Friday, January 6, 2012

Who has two thumbs and has read three of the Twilight books?

So, yeah. Twilight. And I've got to say, it's not the worst book I've ever read. Angels and Demons continues to be the worst book I've ever read. If anyone wants to take a shot at a convincing argument for why I should still attempt to read The Da Vinci Code after almost losing the last shred of faith I had in humanity trying to wrap my head around the idea that so many people thought Dan Brown is a good author, be my guest. But seriously, there is nothing good about that book.

Twilight on the other hand...I thought Stephanie Meyers did a pretty good job with setting, making both Phoenix and the Pacific Northwest compelling places and the contrast between them an interesting component of the book. I thought her human characters were pretty decent. Bella's parents are pretty believable. Jacob is actually pretty likable, but then also flawed enough to be multi dimensional. Bella herself is not exactly someone I identify with or admire, but she makes an interesting case study of self sacrifice as a heroic virtue. I kind of wonder if that element of her personality isn't something we're more used to seeing in male characters. Harry goes to face Voldemort alone, Luke leaves Han & Leia on Endor to face his destiny with Vader, and I don't know how many boys I overheard in high school describe their attachment to one person or another as the willingness to take a bullet for them. The melodrama and self negation seems more shocking coming from a teenage girl, but I think we've just become used to female characters being stereotypically the practical ones. (Oh hi Hermione!).

I actually kind of feel bad about the number of people who have gone out of their way to say that Twilight is badly written, when the author clearly enjoys & respects literature herself. She doesn't just name check a few important authors to prove that Bella is brainy and smart, or throw in a Romeo & Juliet analogy because "OMG! It's like they're from two different worlds!" Actually, Bella's character is pretty reminiscent of Marianne Dashwood (the sensibility half of Sense & Sensibility), and I'm guessing a lot of other female heroines in other classic romances that I generally avoid reading because they aren't written with Jane Austen's humorous detachment from her characters.

On the other hand, lest you think this is getting too close to an actual endorsement of some kind....Edward is kind of a shockingly boring character to have an entire book about how amazing and wonderful and worth sacrificing everything for he is built around him. You hear repeatedly that he is devastatingly attractive...but his hair color is apparently bronze, which doesn't and shouldn't actually occur in nature as far as I can tell, and his defining features include dark circles under his eyes, which really isn't a turn on to most women. Also, basically every physical description of him dwells at length on the idea that his body feels exactly like cold marble...also not a turn on that I'm aware of. I'm sure most women just insert their own idea of the perfect man, or I guess now there's that actor from the movie to picture, but still, the series doesn't get any points here. Personality wise, he's kind of a dud too. He smiles a lot, or chuckles, which I guess is an attractive trait in a guy...but this is mostly related to us as "Edward smiled" or "Edward chuckled." He's apparently a musician, but compared to Bella's literature thing this does feel name checked and inserted to make his character artistic and sensitive without any really substance to it. He likes classical music. Like Debussy. And he composes too! Cause he's just that smart. He starts to kind of develop a real personality by the third book (yes, I read three of these things...and will probably read the fourth one) as an idealistic romantic, but it's still a real weak point in the series.

I think the fantasy of Edward is actually probably more the fantasy of Edward's family. He falls in love with Bella, and suddenly she becomes the primary focus of not just his life, but also his siblings' and his parents'. Edward & Bella's love is inevitably kind of static, since they jump to the "nothing else matters/I would die for you!!!!" stage immediately, but then she gets to be gradually accepted by all of the other vampires as one of the family, supplying her with a jovial and strong older brother, a sister who's bubbly and cool in all the ways Bella's not, another sister who's standoffish and reserved but ultimately sweet & caring, and a brother who's intimidating and brooding but ten kinds of badass. Add in parents who are sympathetic, attentive, wise and infallible, and contrast it with the way that Bella fits in to her own human family (she moves to Washington to live with her father to avoid being an impediment to her mom's new marriage), and you can see why it's a pretty compelling fantasy for some people.

I'm not sure it's a particularly healthy fantasy, once you add in that Bella's one and only super power seems to be self sacrifice, and I'd rather imagine that the primary audience for the books was middle aged women indulging in some escapism rather than impressionable teenagers, but that's true of a lot of things. (I'd also like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to come with a warning label for teenage boys that Spike is not actually meant to be a role model, and for Sex & the City to be edited so that Samantha Jones just comes with a caption "fictional character"). On the whole, I don't think the insistence I hear from a lot of people that the pop culture they like is noble & good but Twilight is pure trash holds a whole lot of water. And so yeah, there you have it. Me defending Twilight.


  1. Aren't there 4 twilight books?

  2. 5 actually if you count "The Short Second life of Bree Turner."

  3. There are four books (or apparently maybe five), but I'm still working...very lazily...on my options for getting a copy of the last one to read. Paying for it is out of the question, and I haven't actually gotten a library card in Merced yet, so I might just be waiting for it to appear on the side of the road.