Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#33 Friend Recommended: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

When I posted a Facebook status asking friends to recommend books, one of the first recommendations that I got was a joke: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I laughed and almost ignored it, but then I remembered, a couple of years ago I had friends who were seriously recommending it to me. Mostly as an easy, fluffy beach-read that would make me laugh at how ludicrous it all was, but they were still recommending it. So I decided to re-read this book that I love to hate and hate to love, which I relentlessly mock and shamefully admit to owning, because I wanted to start thinking about why I both love and hate it, and why so many other people do too.

There are entire blogs dedicated to Stephanie Meyer's terrible writing, her lack of character development, grammar and sentence structure, so I'm not even going to get into that. Instead, before ripping this book apart, I'm going to start with the good.

Re-imagined Vampires. Is it stupid that Edward sparkles in the sunlight?

Well it certainly looks stupid in the movie and Bella's description in the books makes it gooey and nauseating, and obviously it's great for making jokes, but I really appreciate the concept behind it. Instead of vampires that die during the day, here's an alternate explanation of why they avoid sunlight! One that allows them to fit into society much more convincingly. It even allows Edward to go to high school. Although I don't think much of Fork's supposed school system (or hospital) when the kids can go hiking at a moment's (or sun ray's) notice and Dr. Carlisle Cullen doesn't have to show up for work for the same asnine reason - but I'm getting ahead of myself. The good!

Actually, that might be it for the first book. Re-imagined vampires with slightly different powers and culture than anything I'd ever seen before. Cool.

Now the bad. First of all, for those of you who are sitting there thinking, "But what about Bella? She was so relatable! Surely that's a good thing." Unfortunately you're wrong. There's a reason Bella's so relatable and it's because she has no defining character or personality traits. The closest we get to an actual personality trait is that she's an "old soul," which mostly means not freaking out about the supernatureal weirdness that crops up, which seems more like a sign of mental deficiency than maturity to me. She's clumsy. And she feels like she doesn't fit in anywhere.

Bella is dangerous. Hasn't every girl and young woman felt like she didn't fit in? Like no one understands her?  But real girls aren't like Bella. Everything in the books is set up to make life as easy as possible for Bella. She arrives to her new school to find that she already knows the entire curriculum because she was in the Advanced Placement program in her old school, so while she has to do tedious homework, she never struggles with her studies. Apparently she had no friends in her old school and has only made very loose ties with friends in her new school, who all conveniently disappear from her life as soon as she becomes a vampire - not even Angela calls to see how she's doing.  The only hobby she has is reading. She has no strong likes, no aspirations, no career goals, no life-goals, no dreams, no passions. In short, she's the perfect girl to give up her life for vampirism, because she doesn't have much of a life to give up. Despite her supposedly strong affections for her mother, it doesn't bother her at all that her mother won't fit into her "new life" once she's a vampire. And for some reason, her mother isn't nearly as worried as Charlie about Bella's illness. Personally, I'm surprised Charlie got to retain enough personality to worry about his daughter. Even becoming a vampire and resisting the desire to drink human blood is made easy for her - the theory is because she went into her new life prepared and it gave her miraculous willpower to resist immediately. Lucky her.

There's no reality to the situation or the characters. Bella is, quite simply, a lackluster and uninteresting character who is only made interesting by the circumstances that Stephanie Meyer has placed her in.

Even more dangerous than Bella is Edward. He represents two things to the feminine psyche. First of all, he's the bad boy that we crushed on but never got to have. The one we yearned for and that we were sure secretly liked us too. And Edward now shows us that same unavailable man suddenly becoming available. Maybe he's not really distant because he doesn't know who we are, maybe there's a good reason for it. Now all those young woman can pin their hopes on the dangerous bad boy suddenly turning around and seeing them for who they really are, that underneath his dark exterior there will be a truly good, generous and wonderful person (all very nice bland and non-descriptive adjectives, because Edward doesn't truly have much more personality than Bella).

With Bella as a role model I would have wasted all my crushing time on guys who were never going to notice me, but I'd be sure that there was a good reason for it and that if I just was interested enough, one day they would. Nothing Bella actually does is worthwhile. She's always protected and pampered, even her one big plot-changing strength (her defensive mind shield) is not something she's worked for or even consciously doing. It just happened to her. Other Sci-Fi / Fantasty Heroines put her to shame.

Probably the best thing she does is realize how useless she is and insist that she and Edward should be equals. Which allows for her to more fully develop the wonderful mind shield that she was born with.

