Thursday, December 11, 2008

Twilight Review!


Twilight, for a long time, was an enigma to me. And, far as I could see, an enigma it would remain. After all, I had no urges to join the tween girl phenomenon. But eventually, through forces beyond my control, it was pushed into my hands and I was forced to read. If you're pressed for time, here's my review in four words: What's the big fuss?

I suppose it's easiest to compare Twilight to the Harry Potter series. While this comparison does have some merit, it isn't entirely accurate. In fact, it is closer to plain inaccurate. To me, Stephenie Meyer is an underdeveloped JK Rowling. Her style is very similar, almost to a fault, just not quite as distinctive.

The similarities are more easily noticed than the differences. Both authors seem to bestow upon their protagonist a sort of likable dislikability. Bella is meek when you want her to be assertive in the same ways that Harry is self-centered when you want him to think of others. In the real world, this would, of course, make you rather unlikable, but merely makes the both of them all the more endearing. Both take a genre (fantasy) not oft-visited by the masses, particularly with the teenagers they're targeted at (and even more so with female teenagers, with Twilight) and make it appealing by diluting to, for fans of the genre, an almost sickening extent.



There, however, is where the similarities end. Perhaps the most profound difference is the extent to which love plays a role in Twilight. But that's a topic for later discussion.

Another large difference between the two is the viewpoint from which it is written. Harry Potter is in the third person limited omniscient. I'll try to avoid English-class-type analysis, but it does make a large difference to the substance of the series. Viewing the events from a first-person perspective would be extremely limiting. This adds the reader in as a sort of 'ghost' character that can watch from the sideline.

Meyer's choice of first person (from Bella's perspective, of course) is important. The limiting aspect of it helps the reader to connect with her.

I mentioned before that Meyer's writing is similar to Rowling's, almost to a fault. It's almost worrisome in some parts. You may remember that, at the end of book one, the protagonist goes to the enemy so as to save the lives of the ones the protagonist loves, after which, the protagonist's savior explains everything.

Now, then... Which book am I talking about?

Oh, yes, that's right..

BOTH.

But let's not dwell on that.

Let's turn to the main aspect that draws them apart:

Romance.

It is inarguably the centerpiece of Twilight. It's ever-so-touching. A girl meets her soul-mate, they fall madly in love, he's a vampire, etc etc etc. Now, normally I would have little to say against this. Love is a huge part of nearly all literature, and it should remain that way. My main problem with this? It all happens so quickly!

The time line of Twilight was always a bit hazy to me. Everything happened so consecutively, and yet everything changed so quickly, much more quickly than it almost ever does in real life, that it's hard to believe the short time frame. By my best count, though, the actions of the book all happen within no more than several months (this was later confirmed by my sister, a die-hard fan). In that time, Bella manages to fall madly, madly, madly in love with a boy. Now, love is a brilliant and confusing thing. I don't claim to be an expert on it, but I find it hard to believe that the message being sent to countless millions of tween girls is IF YOU MEET A COOL GUY AND YOU LIKE HIM AND HE LIKES YOU BACK THEN YOU GUYS ARE IN LOVE THAT'S SO COOL!!! SO MAKE SURE THAT WHEN YOU'RE TALKING TO HIM USE A LOT OF ADJECTIVES AND SAY LOVE A LOT, AND THEN THERE MAY COME A TIME WHEN YOU NEED TO SACRIFICE YOURSELF FOR HIM TOTALLY DO IT BECAUSE YOU ARE, LIKE, TOTALLY IN LOVE!

Let's take a look at this.

It isn't until almost 200 pages in that the word 'love' is used in a romantic sense, in what quickly became the most popular quotation from the book: “..I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him” (195).

Really, Stephenie Meyer? Really? You guys are lab partners, he saves you from getting raped, you go to dinner, and she loves him? Really? Is this the message you want to send?

But hey, maybe it's an anomaly. Maybe it's just a hyperbolic phrase, a little joke, and Meyer expects the readers to get it. Ok, ok, that's cool. Let's just look a bit further.

BAM! “'You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever'” (273).

BAM! “'I would rather die than stay away from you'” (274).

BAM! “'You said you loved me.' 'You knew that already'” (314).

BAM! “'I love you'” (314)

BAM! “'You are my life now'” (314)

BAM! “'I love you,' he said. 'It's a poor excuse for what I'm doing, but it's still true'” (366)

BAM! “'I love you,' I said in a low, intense voice. 'I will always love you, no matter what happens now'” (391)

BAM! “'I love you,' I reminded him. 'Could you believe that, despite everything I've put you through, I love you too?'”(418)

BAM! “'I love you. I am so sorry... I Love you. Forgive me'” (432)

BAM! “'I love you'” (454)

BAM! “'I must love you'” (460)
BAM! “'I love you'” (479)

...gross.

It's not to say that the romance made me dislike the book. I will admit that it sucked me in. That overall, it was a positive experience for me. But the romance bits did put me off. It's not romance in general that I dislike, but this is absolutely over the top, in a book that shouldn't be. Isn't a few months too soon to tell someone, “'I love you more than everything else in the world combined'” (498)? I mean, c'mon Stephenie Meyer. That's just too much.

Even within the first weeks of Bella's knowing Edward, the prospect of asking him to leave her alone caused her the “sudden agony of despair” (139). Don't worry, this is probably just a result of their deep, interpersonal connection. Wait a second... what connection?

