This story/cultural reflection started with my trip to Ireland back in December. When I go on vacation, I like to read novels that are simple and even a little trashy. I like to turn off parts of my brain and just read for entertainment.
For the Ireland trip, I decided to dip my big reading toe into the Twilight pond. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer is the first book in a series of four books about 17 year old Bella Swan who falls in love with 17-year-old-looking Edward Cullen who happens to be a vampire. In the course of their great (but sexually abstinent) love, they have many adventures and encounter many dangers mostly from other vampires.
I read Twilight through many a long dark Irish night, and I even purchased the second book, New Moon, in Galway. When I got back to California, I read Eclipse and Breaking Dawn quickly. I had to know how the story ended just like when I read Lord of the Rings. Stephenie Meyer’s clunky prose is not as good as J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose, yet she kept me turning pages. I think it was because Bella’s quest---for love---is the best quest a person can make.
Still, Bella and Edward annoyed me sometimes. Bella whined a lot because (a) she’s a teenager and (b) she wants to stay young with Edward forever by becoming a vampire herself. Even though I understand being seventeen and wanting something that’s just out of reach, I wished that she would cut out the whining. Few people get to date a vampire, much less become one.
And don’t get me started on the overuse of the word safe in the novels. Even though Bella hangs out with the undead, everyone has to keep her safe, make sure she’s safe, protect her safety. I started reading safety as virginity and thought of Bella as a flannel Ophelia. Since things didn’t end well for dear Ophelia, I of course had to keep reading.
Bella does break away from the safety conscious blood suckers and takes up off-road motorcycling with Jacob who is native American and also a werewolf. They have a deep friendship with some love sprinkled in for a good old fashioned love triangle, and Jacob provides a refreshing American contrast to the European-esque vampires (their power center is in Italy).
In fact, one could view the whole Twilight series through the prism of American/European relations. The vampires are very old. The werewolves are very young. There are a lot of treaties between vampires and werewolves. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an addendum about fish on Friday. By the way, Edward and his family of vampires don’t eat people. They only hunt deer and other animals of the forest. That’s all well and nice---unless you happen to be a deer.
But I digress. The Twilight books are Bella’s story, but they revolve around Edward. Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy may have been a prick at first, but he turned out to be intelligent and quite generous. Bronte’s Mr. Rochester had the big gothic house and crazy wife in the attic. After the whole vampire thing, there wasn’t much to Edward Cullen. He wasn’t even very funny. Spike on Buffy could probably kick his ass and be funny doing it.
In fact, all the tweens might hate me, but I thought Edward Cullen was sometimes a douchebag. His fear of losing control (aka having sex) and killing Bella comes across as extremely patronizing. He was making all the sex decisions for the both of them, and Edward’s denial of Bella’s needs seemed to me the opposite of intimacy. Couldn’t they just get some vibrating toys? Oh yeah, young adult fiction.
SPOILER PARAGRAPH (just in case you care): Bella and Edward did finally get married and had sex on their honeymoon. Bella got pregnant with a half-human/half-vampire baby. She nearly died while giving birth, but Edward saved her by turning her into a vampire (with Jacob’s consent---it’s the treaties again). After an almost-battle with the Euro vampires, Jacob connected with Bella’s quickly growing daughter. The series ends with Bella, Edward, the daughter, and future son-in-law living happily ever after and no one going to college. If I’m wrong about the college thing, I welcome corrections. END OF SPOILER PARAGRAPH
After I finished the Twilight books, I went back to reading more literary stuff. Vacation was over and I needed my brain back. I tried writing a piece about Twilight, but everything I came up with sounded like an old woman who just didn’t get it. I’m glad I did salvage my douchebag line.
A few months passed, and my friend Ann started reading the Twilight series. She loved it and shouted YES PLEASE when I offered her copies of the books. It turned out Ann had the Twilight movie on DVD, so we did a swap.
I never saw Twilight the movie although I followed the hype on the web. I figured it was just some tweenie thing. Sure Catherine Hardwick was a kick ass director, but I figured she was just slumming her way to her next project. Besides, after reading the books, I was kind of over Bella and Edward and their problems.
Holy shit! They can act! was my first reaction to the king and queen of tweendom. I can’t believe I am writing this next sentence. I really liked the Twilight movie. Sure it had the whole vampire love story thing, but there was also a low key humor to the film. Bella’s whiney thoughts were gone, and Bella on film came across as a new girl in town trying to make friends in high school. She hates gym class but is good at biology lab where she meets vampire boy.
Then there was vampire boy. When I read the novels, I sometimes forgot that Edward looks very young even when the words he speaks sound very old. What rock did they turn over to find Robert Pattinson? And how does he keep his hair like that in a very humid environment? And what was this? Did I actually likey? No! Impossible!
I never liked the pretty boys who were all the rage. The boy/man look never did it for me. I’ve heard some men say the same thing about the girl/woman look, but they told me this in a bar, so such statements should not be taken as fact. When I was a tween, I liked Indiana Jones who at 37/38 in Raiders was no pretty boy. DiCaprio and Depp weren’t interesting to me until they got older. Still, Edward on screen was very interesting, and I liked him better than Edward on the page. Pattinson could turn a line and give Edward just a little bit of humor. Yes, actors rock!
I also thought the movie did a great job with high school. It was a movie set in a high school that just so happened to have vampires instead of a movie about vampires that just so happened to be in a high school. At the end of the day, it was all about the kids, and the kids were alright.
Those Twilight vampires reminded me a lot of The Breakfast Club. In the simplest terms and most convenient definitions, there was blonde snobby vampire girl, quirky punky vampire girl, big jock vampire boy, dorky vampire boy, and then I guess that would make Edward the criminal. Without lamps, there would be no light.
So yes, even though I refuse to reread the books, I will probably go see New Moon in the theatres when it comes out in November. Maybe I’ll hit a happy hour beforehand. Maybe I’ll have a Bloody Mary to put me in the mood.
To read Ann’s blog tribute to Edward Cullen, you can click here.