Horst Kornberger on Harry Potter and Narnia


Horst Kornberger offers the following opinion on Harry Potter (I haven’t decided what I think about his comments yet, but it’s one opinion!):

“I am in two minds about Rowling’s creation,” Kornberger writes, “particularly as literature for young children. I think the books and films are often encountered too [-p.143] early. Harry Potter is great fantasy, but a certain foundation of soul needs to be established before a child enters the gothic labyrinth of Hogwarts.
The Potter books are based on the mystery novel and the emotional suspense created by this genre. In most mystery novels we do not know who the murderer is until the very end. In the Harry Potter books, the murder is yet to come. Though we know it is the Dark Lord who is attempting to kill Harry, we do not know under which mask he is hiding. This makes the books even more harrowing for the soul than conventional mysteries.
The dark forces in the Harry Potter series are hidden and unscrupulous, and ever more brilliant as the books progress. The portrayal of evil echoes the racial ethos of the Nazi regime and procedures of black magic. All this may be exciting and highly stimulating reading for the imagination-deprived teenager, but it is not appropriate for younger readers, who need to know who is good and who is bad so they can morally orientate themselves in a story.
In fairytales, evil and cruelty are dealt with imaginatively. The wolf that devours Red Riding Hood spills no blood and the child is soon revived. But the killing in Harry Potter is real and irreversible. The blood that is spilled is ‘real’ blood that will leave a mark on a young child’s soul. The cruelty of a sinister figure like Voldemort is too convincing to be digested before a child is equipped to face him. Too young, they may fall prey to his schemes – and as the book tells you, he is eager to kill then as young as he can.
I recommend you to the advice of the world expert in all matters concerning Harry Potter and the care of the magical and endangered child: Albertus Dumbledore, Director of Hogwarts School of Magic. The wise Professor protected Harry from all contact with the shady and dangerous world of magic until he had reached the age of eleven. I take this as the story’s own explicit advice for its appropriate use: children should reach this age before being admitted to the school of sorcery.
I have said I am in two minds about Harry Potter. While I am concerned about its premature use, it nevertheless provides a good dose of fantasy for teenage consumption. It also speaks directly to contemporary myth – its popularity shows that the stories answer a dire need in our culture:  the story deprivation of contemporary childhood.
Children recognise themselves in Harry. Like the modern child he starts off deprived of imagination and magic, denied his birthright to be an adventurer in any realm other than this world. Like the modern [-p.144] child he is endowed with imaginal gifts and has been brought up by parents who are ‘muggles’ – totally unmagical folk. Most parents are ‘Dursleys,’ not only lacking imagination, they suppress it with any means at their disposal.
The imaginal part in every modern child is as maltreated by parents and education as Harry Potter is by the Dursleys, while the child’s conventional and unmagical part is as spoiled as his stepbrother Dudley – who is the very kind of insensitive and competitive bully our world seems to reward while the Harrys are locked in closets and punished for who they are.
Harry Potter exemplifies the drama of the imaginative child. This is what makes his story a modern myth. He is the hero who escapes the prison of convention, breaking though the brick walls of King’s Cross Station into a new dimension of imaginal adventure. Harry is a symbol for the imaginal child and her adventures in this world and the next – but for a young child there are smoother ways to break the brick walls of convention. A new dimension may be more easily entered through an old wardrobe hung with fur coats.”  (pp.142-144)

Harry vs The Chronicles of Narnia

Interestingly, Kornberger also compares Harry to The Chronicles of Narnia:

“C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are a masterpiece of children’s literature. A nine year old can appreciate the imaginative treasures this series contains, and there is no need to censor their use, for the stories have a purity that will protect them from misuse. The children who are the heroes of many of the Narnia tales are aged between seven and twelve, and that seems a good indication of their age-appropriateness.” (p.144)

“Harry Potter is fantasy with mythological elements. The Chronicles of Narnia are much stronger myth, a product of exact imagination, revealing realities beyond the apparently real. The Narnia stories meet the soul on its own home ground. They speak the imaginative language of the heart and carry the power of transformation that only this language can provide.
It is this transformative capacity that Harry Potter lacks. He is a likeable hero and remains so, even as he becomes more adept in magic. He is protected by the love of his mother, but he is not touched by the love that changes the heart. He remains a somewhat superficial hero, the master of outer accomplishment and victories. He is Superboy equipped with magical powers and all the gadgets of the trade: owls and broomsticks, invisibility cloak and miraculous maps.” (p.145)

Again, I’m not yet sure what I think of these last comments, but I do find them interesting.

