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.