First I should state upfront that I’m a fan of the Harry Potter series (and the movies), and really, really tried to like the Twilight books, but I just couldn’t get past constant gushing about Edward (not because Bella was gushing about a guy, but because it was repetitive and boring and just not good writing).
I finally saw the Twilight movie this weekend, and liked it much better than the book. Kristen Stewart was good as the moody Bella, director Catherine Hardwick really captured the lighting and mood of the Pacific Northwest, and the racial diversity of the cast was refreshing (not just the casting of actual Native Americans, but the fact that her friends were racially diverse, and some of the other supporting characters were people of color, too). But that doesn’t really change my opinion of the Twilight books.
I like the idea of a hugely popular series revolving around a teen girl, but why can’t it be the Gemma Doyle trilogy instead, which is much better written and focuses on a girl fighting to save the world, instead of fighting her attraction to a dangerous boy?
Although it seems that most professional critics would side with Harry Potter on which is a better series, there is sharp disagreement among teens — especially teen girls, as articles and blog posts like "Twilight: Teen Girls vs. Critics" have noted (and the monstrous ticket sales for both movies have proven).
So recently, the Seattle Public Library had the inspired idea to host a debate by teen girls on the topic. Around 400 people showed up, mostly people under 20 — and when is the last time you’ve heard of that many teenagers voluntarily going to the library?
Fortunately, my friend Brent Hartinger, who writes for our brother site AfterElton.com and recently launched his own website focused on fantasy-related movies, TV shows, and books called TheTorchOnline.com, got permission to film the debate, and he edited it down to a interesting 8-minute video.
In the debate, the two teams of girls argue topics, like "Why do these books deserve such popularity?" and "What do these books say about prejudice in society?"
Almost three minutes into the video, the girls tackle the topic of how women are portrayed in the series.
Team Twilight argues that Bella is relatable, but Team Potter says she’s not strong enough, pointing out that "at the end of the first book, she has more than just her boyfriend, she has her friends, she has her family. But by the end of the series, all she has is her boyfriend, basically."
Then Team Potter really goes in for the kill:
Harry Potter portrays a wide variety of strong female characters … Hermione is brilliant, she suffers from prejudice, from being muggle-born, but she rises to it, she’s so loyal to Harry throughout the series, she knows exactly what she’s doing, she’s one of the strongest female characters you might ever read about.
Bella has low self-esteem, she depends on the male characters in the book, and she kinda portrays the stereotypical weak, dependant girl, and that’s not an image we want to be putting on teenage girls.
Team Twilight responds, "I do admit, that was really good," to laughter from the crowd, before proceeding to defend Twilight by saying Alice was a strong character, and that the Twilight books are telling readers they don’t have to be like Bella.
While this is hardly an exhaustive examination of the topic, it’s refreshing to see girls discussing these topics themselves, and to hear their opinions on the books, instead of just hearing from people like me. (I also liked how respectful everyone was during the debate, since respect for dissenting opinions is generally lacking in public debate these days).
Watch the debate here now, and then let me which series you think is better fiction, and better for girls, in the comments.
One last request: please refrain from making negative comments about any of the girls doing the debating. They’re teenagers, and they’re not professional debaters, just passionate fans.