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Horst Kornberger (2008) The Power of Stories: Nurturing Children’s Imagination and Consciousness. Floris Books: Edinburgh

“The Spectral Lives of 9/11” – Banita


Introducing her essay in Popular Ghosts, Georgina Banita writes: “This essay draws on Jacques Derrida’s concept of the hauntology of terror to point out the spectrality of the images we associate with terrorism and with 9/11 in particular by focusing on such popular culture staples as the portrait of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist as invisible ghost – “the enemy within” – and other spectral conceptions of evil and criminality. In doing this I hope to challenge received notions of haunting in relation to spatiality and futurity in the context of a particular form of hauntology related to a specific locale – here the Twin Towers in Manhattan – which, however, becomes diluted through its infinite mechanical reproduction in the media. My interest is divided among several layers of popular attention to post 9/11 “apparitions.” First, I look at the haunting presence of the WTC victims in the popular imagination, victims whose bodies were never recovered and whose photographs were [-p.96] scattered in a traumatized city that learned to associate presence with image rather than with concrete corporeality. Second, I consider the proliferating metaphors linking terrorism to ghost-like invisibility and tenacious haunting. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden has often been likened to a specter that resists “capture” – both in the sense of retrieval and visual representation. Third, I investigate several explicitly post 9/11 mainstream films that not only mention the attacks but offer an unsubtle reification of the events. While Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008) points to the attacks as its unstated backdrop, as the reality that always inhabits a portion of the viewer’s mind but does not receive any explicit mention in the film itself, other productions such as Reign over Me and 25th Hour (Lee, 2002) contend with 9/11 trauma as a hidden tumor written into the fabric of the film’s narrative and artistic strategies. I conclude that the imbricated layers of media representation itself have performed a kind of spectral haunting by reiterating images that have become ingrained in the popular perception of an event which still seems to derive its potency from hauntic repetition, involuntary memory, and a subtle process of postmortemization. The attacks, I argue, have not claimed a position in popular memory as an event, but rather as a post-event – less as the happening of one September morning and more as the era it ushered in through its abrupt disruption of everyday life and normality.” (pp.95-96)

Banita continues:

“In a brief comment entitled “Where Are the Ghosts of 9/11?” published shortly before the 2008 presidential elections in the U.S., David Simpson – author of 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration – writes: “Seven years after 9/11 one of the strangest things is that there are no ghosts. There never were.” To some extent this failure of the attacks to haunt and harass those they did not kill can be traced back to the rapid responses of the authorities and of the media toward a patriotic eulogization of heroism and a dismissal of the more troubling consequences of the attacks. “The photographs that appeared day after day in the New York Times,” Simpson continues, seemed [‘]… flagrantly dishonorable in their very effort to commemorate. They left little to be haunted by as they reconstructed the lives of the dead as Disneyfied icons of optimistic upward mobility, dreams achieved, selfless happiness, and civic virtue amidst an energetic and responsive democracy. No one was cruel, unhappy, or disappointed, no one unappeased.[‘] Simpson astutely argues that by preventing the work of mourning implicit in the act of being haunted, post 9/11 political games manufactured a pervasive fear of the exterior “other” while paying too little attention to the otherness within – the confrontation with uncanny remnants and specters of the attacks: “Except for the immediately bereaved who have hardly been allowed to speak but are constantly spoken for, we have continued to be kept (do we keep ourselves?) from our own hauntings, our own Godzillas or jungles of screaming souls.”” (p.96)

