Sunday, March 11, 2012

How and Why I Gave The Vampire Diaries Half a Chance

Long story short: This is all Adam's fault and I may never forgive him.

Long story long:

As any fan who's not completely unobservant can tell you, The Vampire Diaries is "based upon the book by L. J. Smith." Or, more accurately, book series. There are four books, published in 1991 and 1992, that inspired the show: The Awakening, The Struggle, The Fury, and Dark Reunion.

Considering how much I (obviously) love the show, this may come as a bit of a surprise, but I have never given any of the books a chance, and probably never will.

Let's back up . . .

I'm twenty-four years old. It's probably pretty safe to say that I read a lot more than the "average" twenty-four-year-old. When I was twelve, though, I read even more. Picture what Hermione might have been like if Ron and Harry hadn't saved her from the troll and finally befriended her. That's not how bad I was. Picture what Hermione might have been like if she never got a letter from Hogwarts, never discovered that she could do magic, and was stuck in a school that did not even come close to meeting her intellectual needs. That is how much I read. Basically, I only ever did things like go to church or mow the lawn or go to bed at a decent hour* because my parents said I absolutely had to.

So, obviously, I spent more than a little bit of time of at the local library. I was, in fact, there so often that most of the staff recognized me and most of my family, and at least two of them knew me by name. I read whatever I could get my hands on - mostly Animorphs (which, to this day, is still one of my favorite pieces of fiction in the history of fiction), any sort of mystery, M. E. Kerr, Neal Shusterman, Walter Dean Myers, Jean Thesman, Gregory Maguire, Louise Rennison, and Paula Danziger. Even if I didn't actually take it home and read it, I had a passing familiarity with pretty much everything in the library's juvenile fiction/YA section . . . including The Vampire Diaries.

Now, I want to be perfectly clear. I have no lack of respect for L. J. Smith. According to the "paying your light bill" theory of writing talent (Stephen King?), she obviously has enough to fund quite an early retirement, so more power to her. But I never ever felt like reading any of her books because, despite featuring enough occult elements to send my mother into conniptions (which was usually my definition of a rollicking good read), even when I was twelve, they sounded ridiculous. Here's what I gathered from reading the backs of the books and occasionally skimming through them: After meeting her super-hot vampire boyfriend and his dark and mysterious vampire brother who also wants her, Elena Gilbert has a bunch of misadventures that lead to the following complications: She dies. She comes back as a vampire. She dies again. She comes back as an angel. She has different sets of wings that do different sorts of magic. She lives happily ever after or something.

Sorry, but I'm just not going to read that. Unless there's a cute girl (preferably with superstrength) running around killing them and looking like a total badass, I have never cared for vampires very much. Drinking blood is icky.

Fast forward to the fall of 2009. Wont as I am to hang out in bookstores, I was aware that the series had been adapted for television almost as soon as it happened, even though I haven't had "real" TV at home since before I was old enough to drink. So I saw the posters and the tote bags and the re-released actual books (now with actors on the covers) and they brought back vivid memories of my twelve-year-old fed-up-ness; my reaction at the time was basically, "Even if this was a good idea, True Blood already did it better, bitches."

Fast forward again to the very early spring of 2011. My best friend in the world, Adam -- well, okay, he's one of my ten or so best friends in the world; I'm pretty blessed in that department -- had recently come out to me (note that I realized he was gay about three seconds after meeting him . . . in December of 2008) and we were bonding over how much we were attracted or not attracted to this or that actor from this or that TV show, blah blah blah. He very quickly told me that he had just started watching this fairly new show called The Vampire Diaries and fallen heels over head for both of the male leads and I should start watching it so I could fall equally hard. But I told him about how familiar I already was with the books, and how much I was not interested in them, so for a while the subject was dropped.

In the last week of April 2011, my depression, which I had spent basically my whole life denying (note: It probably would have been a lot easier to start dealing with when I was twelve if I hadn't been stuck in such a shitty school at such a crucial time in my life. But that's water under the whatever at this point), spiraled the hell out of control. So I took a medical leave from my job and enrolled in some pretty intense group therapy and found that I had a maddening amount of free time. Which, to be sure, is a very very very good thing. Therapy is exhausting. Even though you look forward to it, you dread going there every day; even if all you do is listen, you spend the rest of the day feeling burnt out. You're not allowed to drink or use drugs, so you have to deal with your feelings all on your own, which is probably fairly new for you (let's face it: if you were more accustomed to dealing with your feelings all on your own, you probably wouldn't have landed yourself in group).

So, obviously, I spent a lot of that free time on the Internet. I finally started watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which was SUCH a good thing -- to make another long story very short, when you're dealing with depression and feeling totally alone in the world even though friends you didn't know you had have suddenly come out of nowhere to tell you how proud they are that you're finally dealing with depression, it does you an insane amount of good to hear that loyalty + laughter + generosity + honesty + kindness = friendship, which is literally the exact same thing as magic -- but there were only so many episodes, you know? They couldn't take up all of my free time.

