Musings on Twilight

The first half of Breaking Dawn comes out today and I’m seeing it tomorrow with a friend who feels much the same as I do about the Twilight Saga — ambiguous. If you were to ask me on any given day what my impressions and thoughts of the series are, you might get two different answers. I have run the gamut when it comes to this book and film series, tending toward fondness for it when the first book came out and frustration with many of its themes and nuances. There are some things I like about it, and others that I don’t like about it. But I haven’t really sat down to process all of my thoughts on it recently, so I will do so here and maybe you will understand my internal confusion.

For the four people who are not familiar with the series, it revolves around the romance of Edward, an eternally seventeen year old vampire, and Bella, a teenager who moves to Forks in Washington to live with her dad, the local cop. For awhile, Edward avoids Bella at school and we eventually learn that it is because he is attracted to her, but afraid that he might lose control and kill her if they become too close. Bella is not afraid of him or his vampire tendencies and they begin seeing one another, much to the annoyance and despair of her childhood friend Jacob, who as the series unfolds is revealed to be a werewolf. Thus, Bella finds herself caught in the midst of a vampire-werewolf feud, the target of other vampires, and faced to make a decision of whether to live a normal life or to become a vampire with Edward. It is not really much of a love triangle because Jacob never stood a chance, which is a shame because all things considering, in spite of his more annoying habits (like constantly baiting Edward), I like him and I think he’s the better choice for Bella in terms of having a “normal” (well, as normal as this series offers) life in growing old together, having kids and grandkids, and so forth.

I liked the first Twilight book. It was campy, teenage angst and it was fun. Its popularity grew through word of mouth and it was the kind of book that was an easy and engaging read. I did not think much about the negatives in it, such as the creepiness involved in Edward watching Bella sleep — it was just a fantasy-romance and was not to be taken too seriously. When New Moon came out, the series took a darker and more disconcerting turn, when Bella became so full of despair when Edward left that rather than seek help for her depression, she wallowed in it and resorted to foolish behavior in an attempt to get an adrenaline rush so that she could hallucinate his presence. The silly antics of the first book for me then felt a little less silly, because I became aware that this was immature romance taken to an unhealthy level. Eclipse was a decent enough book and focused more on Jacob, which I liked. If I had to say which of the plot lines I liked the most, it would be that one — both on screen and off. Overall, I still enjoyed the series in spite of its faults, and looked forward to the release of the final book, Breaking Dawn. Now, opinions on that book are divided — some fans love it but for others it was a major disappointment. I’m sorry to say that I am of the latter variety; I went in expecting one thing (continued romance and angst) and got another (what felt like a B-grade horror movie plot).

Instead of the romantic marriage of Edward and Bella I knew was coming, I was faced with the aftermath of a brutal wedding night (which Bella enjoyed, in spite of all the bruises she received) and a Nightmare Pregnancy. From there my horror and disgust only grew until I quit about a hundred pages prior to the end, having had quite enough. I felt cheated as a reader, manipulated, and even betrayed. I could not imagine that this was the original ending the author had envisioned for her characters — a dramatic about-turn that had little in common with previous installments and seemed to be all over the place in its characterizations and material. The formerly moralistic and possessive Edward was now begging Bella to abort the evil child and offering to let her have a baby with Jacob instead — what? And when I reached the scene in which the baby is actually born… or rather, kind of chews itself out of Bella’s abdomen, I wondered if I had wandered into a Stephen King novel instead. It was this lamentable choice in subject material, as well as the lack of any real kind of conflict or payoff at the end, that made me shrug off any fondness I had for the series and conclude that it was a total literary disaster, and highly overrated. When the bloom of affection is gone, the facts of its faults become apparent, and the result is that I can see both the nice things and the atrocious things about the series, with a clear head and open mind.