Defining terrorism as a form of visual warfare, Mitchell suggests that the war on terror is “a war on a projected specter or phantasm, a war against an elusive, invisible, unlocatable enemy, a war that continually misses its target, striking out blindly with conventional means and waging massive destruction on innocent [-100] people in the process” (185). Resembling shadow-boxing more than an act of selfdefense carried out with moral scrupulousness and precision, the war on terror can be seen as the struggle of a possessed person to ban the spirit that they are possessed by – a struggle that damages the self more than it banishes the parasitic spirit. Perhaps the most symptomatic embodiment of the terrorist as poltergeist is the symbolic head of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, whose frequent video appearances, coupled with the impossibility of tracking him down, have bestowed upon him the aura of a demon, a supremely evil figure who appears and disappears at will.” (pp.99-100)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Georgina Banita Shadow of the Colossus: The Spectral Lives of 9/11, pp.94-105 in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.

The Myth of Evil


Just came across a book that looks interesting: The Myth of Evil, by Philip Cole…. Reviewing The Myth of Evil, Niall Scott writes:

The Myth of Evil does not just concern the words in the title, but is a sophisticated treatment of evil in general, focussing strongly upon both the coherence of the concept and the attribution of the description ‘evil’ to phenomena and human behaviour. Cole’s aim throughout the book is to show that evil is a myth, that as a concept it is neither philosophical nor psychological, nor religious, which is quite a challenge. Although he argues that we would be better off without the concept of evil altogether, flying his flag in this way from the outset does not diminish how serious he takes the discourse of evil to be. This is evident in his willingness to recognise how the term and associated adjectives are used. In his introductory chapters, he provides a truly illuminating history of the devil, and challenges what is meant in descriptions of human behaviours as diabolical or demonic.
Although predominantly a politico/philosophical enquiry, the book offers much more than this. It is an argument drawing upon literature, history, and popular visual culture, and as a result it speaks to a range of disciplines. Cole addresses contemporary questions that have arisen around the multi-faceted concept of evil, such as fear and horror. This is also a political work that does not just provide a treatment of evil as a myth. It engages directly and importantly with the now frequently encountered political discourses regarding the holocaust, terrorism, Iraq, and the Bush and Blair administrations’ participation in disseminating discourses of fear and (in)security. These use the terminology of evil, the demonic, and the monstrous in contemporary conflicts, and the frequent occurrence of ‘evil’ functions as an explanatory device in the justification of appalling human behaviour. Cole provides four possible ways of conceptualising theories of evil. They are: (1) a monstrous conception, (2) a pure conception, (3) an impure conception, and (4) a psychological conception.” (Scott, p.97)

Apparently, Cole’s “concluding chapter presents a challenge to the reader where it addresses the contemporary state of world politics in the context of discourses of evil, with a detailed analysis of terror, terrorism, and violence. Cole spends time laying out the Iraqi problem, drawing parallels between the language of terror and fear and the phenomenon of witch trials and the eastern European vampire myths dealt with earlier in the book. Cole’s strategy is again seductive. At times, he tempts the reader into agreeing with the description of, for example, the western regimes and the terrorist as monstrous and demonic. However, it is clear that if one has paid any attention to his preceding argument, such very understandable, but simplistic assessments of terrible and horrific human actions require a more responsible treatment. So he refers to the sheer monstrous arbitrariness of terrorist victims in recent terrorist activities, and rhetorically asks that ‘Surely this arbitrariness fits the model of Monstrous evil?’ (234). But it is this very description that he challenges. We can move beyond evil in our understanding of such events and come to a position that even the arbitrariness is not without significance, and this reminds us that literary monsters have a history of grievance and need not be characterised in terms of a model of monstrous evil.” (p.100)

Ref: Niall Scott (2009) Has Evil Run its Course? Phillip Cole, The Myth of Evil, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, 256 pp. [Review] Res Publica (2009) 15:97–101 DOI 10.1007/s11158-008-9062-2