Anyway, back to Edward.

The second thing Edward represents is the perfect man. The one who will fulfill our every need and desire, even the ones we didn't know we had. That we can rely on completely. The one who, even if he goes away (like in New Moon), it's really because he loves us and in the end he'll come back because we belong together. Who won't be jealous when we kiss our best friend that we have inappropriate feelings for (like in Eclipse). And who will, in all things, bow to whatever we want that will make us happy.

It horrified me, seeing the movies in public theaters, to see how many young women in the audience seemed to think that there was nothing ridiculous about this presentation of the happy couple. However, that's also what makes these books such a resounding success. The desire to believe that someone like Edward could come along. That there's a perfect man and a perfect relationship out there. That the worst that will ever happen will be that he leaves us and then comes back.  In New Moon  Bella almost learns how to move on and that there is life after the first heartbreak. But not really because the lesson that's really taught is that once he comes back everything will be perfect. You will immediately forgive him and there will be no resentment, no doubt, no insecurity. Ha.

Also slightly terrifying, Edward's idea of appropriate romancing.
It's all just been in the name of protecting her right? That's why he follows her to Port Angeles, where it's proved he's needed because he rescues her. So stalking led to him saving her life right? And watching her sleep every night, while she didn't know about it, that's not creepy at all. It definitely creeped me out in the first book when he admitted it and she just kinda brushed it off with, "oh whatever." A better reaction would have been to be sincerely freaked out, which Bella never is, which is why I think Edward has fallen in love with someone with mental deficiencies.

Then let's get into some of the semantics of the book. Bella and Edward don't have sex until marriage. And apparently it's the "best thing ever" and she "can't imagine it getting better." Anyone who has lost their virginity knows what a crock of b.s. that is. A few other issues with the actual mechanics of them getting it on... Edward has no pulse. Or blood pressure. Both of which are necessary for an erection. Maybe it's magic. But even discounting that issue, what about his cold skin? There is constant commentary about his skin temperature, and even though they honeymoon in the tropics that's not going to help the feeling of an icicle entering her. That's not going to help lubrication. And somehow we're supposed to believe that's the best feeling ever? Only if you don't think about it too hard or you've never had sex.
Not that realities are taken into much consideration throughout the books anyway. Skipping over the lack of personality traits and realistic biology, what about the boredom of vampires going through year after year of high school?  The younger they pretend to be, the longer they can stay in one place, but why not just pretend to be home-schooled? That way they wouldn't have to be taken out of school every time the sun shines and they wouldn't have to repeat Pre-Calculus 100 times. And much less risk of being exposed by their lack of appetite in the cafeteria.

On top of that, couldn't they be doing a lot more good in the world if they're such "good" people?
All in all, these books are a fun, easy read. They're even enjoyable in a completely fantastical way if you don't care about lackluster writing, gaping plot holes and bland characters. Oh, and the fact that there's no real conflict, EVER, even though the characters are in constant danger. You just have to be fine with lots of tension building followed by a null climax and a swift conclusion.

These are the books I read when I want to read something dumb. When my head hurts, when I've been doing a lot of thinking, when I've been reading challenging books for awhile or something for school or work and I want to read but I also want my brain to be able to relax.

Although, to be honest, this is probably the more sane reaction:


  1. That's basically every thought I've ever had about Twilight, except I didn't find it to be a fun read. I actually found it a rough drivel that I had to slog through. I didn't manage to finish the first book and didn't bother even opening the last three. Of course, I always had aspirations and a personality and never crushed on the cold-fish bad boy in school. So I guess I just can't relate!

  2. I actually laughed out loud at this blog! Great job explaining why it is so easy to read but so terrible.

    I read through all the books easily. The first two movies were a waste of my time. I think I liked the books because I could get lost in the "story"

  3. Love it! I read the first book and stopped for all the reasons you said! It's so true!!

  4. Hehehe. I'm glad you finally participated in the horror that is the twilight series. Best/worst brain popcorn ever. I think it just takes awhile for the sane part of the female brain to realize that what they're reading is unrealistic, creepy, and creepy. But in that moment, especially before the movies came out when I could picture Edward as attractive and not...robert pattinson *shudder* , it was admittedly tempting. Also, biologically, I like the idea of 'vampires are extremely attractive because it makes them better predators'-- that's a pretty compelling argument! Peacocks ruffle their features, why can't human predators also do so!
    But yea, glad you enjoyed. Painfully, that is. =)