Thus I am of two minds; part of me, the girl who enjoys supernatural-themed books and the usual symbolism that accompanies vampires, wants to like Twilight, while the logical, disappointed, and more judgmental side of my personality can see it for what it is and resents what fondness I continue to have for it, in the event that I am accused of being a fan. If a fan can see all the glaring flaws in something and is willing to admit to them, as well as confess their disappointment and various things they dislike about the series, then I might arguably be seen as a Twilight fan, but my experience with Twilight fans in general is the opposite: they are not interested in debate on the topic, they merely love it and all of the actors in it, and think the books are perfect. As such, I am no fan. I was more of one before the series exploded in popularity, and frankly, what I find most disturbing about it is how it causes women to behave — particularly older women who should show more maturity than to stand screaming in lines to meet Robert Pattinson, or are obsessed with the series. I can see enjoyment of a series that occasionally wanders into obsession, because hey, we all do that, but prolonged obsession with anything is not good. I have spent years trying to figure out what in this story would appeal to older women, considering it is a juvenile romance. Is it pure escapism from reality, a chance to lapse back into the emotions of being seventeen? I don’t know, it baffles me. I cannot see loving Edward and Bella more than Darcy and Lizzie, or any other classic couple who mature into one another.

Some of the positive things about the story is its approach to marriage, its pro-life messages, and its stance on abstinence, even if it is for the wrong reasons (Edward being afraid to “hurt” Bella). I like Edward and his old-fashioned approach to morality and courtship, I like the fact that Bella adamantly refuses to abort her child even when it endangers her life, and I like that it shows how marriage is not sacrificing your life of independence but rather entering an equal partnership. What I do not like is how easily one can read “abusive boyfriend” into Edward’s possessive, controlling behavior (this is not helped by their euphoric wedding night), how Bella is utterly depressed and suicidal without him, and the inference that true love is worth more than anything in this life — and the next. If you find love, then perfection will come. I realize that the author’s Mormonism is spread throughout, and I have no problem with that, but it does bear remembering that not all of what Mormonism teaches is wonderful — Bella’s wedding night, pregnancy, and aftermath have eerie overtones of the Church’s themes of Sacrifice, Submission, and finding Eternal Purity through motherhood and marriage. Even their marriage has overtones of the Mormon emphasis on Eternal Marriages and Family, and the evil Volturi could arguably represent the Catholic Church.

One might ask where my faith comes into all of this, and I would answer that is and isn’t a factor — it is in the sense that it influences all my worldviews, but isn’t because I draw a line between fantasy and reality. Even so, Twilight is not your typical vampire story in the sense that the symbolism is missing that usually appears in the genre — symbolism of man’s struggle with an eternal craving for sin (blood) and our isolation from God as a result. Vampires traditionally represent the fallen and becoming one is not desirable, but in this world they are beautiful, powerful beings and Bella willingly surrenders her humanity and soul to join them — and suffers no consequences; she does not even struggle with blood-lust, much less lose any of her family members, and all of her former problems miraculously vanish. Not that I wish unhappiness on literary characters, but Bella needed to make a sacrifice in order to express to the reader the strength of her decision.

My mind is conflicted when it comes to this series, and possibly now you can understand why: there is much to be concerned with about it, particularly in the behavior it elicits from fans, but also good things about it. Is it innocent fun or does it carry more dangerous undercurrents? I don’t know. All I know is that hundreds of thousands of girls are going to flock to the theater this weekend and I will be one of them — but I will be going in with far more reservation than most.

The Charity’s Place official review will be up tomorrow evening.

8 Replies to “Musings on Twilight”

  1. I have missed you, and remembered you have a blog, so here I am! I liked reading your thoughts, though I already knew most of them. You just reinforce my disinclination to ever read the books. Jon said he wants to, but even if he does, I have no desire to pick them up. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone reading them, but I’ve been left with a sour taste in my mouth for them, and I haven’t even read them!