poverty, human fear, and social redistribution


“The protection of humanity against the blind caprices of nature was an integral part of the modern promise. The modern implementation of that project, however, has not made nature less blind and capricious, while focusing instead on the selective distribution of immunity against its effects. The modern struggle to disempower natural calamities follows the pattern of order-building and economic progress: whether by design or default, it divides humanity into those categories worthy of care and the unwertes Leben – the lives unworthy of living. As a consequence, it also specializes in an uneven distribution of fears – whatever the specific cause of the fear in question might be.
Hurricanes, earthquakes and floods are not special cases. We have managed to render selective even that most unchoosy, truly universal of natural ills: the biological limitation of human life.
As Max Hastings commented, [“]modern wealth offers its possessors every chance of living to a ripe old age. Until the twentieth century, disease was no respecter of purses. The wife of a Victorian financial colossus was almost as vulnerable to the perils of childbirth as a maid in his household. The tombstones of the great reveal how many died long before their natural spans were exhausted.
Today medical science can do extraordinary things for people able to pay. There has never been a wider gulf between the remedies available to the rich and those on offer to most of the poor, even in societies with advanced healthcare systems.[“] Whether it is aimed at disasters of natural or artificial origin, the outcome of the modern war on human fears seems to be their social redistribution rather than any reduction in volume.” (pp.80-81)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK

fighting evil, being good? – the Slayer


“Like evil, the vampire is a force that must be struggled with and overcome, and he thus represents [-p.3] only a single pole in a moral dyad. Whether or not we choose to label the vampire’s antagonist ‘good,’ there is not much of a story if the violence and destruction wrought by the vampire goes unchecked. While it is rare that a vampire tale or a treatment of the vampire legend does not include an episode in which the vampire is destroyed or banished by some agency, little attention has been paid to the history and character of the vampire’s personal nemesis, now popularly known as the vampire slayer.

In the elaborate heroic tales found in epics, the central theme is ordinarily the hero’s transformation in the struggle against evil (in the form, say, of a dragon) or oppression. In most vampire motifs, however, the ostensible forces of good who would identify, oppose, and destroy vampires tend to be nameless and often incidental to the narrative. In fact, it is only fairly recently that the vampire slayer has had anything like a leading role: Abraham van Helsing, in Dracula (1897), is arguably the first significant self-professed vampire slayer in a tradition that culminates in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).” (pp.2-3)

“The heroic nature of the vampire slayer is predicated on his ability to identify the force that saps the energy from the life of the community. Something unnatural, unholy, invades and disturbs the natural order of things, and through this puncture in the tissue of everyday existence, something – is it a certain trust in the impermeability of that which separates us from the dead? – drains out. Yet because this intruder is invisible or, at the very least, unnoticeable – he is one of us, after all – only those with a special understanding of his nature are able to intervene and stop the hemorrhage. Like the vampire, the slayer must be marked – externally, by some sign of birth or accident; internally, by his symbolic connection to the world of the dead.

The nature of this bipolar relationship between the vampire and his adversary, the hunter or slayer, and the ways in which this connection becomes manifest and changes over several hundred years have not been adequately investigated. An examination of early Balkan folklore reveals that the vampire slayer, whose perceptive powers transcend those permitted ordinary Christian villagers, is the vampire’s true mirror image. The slayer is the heroic and opposing reflection that is curiously, but necessarily, generated by the presence of evil, and he is as closely bound to evil as a reflection is to its original. If the vampire is a dangerous and antihuman replica of the human, the seer or slayer is the rejector or suppressor of the replica, who restores order by allowing the community to differentiate the authentic from the false. This critical difficulty in distinguishing the true from the false, the beneficent from the treacherous, is, as we shall see, also the basis of the conflict between early Christianity and paganism and heresy. Historically, it was out of that conflict as it was played out in the Balkans that the folkloric meaning of the vampire arose.

Contemporary culture-based interpretations of the vampire ‘myth’ have great value in explaining our apparent need to continually retell the vampire story, with all its attendant variations.” (p.7)

“The linkage between the literary vampire and the folkloric one is a topic beginning to receive a great deal of attention. However, most scholars in this area take the modern vampire, especially as it has been configured since Dracula and its immediate precursors, as their starting point. They then go back into the folklore only as far as the literature itself allows, glossing over the significance of the enormous lacunae in the knowledge of vampire folklore drawn on by those earliest investigators into the subject.” (p.9)

