Why should we have our childeren reading about sex and so on?! I also did not think that Twighlight was good at all! I have read all types of books especially vampire ones!! So I should know!!!!!

Izgad said...

So far I have resisted watching the show, because I assumed that it was going to simply be terrible and I would be left really annoyed at myself for bothering. It is possible that they have turned out a decent television series. You are in a better position than I am to make a judgment. I remember reading Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook and thinking that it was horrible. A few years later my roommate got out the movie and I was absolutely amazed by it. If you have not seen it, it is one of the greatest romantic films ever.
In terms of Vampire Diaries versus Twilight, to each their own. There is a limit as to how far I am going to bash Vampire Diaries. Obviously I enjoyed it enough to read four books of it. It may have been junk, but at least it was fun junk. Twilight may also be simply fun junk, but I think it is fun junk that actually has some redeeming value to it.