Not to mention the fact that, after said months, Bella wanted, nay, pressured Edward to vampirize her! She wanted to turn her back on everything she had: her mother, her father, her friends, her life, so that she could spend eternity with a practical stranger! I mean, it was cool when Romeo and Juliet did it, but this is just ridiculous.

Psychology has long studied the topic of this sort of love. The general modern consensus is that when you fall in love quickly, it's nice and good and it'll be a fun little romp, but you won't make it in the long run. But if you take the time, get to know someone over a long period before you start seeing him/her romantically, the odds of your staying together are hugely increased. Says the infallible Wikipedia: “The importance of similarity and complementarity may depend on the stage of the relationship. Similarity seems to carry considerable weight in initial attraction, while complementarity assumes importance as the relationship develops over time (Vinacke, Shannon, Palazzo, Balsavage, et-al, 1988).”

It's actually kind of worrying. I don't want this rubbing off on my sister! If my sister's life is ever in immediate peril at the prospect of being torn apart and devoured by a vampire, I don't want her first thought to be OH GOD I MIGHT NEVER SEE MY HUBBY AGAIN as it is with Bella. If I ever hear her tell someone she's known for just a few short months, “'..it won't be all right when I'm not with you'” (396), I'll flat out punch her in the face.

Looking past the painful love bits, though, it certainly is worth a read. It's a stretch to even put it in the same league as Harry Potter, but it undeniably has its merits.

There's really (as far as I can find) nothing special about the way Meyer writes. In fact, it seems like much of it (dialog, in particular) is over-peppered with adjectives. I'd wager a guess that it's merely her vivid imagination that allows her to suck god knows how many teenage girls in. It does seem sometimes like she's trying all too hard to appeal to the younger generations: for example, when Bella's researching vampires online, she must battle of dozens of 'pop-up ads' before she can make it to her 'favorite search engine.' I mean, seriously? How many teenage girls have a favorite search engine? How many know more than just Google?

And thus far I've stayed away from the vampiric aspect of it. Because, frankly, it doesn't really affect what I think of the book. After you've read books about aliens from outer space, vampires seem really quite tame. But I do have to admit that when Meyer took so many established aspects of vampires and adds MIND READING to it, it bothered me a bit. Just a bit. But what really bothered me was the fact that she then made the one exception to the mind reader the one that he just so happens to fall madly, madly in love with! I mean, c'mon! Let's say that the odds of being able to read minds is, oh, one in six and a half billion (because, as far as we know, Edward's the only one that can do it). So let's assume that Bella's the only one who can repel his mind intrusions. The chances of this, then? About 1 in 20000000000000000000. Hmm....

That's not to say her writing doesn't have strong points. She scored points with me for her numerous Greek references (in particular, her frequent chthonic depictions of Edward as an Adonis of sorts).

The book itself does have its selection of beautiful, but ultimately too infrequent, description passages. When Bella travels to the beach with her friends, she is spellbound by the “bouquets of brilliant anemones undulating ceaselessly” (117) and a host of other things, beautifully described, but Meyer absolutely ruins it (for me at least) by throwing in, at the end of the passage, the fact that her mind is completely absorbed, apart from the part “that wondered what Edward was doing now, and trying to imagine what he would be saying if he were here with me” (117).

Urrggh.

The book also deals with the difficult, and potentially explosive, issue of evolution vs. creationism. I had little hope for Meyer teaching our younger generation anything of substance when I learned that the apple on the cover was supposed represent the apple of Eden, etc etc etc. But about 300 pages in, Bella asks Edward where vampires came from. His response gave me hope: “'Couldn't we have evolved in the same way as other species, predator and prey?'” (308) YES STEPHENIE MEYER! YES! DO THE WORLD RIGHT! but then he goes on to say, “'Or, if you don't believe all this world could have just happened on its own...'” (308) AAARRGGGGHHHH! NO STEPHENIE MEYER! NO! YOU CAME SO CLOSE!

Meyer's humor, too, is present, much like that of Rowling, but leaves a bit to be desired. It certainly has its moments (so, in essence, it's like everything else in the novel...) but is too imprecise and unpredictable to denote any uncommon talent.

All of this considered, I still don't understand what brought the series to the superstar status it now has. It's a fun read, but in my mind, it does little to surpass the hordes and hordes of books that occupy the YA shelves of any library.

My score: (/5, and that's including the hype factor)

1 comment:

Leslie said...

An intelligent review, my young friend, and so eloquently written. I too (was forced to) read this novel and was mostly frustrated by the over indulgent sappiness of nearly 100 percent of it. He glitters, he stares, he smolders, he... dazzels (?!) with all the vivacity of a 90 year old seventeen year old. Stepheni practically spoon feeds adolescent girls exactly what they hope and pray and pee over in any guy: god-like looks, eloquence, mystery, and unyielding commitment to the point of obsession. In truth, these qualities are rarely found in any human male at the same time and often the effect is repulsive as it comes with an overwhelming ego.

I would say though, that her most unforgivable error was the introduction of key players in the last third of the book. I'm an english major at UW-Milwaukee, I'll be graduating this year. NEVER NEVER NEVER under ANY circumstances should important characters be left until the last pages of the book to be introduced. BAD, Stepheni, BAD. If I hadn't seen the movie before I read the book I would have been totally taken off guard. ANY practiced writer, I daresay even a bad one, should know this cardinal rule.

But it's not all bad, no. I found that I was turning pages like I sometimes eat candy. It's so angst ridden and poppy that if I were fifteen I hardly think I'd be separable from my copy. Eight years after that tender age, I have better things to do.