“While folklore about vampires seems to be dying out in the Balkans as a result of the inexorable processes of westernization and urbanization, it is not clear whether the literary and cinematic vampire theme is likewise cooling down. More precisely, it is not yet clear, as of this writing, whether we are witnessing a return of the hero within the popular vampire narrative. Certainly, the success of Buffy, which makes of the slayer a complicated superhero in a fantastic suburban universe, would seem to indicate that we are becoming more interested in making the heroic primary and the vampiric evil secondary. (In Buffy, for example, almost all of the vampires and demons that are killed are more or less nameless and unsympathetic). But the low U.S. attendance figures for universal’s high-budget Van Helsing (Universal Pictures, 2004) suggest that stories of monolithic, violent vanquishers of one-dimensional monsters cannot sustain interest and in fact miss the central point of the dual nature of the vampire-slayer pair. These days, the evil that walks among us unrecognized is more often played by the sociopathic serial or mass killer, while the hero who is intuitively connected to that disturbed orientation takes the form of a forensic psychologist, or profiler. It may be that solving the problem of real evil with real (human) agents in today’s world has surpassed any need to dally with the purely imaginary.” (p.14)

Ref: (italics in original) Bruce A. McClelland (2006) Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan Press

evil and death


“Evil – wherever belief in it is held – tends to be thought of in one of two ways. It is either a force equal to or slightly inferior to an opposing force or, as in Orthodox Christianity, the absence, withdrawal, perversion, or deflection of a universal inclination called ‘good.’ Cosmological narratives usually give it both a body and a name and situate it in a separate dark, turbulent, or alien realm. In the so-called natural world, evil may become manifest through the agency of demons or spirits. Whether such demons take on the imaginal form of beasts or humans (even when their form is not always humanly visible), the consequences of their actions are always encountered in the human sphere; that is, even when evil directs itself against animals or vegetation, it is always with an eye toward disrupting the social order (e.g., husbandry, agriculture) and the dependencies of humankind on these areas of human ecology and economy. At its base, evil is a pernicious threat to human survival above all else, and it is essentially different from death itself. Whereas death is universal, evil is selective.

There are countless representations and personifications of evil across history and religious and cultural systems, just as there are many images of the good and the heroic. These various images are depicted [-p.2] in the narratives of both official and folk religions, mythology and folklore, as well as, even quite recently, in the secular metaphors of political and ideological discourse. In virtually all these narratives, at some point the physical representatives of good and evil become direct, often violent, antagonists. The outcome of their struggle for domination over the moral direction of the community holds a central place in its value system.

Perhaps the most dangerous form that evil takes is the visibly human, since when it is ambulatory and mimetic of the individual, it is difficult to distinguish the evil being from a fellow member of the community. This is especially true if there are no obvious markers, such as a tail and horns, to call attention to its difference. When the average person cannot definitely identify another individual as evil, yet some inexplicable adversity suggests malevolence that has gone beyond mere temper, it is critical that the threatened individual or collective immediately locate evil’s nexus – even if it is found to be the heart of a neighbor and there is no confirming evidence aside from belief. Once evil is found, it must be destroyed or, at the very least, banished far beyond the possibility of return.

In contemporary Western European and North American popular culture, the vampire has become one of the most pervasive and recognizable symbols of insidious evil. Though, according to some notions, the vampire can shift his shape into that of a wolf or bat or other animal and perhaps possesses other supernatural powers, he is different from monstrous beasts or even from Satan in that he possesses a single human body. Furthermore, in both folklore and literature/cinema, in his humanlike, untransformed state, he is not easily recognized as a different order of being. The vampire […] thus has very much in common with the European witch, with one critically important difference: whereas witches are alive at the time they are tortured or ritually executed, vampires are by definition dead or at least undead (whatever that means). But both witches and vampires are held to be evil, for reasons that have much in common.” (pp.1-2)

Ref: Bruce A. McClelland (2006) Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan Press

Good vs Evil when evil isn’t clearly defined


In 2000, Beth Braun observed that: “Recent years have seen a marked increase in the number of television shows with a supernatural bent. The Warner Bros. Network is at the forefront of this trend, combining inhuman characters such as witches, vampires, and aliens with teen angst in the shows Charmed, Roswell, Angel, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although these shows taken together might represent a mini-trend in recent television programming, there is of course nothing new in using supernatural settings and characters to play out narratives of good versus evil.” (p.88)