    1. I’m a tad bit sorry to have prejudiced you before even reading the books — but on the other hand, you’re not missing much by not reading them. I will say in my defense that “Breaking Dawn” was the deal-breaker for me. I enjoyed the other three books. =)

  2. I realize we’re coming at this from two different angles and will probably never see eye to eye, but this:

    If a fan can see all the glaring flaws in something and is willing to admit to them, as well as confess their disappointment and various things they dislike about the series, then I might arguably be seen as a Twilight fan, but my experience with Twilight fans in general is the opposite: they are not interested in debate on the topic, they merely love it and all of the actors in it, and think the books are perfect. As such, I am no fan.

    seems oversimplified to me, if not condescending.

    For one thing, if you go to sites like the Twilight Lexicon and their message boards, you’ll find all sorts of discussions and debates on aspects of the series. Not all of us love all of the actors in the movies; for a lot of us it’s more like resignation since it’s too late now to hope Henry Cavill will suddenly be playing the part of Edward, etc. We don’t all think the books are perfect, but when something you like has been attacked so many times by people who willfully misunderstand certain aspects or turn it into something it’s not, it’s safer or more comfortable a lot of times to just avoid confrontation. I do have qualms about Bella and Edward’s obsessive love for each other. It makes me uncomfortable when Bella talks about not caring about heaven or her soul as long as she can have Edward. I would have preferred some things in Breaking Dawn to play out differently. I’m not crazy about Renesmee, or half the book being from Jacob’s perspective so that a lot of tender moments between Edward and Bella are either glossed over or left out altogether.

    But on the other hand, I don’t understand the puritanical “ew, that’s icky” attitude toward what you call glaring flaws in the story, or the insistence that it’s a bad influence on readers. That extends to YA fiction in general, really – there’s this idea that books aimed at teenagers need to have a clear moral and the characters should always been sensible and admirable. But why? No one bats an eyelash at teenagers reading Stephen King or Danielle Steel, but see them reading Twilight and people start screeching in horror. And the ironic thing is, Twilight is absurdly moral compared to the majority of YA books. A lot of them have profanity, casual attitudes toward sex, a pro-homosexuality stance, gore and violence that would earn an R-rating if they were movies, drug use, smoking, teen drinking, witchcraft (of the Wiccan variety, not the Harry Potter make-believe kind), all sorts of things that we should be concerned about young people reading…yet it’s Twilight, with the relatively tame story of a girl who falls in love with a vampire and fights hard to live happily ever after with him, that gets all the flak.

    I’m sorry, I’ve written a novel here, and I’m also sorry if this is coming across as too harsh. I’ve just been reading a lot of negative talk about Breaking Dawn since the movie came out and you’re the only one I feel like I can actually respond to without being dismissed as a brainwashed nincompoop.

    1. Perhaps it is an over-simplification and condescending — but that has been largely my experience, both online and in real life; I suppose you are right, in that the books have been so often attacked (and I can see why this would cause fans of them to become quick to dismiss anything that might turn into negativity) that those who enjoy them have become overly defensive of them — but mostly what I hear from fans doesn’t constitute any sort of… justification for their obsessive adoration for the books, or that they are willing to admit to the faults in the series.

      I get that people just “like” things. I like things too, and don’t always know why, but when it comes to a book like Breaking Dawn, I don’t understand WHY people like it. To me, it was such an abrupt departure from the rest of the series, so different (and not, in my view, in a good way), so dismissive of the characters, and such a monumental build-up without any pay-off… it just comes across as a bad book. I know Stephanie didn’t want to write it, and her publishers convinced her to — but I think the result is a tragic mess that, for me and a lot of other readers, kind of ruined our enjoyment of the rest of the series, because… well, it was kind of like reaching the end of The Little House on the Prairie television show and having them blow up the town: wow, there go all our fond memories, in a giant middle finger to the audience. Whose idea was this?

