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Orson Scott Card: Books are good or bad depending on how you read them

Published: Thursday, Aug. 25 2011 5:30 p.m. MDT

 (Deseret News archives) (Deseret News archives)

Erinel: Mom, one of my friends says that "Twilight" is a really bad book, and that a Mormon writer should have known better.

Mother: You've read it — what do you think?

E: I really liked it. And it wasn't bad — there were no bad words and nobody slept with anybody.

M: Is that all it takes for a novel not to be bad? Nobody swears, everybody keeps their clothes on?

E: It's a start, isn't it?

M: Why does your friend say that "Twilight" is bad?

E: Her parents say that vampires are evil.

M: Ouch. So they believe in vampires? I'll bet they just hated "Harry Potter."

E: I don't believe in vampires, and anyway, Edward is a good vampire.

M: Because he sucks people's blood without swearing?

E: He's tempted by blood but he doesn't do it. He controls himself.

M: So he's a good vampire.

E: Yes! And he loves Bella and he protects her from the bad vampires.

M: No swearing, no sex, vampires aren't real, and even if they were, Edward is a good one.

E: Exactly!

M: So your friend is wrong.

E: Completely wrong.

M: Then why does her opinion bother you so much?

E: It doesn't bother me! I don't care what she thinks! … Don't give me that look, Mom.

M: Sorry. My face just goes like that.

E: All right, it does bother me, but I don't know why it should.

M: It's good to think about the moral value of the things you read. Especially the stories that you really care about, because aren't they likely to be the ones that influence you the most?

E: And they don't sleep together or anything.

M: I think I remember Bella letting Edward stay in her bedroom and concealing it from her father. Do you think that's a good idea?

E: But he doesn't hurt her!

M: You think it doesn't hurt teenagers to lie to their parents, breaking their trust, so their parents can't stop them from doing incredibly dangerous things?

E: But she's in love.

M: Oh, yes, love. Correct me if I'm remembering this wrong, but doesn't Bella practically beg Edward to drink her blood and turn her into a vampire?

E: He doesn't do it.

M: But she puts her whole future completely in the hands of a man who is far older than she is, while hiding it all from her father, so she has nobody to help her if Edward turns out to be not so very good after all.

E: When you put it that way, it sounds so ... dangerous.

M: Children doing things that could destroy them, while keeping their parents from finding out? What's dangerous about that?

E: They're in love!

M: You said that before. But I never actually understood — why does everybody keep falling in love with Bella? She's sullen, bored, she doesn't like anybody who's actually human — in the real world, girls like that are very sad and lonely, and they don't usually find themselves in the middle of a love story.

E: "Twilight" is a lot more than brain candy for girls with low self-esteem, Mom.

M: So far all you've told me is reasons why "Twilight" isn't as bad for you as it could be. That's like saying the milk isn't so very sour. If that's all you've got, why did you drink it so avidly?

E: Because "Twilight" isn't sour at all. It's good. It really is!

M: That's how you feel, but can you tell me why?

E: How about this? Edward protects her while she's still too young to know what she's doing, but when she's ready, he'll make her immortal and let her share his life.

M: I don't know that everybody would be comfortable with the idea of Edward the vampire as a Christ figure.

E: Well it's kind of a cool idea, in an English-class-ish way.

M: Even if you can find a symbolic reading of a book that fits with the gospel, I don't think that's the real test.

E: Then what? I really care about this.

M: Yes, the story made you care. Think back, though — what did it make you want to do, to be, to become?

E: It made me want to love somebody the way Bella loved Edward. With her whole heart.

M: You don't need a book to make you want that. I mean, you're 15.

E: But it also made me want to find someone who deserved that kind of love and trust. Someone I could count on, someone who wanted to make me happy and keep me safe — even from himself.

M: So maybe that's why "Twilight" was a good book — for you, the way you read it. It made you desire good things, and it helped you recognize what they are.

E: So it wouldn't necessarily be good for everyone.

M: A bad reader finds bad even in the best books, and a good reader finds whatever good there might be in bad ones.

E: And talking about it with you really helped me sort this out. Thanks, Mom!

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