What is interesting about some of these newer representations of the supernatural, however, is the moral ambiguity that permeates many of the characters, including both the inhuman beings and ordinary characters. “Evil” is often less fixed in these shows, with many characters demonstrating both decent and demonic traits and behaviors across episodes or seasons. “Good” characters may develop in frighteningly sinister ways; villainous ones may surprisingly reveal complex and even selfless motivations. Furthermore, this moral ambiguity often seems to intersect with themes related to gender and sexuality, as characters’ behaviors and traits are linked, both overtly and subtly, with their gender identities or sexual histories.” (p.89)

“Although initially portrayed as a dark and somewhat morally ambiguous character, Angel quickly became a romantic interest for Buffy.” [I actually found this observation quite thought-provoking… aren’t the love interests in recent vampire fiction also often ‘morally ambiguous’? but in what ways?]

“The relationship of Buffy and Angel clearly demonstrates the tension between love and aggression that is often present in intimate relationships.” (p.92) [this statement is also an interesting one in contrast with what has more recently been said about Meyer’s characters in the Twilight series!]

In both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, aliens and monsters are variously imagined as both desirable and loving toward, and terrifyingly indifferent to, human needs. / Although there are clear differences in these representations, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer reflect many of the same concerns: a fascination with the mystery and danger of sexuality and the notion that, underneath our civilized demeanors, we all have the capacity for evil. They have in common an acknowledgment of the aggression within ordinary people and a tendency to explore themes of good and evil through supernatural narratives incorporating complicated relationships between morality, sexuality, and gender. Characters may be heroic on one level, but presented as ambiguous or dangerous on another level; or clearly evil in one episode, and remorsefully, genuinely good in another. While “evil” may often be portrayed in these examples as that which is not human, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer offer a vision of morality that resists easy categorization, and they thus explore the human predicament at depths that often elude more realistic representations.” (p.94)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in bold blue mine) Beth Braun (2000): The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Ambiguity of Evil in Supernatural Representations, Journal of Popular Film and Television, 28:2, 88-94

Melodrama in young adult fiction – a discussion based on Twilight


Katie Kapurch presents an argument for analysing adolescent literature with an eye for melodramatic conventions (and in an historical framework based on the genre of melodrama). She uses Twilight and Jane Eyre as test cases and it is an interesting argument and worth consideration. Citing fan responses to Twilight, she asserts:

“…melodramatic conventions, particularly occasions of exaggerated suffering prior to a joyful reunion, speak to contemporary readers….” (p.164)

“Intriguingly, Twilight fan responses are comparable to reader sympathy with another pair of fictional lovers: first-person narrator Jane Eyre and the secretive, brooding Edward Rochester, who, like Edward Cullen, also happens to be ridden with guilt and in need of salvation only the heroine can supply. Sandra M. Gilbert offers a central insight into the appeal of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), explaining how the novel challenged Victorian literary norms in part through the intensity of characters’ expressive discourse, another tenet of melodrama:
Unlike most of her predecessors, too, [Brontë] endowed her main characters— hero as well as heroine—with overwhelmingly powerful passions that aren’t always rational and often can’t be articulated in ordinary language. This sense of unspeakable depth or fiery interiority imbues both Rochester and Jane with a kind of mystery that has always been charismatic to readers. (357)” (italics added to indicate Gilbert quote, Kapurch, p.165)

“While the Twilight and Jane Eyre readerships are not identical and cannot be regarded as one homogenous group, awareness of their sympathetic and empathetic reactions permits us to consider both texts through the framework of melodrama. As works characterized not only by similar heroines, heroes, and romantic plots, Brontë’s and Meyer’s novels share a melodramatic reader response. An exploration of melodrama’s significance in these female coming-of-age stories, then, yields insight into the important relationship between Jane Eyre and the Twilight Saga––while offering some justification for the latter’s appeal––and ultimately works to invigorate scholarly appreciation for melodramatic impulses in contemporary young adult fiction.” (p.165)