      What did I want from Breaking Dawn? It certainly was not a mutant demon-spawn baby that Jacob could Imprint on! I wanted Bella to have to make a sacrifice to get what she wanted — to give up her family for Edward, since she was so insistent that she wanted him more than anything else; it doesn’t seem right or fair that she should have him without any consequences, that she gets her child, and her immortal husband, and can still keep her family and friends. I wanted to see a fight with the Volturi that involved peril and loss, because evil cannot be defeated without sacrifice. I wanted an EPIC conclusion and instead I got a book that contains some really disturbing elements to it, like a demon-spawn child breaking its mother’s bones from within, a hellish birthing scene in which Bella becomes a vampire dead and covered in blood, naked on a table, and constant non-explicit but cringe-worthy references to sex.

      I guess what I am trying to say here is — this book let me down in a monumental way; I was not expecting brilliance from the series, but I was expecting it to be consistent with the other books. And once you have been disappointed on that scale, it’s hard not to be judgmental about the series on the whole, because you start noticing flaws that otherwise you would have ignored. I agree, this is much less of a bad influence than many other book series, but … I wanted more from it.

      And no, I don’t mind intelligent discussion at all. =)

      ETA: I think the rampant hatred that you cannot comprehend comes from ex-fans who are bitter that the final book was not what they wanted. Rather like a divorce, the harshest feelings come from people who once invested emotionally in a person or experience. If that experience lets them down, their anger is going to manifest in at times extreme ways. I do not like the final book, and it made me aware of greater concerns in the earlier books, but I am not one of those avid haters — because part of me STILL likes the earlier installments. That’s why I am torn about them, because part of me likes the simple charm of the initial series, but part of me is also bitter about the ending. I suspect if you cornered the loudest protesters of of the series, it would be for a variety of reasons, but what would come out the most would be 1) angry ex-fans, 2) angry liberal feminists, 3) angry Harry Potter fans. =P

      1. Actually, Breaking Dawn was a book Stephenie Meyer had to fight to get published. It was always the way she wanted to end the series, but her publishers originally wanted it to be just a trilogy. So it’s not that she was forced to write Breaking Dawn; if anything, she was forced to write New Moon and Eclipse to fill in the time between Twilight and what was originally called Forever Dawn.

        Also, I believe originally she was planning to continue the series from Renesmee’s perspective – I remember an interview where she said the idea of Bella and Edward having a daughter originally came about because she knew Bella would be less relatable as a vampire and Renesmee would be the new narrator – and it was only when the backlash against Breaking Dawn got so big and the whole Midnight Sun fiasco happened that she decided to walk away from vampires for a while. I think that’s part of the reason the Volturi confrontation was so anti-climactic; at first it wasn’t intended to be a series-ending showdown but a set-up for new confrontations later on. Plus, Stephenie’s said many times that she just didn’t want to write a big battle scene and have to kill characters she loved. And to be honest, I prefer her way to J.K. Rowling’s “kill them all” style. Sure, it’s more realistic, but I don’t really like ending books sobbing for all the characters who died.

        And for my part, I can’t understand why people DON’T like Breaking Dawn. I remember finishing the book in a couple of days and going online to see what everyone else thought, and hardly being able to find a positive opinion out there. It baffled me at the time and it still does. It wasn’t at all the story I expected when I sat down to read, but I did like it, overall, and like it more every time I read it.

        I think some of what you see as Bella not having to make sacrifices is more her – and Edward – finding out that becoming a vampire really is the right path for her. She was told over and over how awful it would be, with the pain, and the bloodlust, and having to say goodbye to everyone you know, and she was ready to make that sacrifice…and when the time came, it wasn’t like that at all. In some ways it’s like Harry walking into the forest knowing he’s going to die – he has no idea that it isn’t the end of everything, but the beginning of the rest of his life. It’s not that Bella needed to make sacrifices and didn’t, it’s that she thought she would have to make sacrifices and then found out that they weren’t necessary after all. If it’s not too sacreligious, it’s kind of like God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. He had no intention of actually making Abraham go through with it; He just needed to know that he would do it. Bella had no way of knowing that being a vampire was going to be so easy for her, so she went into it believing that it was going to be horrible for a while. And in the end she got what she wanted (life with Edward) plus things she never thought she could have (being in control of herself right away, an uncomplicated friendship with Jacob, her dad still in her life, a supernatural ability that lets her be the heroine and protect Edward, rather than the other way around all the time).