Anyway, one day I got bored enough to read about the show on (which, if you've never visited, I don't recommend unless you tell someone you're going there first and ask them to check up on you; otherwise you'll still be poring over character pages six days later, and your list of stuff to check out will be about a mile high), where I came across a bit of information that radically altered my entire stance on the show: Bonnie was a witch. She was also the main character's best friend. THE MAIN CHARACTER'S BEST FRIEND WAS A WITCH.

The sound I made when I read this was pretty fricking hilarious.

At this point, we need to talk a bit about my history with witches.

When I was two or three, my mother sat me down to watch The Wizard of Oz. Now, obviously, I was already familiar with the concept of witches -- we've always been a fairly Disney-heavy family, and Mom has this big book of fairy tales from when she was a kid that she made sure to read to all three of her children because she's a good parent like that -- but, up until then, when I heard the word "witch," I mostly thought of Ursula from The Little Mermaid or The Queen from Snow White and got all terrified (note: I was afraid of The Queen, not The Hag; I didn't really start to believe that The Queen was entirely fictional until I was at least seven years old, and for the longest time I honestly believed that she was going to jump out of my closet and eat me whenever I was naked -- yeah, I know, analyze that one).

The Wizard of Oz was different, though, right from the start. I don't know what it was, but something about The Wicked Witch of the West made me fall in love with her right away. I couldn't figure out why she was supposedly so "wicked," either. If a house fell on me and my shoes miraculously survived, I'd certainly want my little sister to have them, and I'd be pretty angry if a total stranger showed up and took them from her.

And then there was Glinda. The Good Witch of the North. Right. Good. SAYS WHO? First she gives the dead woman's shoes to the girl who inadvertently killed her, even though her sister obviously deserves to keep them, then she sends Dorothy off on a quest to meet the Wizard so he can send her home. Then, AFTER THE WHOLE MOVIE HAS ALREADY HAPPENED, she conveniently remembers that, oh hey, the shoes she forced her to steal have the power to take her home whenever she feels like it.

I think it's safe to say that this was the first time in my life a fictional character made me so angry.

I just flat-out did not get it. The "Wicked" Witch was clearly misunderstood and mistreated; the "Good" Witch was clearly a manipulative little snot. Oh, and also? Her dress was tacky.

So, ever since then, I have been absolutely fascinated by the notion of witches in fiction. Good or evil, funny or serious, ridiculously powerful or not so much, pseudo-realistic or entirely made-up, whether they actually call themselves witches or not, their presence in a story almost always ensures that I'm going to enjoy it about ten times more than I would without them.

(For those who are curious, some of my favorite witches include: Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Frau Totenkinder from Fables; the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus; certain characters from Robin McKinley's Sunshine; Elphaba and Glinda from Wicked; Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Agnes "Perdita" X. Nitt, and - most especially - Tiffany Aching from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books; Nico Minoru from Runaways; Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty; Rita Repulsa from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers; pretty much any witch from any fairy tale ever; Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary from a short story in a book I read long ago that I think was called Things That Go Bump in the Night; Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, because yes, she totally counts; Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley from Harry Potter; Thessaly from The Sandman; the witch queens from Stardust, either the book or the movie; all three generations of Owens sisters from Practical Magic - the book, NOT the movie**; Marnie and her family from Halloweentown and its sequels; Endora from Bewitched; the cool aunt from The Mists of Avalon; Nancy, Rochelle, Bonnie, and Sarah from The Craft; and Rachel, Alex, and Daphne from the godawful stories I've been writing all my life.)

Sooo, when I finally found out about Bonnie, I fell out of my chair and thrashed about for a second, snatched up my phone, and quickly typed up a text message to Adam: "If you wanted me to watch The Vampire Diaries so much, why the FUCK didn't you mention that the main character's best friend is a witch?!" Always one to take things in stride, he nonchalantly replied, "Elena's best friend Bonnie is a witch. Now watch."

So I did, and I haven't looked back since.

Which you'd think would be the end of this post, and it probably should be, but I feel compelled to mention that the witchcraft is not what kept me watching. As I said, I got into the show while I was going through therapy. It turns out that experiencing fiction and feeling what the characters feel is a pretty excellent way to cope with depression (and quite a bit easier than therapy, although it's obviously no substitute), so it was the (platonic) relationships between the characters that made me go from "alright, I'll give it a chance since there's a witch at the center of things" to "sweet holy Moses, I actually thoroughly enjoy this show!" I really started to fall in love with Elena in the pilot when she follows Jeremy into the bathroom and he tells her that she needs to "chill herself," and my heart melted a little later in the pilot when Stefan said "You won't be sad forever, Elena." So, yeah, there you have it.

Oh, also, the fact that my mother is indirectly responsible for my fascination with witches will always be deliciously ironic. Heh.

More later.

Much love,

*Which, by the way, Mom and David? Do either of you have any idea how often I stayed up reading by the light of my glow-in-the-dark watch? Because it was a lot.

**The movie isn't bad, but it's so different that Warner Brothers could've given everyone different names and probably gotten out of paying Alice Hoffman any royalties without any kind of legal repercussions.

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