“…there exists an absence of scholarly treatment of melodrama in texts about and for youth—particularly adolescent literature—in spite of its profound visibility today. Nevertheless, recognizing and naming the formal characteristics of melodrama, without fear of its historically pejorative connotations, offers critics addressing young adult literature a tool for advancing interpretations of political, social, and cultural messages ascertainable only through that mode. In the 1995 preface to his important and continuously cited study of melodrama, The Melodramatic Imagination (1976), Peter Brooks articulates the capabilities of melodrama: “the melodramatic mode no longer needs to be approached in the mode of apology. We know about its limitations, its easier effects, and its more inauthentic thrills, but we have also learned that it is an exceptionally supple and adaptable mode that can do things other genres and modes can’t” (xii). While the poignant validation of life’s trivialities has always been part of the appeal of melodrama on both page and stage (Brooks; Booth), these are the very moments to which many modern readers, especially female youth, are still drawn, but for which they often are still derided by critics. Accordingly, appreciating melodramatic moments in young adult fiction might help to further a regard for affective responses cited by readers, validating the seriousness of coming-of-age experiences.
Theorizing the melodramatic impulse in young adult literature, then, not only offers scholarship another lens through which to view texts but also works toward the project of recognizing the emotional lives and cultural preferences of youth.” (p.166)

Jane’s and Bella’s insecurities speak to a perceived otherness that parallels the overt monstrosity of their love interests. These counterpoints not only explain the heroines’ sympathy for and points of connection with these men, but may also explain why the texts hold such appeal for readers who sympathize with these characters.” (p.168)

The plots of both texts adhere structurally to conventions of melodrama, particularly as they articulate dreams and suffering. According to Brooks, who addresses melodrama’s connection to the bildungsroman and romance, “In the typical case, . . . melodramatic structure moves from presentation of virtue-as-innocence to the introduction of menace or obstacle, which places virtue in a [-p.169] situation of extreme peril” (31).” (Kapurch, pp.168-169)

While villainy functions as a kind of “motor” for the plot (Brooks 34), the melodrama’s conclusion typically ends not only in resolution, but more importantly, with an ending that audiences would also perceive as a “happy” one (Booth 9). As Brooks concludes, the melodramatic narrative “ends with public recognition of where virtue and evil reside, and the eradication of one as the reward of the other” (32).” (p.170)

“…within the context of each novel’s framework, the heroine’s choices are consistent with melodramatic morality, [-p.174] in which right and wrong are clearly delineated as recognizable options. This insight has important implications not only for interpreting Bella’s agency in the context of seemingly antifeminist values, but also for understanding other contemporary young adult works in which extreme choices are contextualized in outwardly limited frameworks.” (pp.173-174)

“Not surprisingly, as Jane and Bella are both characters consumed with habitual self-doubt and self-consciousness, their anxieties are also reflected in melodramatic terms through dreams, specifically nightmares. Melodrama is “preoccupied with nightmare states, with claustration and thwarted escape, with innocence buried alive and unable to voice its claim to recognition” (Brooks 20). Thus, in many ways, the nightmare as melodramatic moment validates and elucidates truth; dream states reflect sincere human experiences.” (p.174)

“Booth asserts that “One of the rules is that the hero and heroine must suffer distress, persecution, and separation, and that their suffering must continue unabated till a few moments before the final curtain, when they emerge happy and united” (10).” (p.176)

Once cataloged, the suffering experienced by Jane and Rochester and Edward and Bella prior to their happy reunions might be described as excessive. Yet just as suffering is necessary for the happy resolution offered by the melodrama, so, too, is excess, which Brooks relates to the meaningful way in which melodrama speaks to the ordinary and the contemporary: “those melodramas that matter most to us convince us that the dramaturgy of excess and overstatement corresponds to and evokes confrontations and choices that are of heightened importance, because in them we put our lives—however trivial and constricted—on the line” (ix). Thus, the extensive and excessive suffering endured prior to the couples’ respective final reunions not only serves to place their subsequent happiness in perspective, but also functions as a major point of appeal for popular audiences of melodrama.” (p.178)