        The reason I get so defensive about Twilight as a whole and Breaking Dawn in particular is that most people jump right from, “It wasn’t the book I wanted to read,” to “It was a terrible book,” which isn’t actually the case. I think if you can read it without focusing on what’s not there, you’ll see what is there, which is Bella taking the ultimate leap of faith and saying, “I trust that this is going to work out, and I’m not going to chicken out and let you kill this baby just to keep me.” It’s Edward finally realizing that Bella’s love for him is not “comparing one small tree to the entire forest”, but equally strong and true and real. It’s Jacob getting a love of his own – in a controversial, maybe-could-have-been-handled-better way, but still. It’s Bella coming into her own, being confident in her abilities, able to fight alongside the Cullens rather than needing to hide behind them. I’m not denying anyone the right to hate it – goodness knows there are tons of popular books I have nothing but contempt for – but I think if you (and other people) gave it another chance, it might surprise you.

        1. (Sorry to keep editing my responses, but I had to think about it for a little while.)

          I guess I can see how if she had another series planned that Breaking Dawn would be somewhat anti-climatic, in an effort to save material for later books, but all the same… I just don’t get her enthusiasm for this story, even if it was intended as a bridge into another book series. As a writer, you simply cannot assume anything, so it’s okay to leave some room to expand but you also need to work out a decent story that can stand on its own. For that reason, I don’t think it IS a decent book. I think she made a mistake in the narrative style (with having some of it from Jacob’s point of view), I think the baby plot line is really terrible and hokey, I don’t like the way the characters behave, and it needed more external conflict, as opposed to merely the emotional conflict that was keeping everyone at odds with one another.

          You do make a good point about Bella and sacrifice, and I admit that I have never thought about it from that perspective before. It’s possible I am wrong in that regard, because it could be symbolism for having to be willing to give up everything to obtain something. I’m willing to concede that much, and even though I did not like the book at all the first time through, I promise to give it another go with as much of an open mind as I can manage. It probably won’t be right away, since I have a stack of library books to get through first, but I’ll read it after Christmas with what you have said in mind, and maybe my opinion on it will change. It happens on occasion. πŸ˜‰

          Regarding sacrificing characters, I don’t like ending books crying over the loss of characters either, but as a writer, I know sometimes that has to happen. I never like killing off any of my characters but there are occasions in which you must. I’m only upset if a character dies for no real reason, or if their death serves no purpose. I was angry for years over how Snape dies in Harry Potter, because although his death was justified, it was not until I saw it on the big screen that I understood what Rowling intended through it — to show that Voldemort valued no life except his own, that he would callously kill even his most trusted right hand man just to further his own agenda, which reveals yet another layer of his evil. (I am, however, still mad about Lupin and Tonks — I don’t think they HAD to die.) Meyer did not have to kill off anyone, or everyone, but she still needed greater conflict.

  3. Very well said. This is one trend — phenomenon is perhaps a better word — that I’ve never gotten in to. I watched the first Twilight movie and was bored outta my mind…so I’ve never pursued the series’ subsequent installments. The only vampires I like in film/TV are of the Sanctuary or Moonlight variety. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you. =)

      Making Tesla a vampire on “Sanctuary” was a brilliant move — I’m so glad he has been re-vamped again, I was dreadfully upset at his temporary cure. “Moonlight” also holds a special place in my heart — it was a wonderful little series and I’m sorry it was prematurely canceled — since it started airing right before “Twilight” hit full-scale popularity, I think it was too ahead of its time to succeed.

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