“Referring to nineteenth-century audiences, Booth justifies melodrama’s attractiveness: “The popularity of melodrama is not difficult to understand. Presenting its public with a world of fulfilled dreams in contrast to a miserable monotonous reality in which virtue did not necessarily prosper, nor villainy suffer, melodrama nullified distress and danger by directing them to the ultimate happy ending” (40). Perhaps the same could be said for today’s readers of the Twilight Saga and other contemporary young adult literary works marked by melodramatic impulses; melodramatic conventions, such as a plot driven by villainy in order to ultimately delineate good and evil, and narrative devices like expression, dreams, and suffering, are perhaps predictable, yet comforting. What are the ideological implications of such reliable melodramatic impulses in addition to the legacy of Victorian novels in contemporary young adult fiction? My analysis, which sets out the formal characteristics of melodrama through a comparison of Brontë’s and Meyer’s novels in order to invigorate interest in the scholarly recognition of melodrama in adolescent literature, only scratches the surface of this important question.” (p.178)

“An understanding of melodrama’s appeal could thus be more completely achieved through a reception study focusing on readers’ responses to the Twilight Saga. In addition, researchers could pursue the legacy of Victorian fiction in young adult texts today and explore the function of melodramatic structures in contemporary novels––especially paranormal romances trailing in the wake of the trend Meyer helped inaugurate.” (p.179)

“…although an adult-oriented culture is often quick to trivialize adolescent suffering (in the context, for example, of a teen relationship’s break-up) or angst (especially anxiety about change and growing up), melodrama as a genre confirms the sincere, human feelings that seemingly ordinary circumstances can elicit. For this reason, serious attention should be given to melodramatic moments in young adult literature, for the mode can better explain characters’ experiences and popular works’ connections to canonical literature. Such considerations also give credence to representation of adolescents in fiction and the very real, affective, and empathetic responses shared by readers.” (p.179)

Ref: (emphases in bold blue, mine) Katie Kapurch “Unconditionally and Irrevocably”: Theorizing the Melodramatic Impulse in Young Adult Literature through the Twilight Saga and Jane Eyre. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Volume 37, Number 2, Summer 2012, pp. 164-187

reference is to: Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, and the Mode of Excess. 1976. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1995.

Fear and Evil


Evil and fear are Siamese twins. You can’t meet one without meeting the other. Or perhaps they are but two names of one experience – one of the names referring to what you see or what you hear, the other to what you feel; one pointing ‘out there’, to the world, the other to the ‘in here’, to yourself. What we fear, is evil; what is evil, we fear.
But what is evil? This is an incurably flawed question, even though so stubbornly and untiringly asked: we are doomed to search in vain for an answer from the moment we have asked it. The question ‘what is evil?’ is unanswerable because what we tend to call ‘evil’ is precisely the kind of wrong which we can neither understand nor even clearly articulate, let alone explain its presence to our full satisfaction. We call that kind of wrong ‘evil’ for the very reason that it is unintelligible, ineffable and inexplicable. ‘Evil’ is what defies and explodes that intelligibility which makes the world liveable… We can tell what ‘crime’ is because we have a code of laws which criminal acts breach. We know what ‘sin’ is because we have a list of commandments whose breach makes the perpetrators sinners. We resort to the idea of ‘evil’ when we cannot point to what rule has been broken or bypassed for the occurrence of the act for which we seek a proper name. All the frames we possess and use to inscribe and plot horrifying stories in order to make them comprehensible (and thereby defused and detoxified, domesticated and tamed – ‘liveable with’) crumble and [-p.55] fall apart when we try and stretch them wide enough to accommodate the sort of wrongdoing we call ‘evil’, because of our inability to spell out the set of rules such wrongdoing has breached.
This is why so many philosophers abandon all attempts to explain the presence of evil as hopeless projects – and settle for a statement of fact, a ‘brute fact’ so to speak, a fact neither calling for, nor admitting of further explanation: evil is. Without saying it in so many words, they relegate evil to the murky space of Kant’s noumena – not just unknown, but unknowable; a space that eludes examination and resists discursive articulation. Cast at a safe distance from the realm of the comprehensible, evil tends to be invoked when we insist on explaining the inexplicable.” (pp.54-55)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK