Monday, July 27, 2009

Comments on Twilight

I’m a book geek. It goes without saying. And I’m a binge reader, have always been, will always be and not interested in changing it. That said, yours truly just read the entire Twilight series in less than a week. Yes. Less. Than. A. Week.

There are benefits and drawbacks to reading an entire 4 book series in one go. Pro: that everything is fresh in your mind and you’re able to link ideas together. Con: that you become hyper critical of all that you’ve read because of this.

There are things that I really enjoyed about the series and there are things that I loathed. If I had to pick between the DaVinci Code and Twilight, I’d pick Twilight. Why? Because the writing is stronger and the narrative is crafted with more skill. Harry Potter vs Twilight? Harry Potter because the ideas are fresher and more entertaining, the world is more engaging. Anne Rice vs Twilight: believe it or not, it’s a toss-up (unless we’re talking about Queen of the Damned, which is my favourite book in the Anne Rice canon).

Here’s what I loathed:

Bella is weak and pathetic. For a girl who supposedly was capable of taking care of her mother before coming to Forks, she’s pretty damn pathetic once she gets there. She’s a total klutz (which is fine in and of itself), which is paired with her lack of sense of preservation and her martyr complex, in order to become downright infuriating. The girl can’t bloody walk or tie her own shoelaces without Edward holding her hand. She can feed her dad, take advanced biology but can’t manage to walk anywhere without tripping over everything in sight. Trust me, I’m a klutz and I don’t trip as much as Bella does.

Bella is co-dependent and doesn’t know how to be happy without men loving her. Whether it’s Mike, Jacob, or Edward, Bella’s entire sense of self worth is attached to men being attentive to her once she enters Forks. Mike makes the transition easier, Edward holds her hands, and Jacob picks her up when she’s down. I know that teenage girls are melodramatic, but Bella’s level of love or die is pushing it. Sure I get that her world felt like it was falling apart when Edward left, but the novel essentially teaches girls can only get over a boy by falling into a relationship with someone else (Jacob).

The way love is depicted is dangerous. First we have the stereotypical he hates me, he loves me transition. Edward is initially (seemingly) repulsed by Bella, he snubs her and insults her (a la Mark Darcy) and then goes out of his way to avoid her. When he deems that he can deal with her, he initiates a friendship and she forgives him without any explanation as to why he was so rude before. If hate turns to love then ladies get out there and find yourselves the biggest bastard and never give up hope because your pathetic adoration will eventually wear him down. Why? Not because of your personality, but because of attraction. No wonder women like the bad boys… we’re trained from infancy to go after them.

Then there’s the fact that Edward never really tells her anything. He’s the all knowing wise one; the elder with more experience (though it does appear as though he too is a virgin, so there is some level playing ground). However, being that she’s human and that she’s never going to be as perfect as him until he transforms her, their relationship is never one of equals until after her transformation. Aside from the fact that she remains a mystery to him (he can’t read her thoughts) and his attraction to her (blood lust), there doesn’t really ever seem to be much of a reason for Edward’s obsession with Bella, particularly given her nagging and incessant insecurities. On top of which, the fact that Bella opens her mind to Edward in the end, giving him everything and arguably more than he’s given her (in spite of her immortality), perpetuates the uneven playing ground. He can hear her, but he remains a mystery to her.

Plus, love is an addiction. Bella cannot be without Edward and feel complete. She is obsessed with him and describes her love for Edward like a drug. Despite the fact that Jacob actually allows Bella to be bolder and daring, she longs for a man who constantly makes her feel inferior and needy of protection. He doesn’t trust her to have the wherewithal to take care of herself, and who can blame him when the books is teaching girls that they should sacrificing everything at the altar of love (whether it is to protect her mother, father, Jacob, the tribe, the Cullens, her daughter etc, etc). Bella is willing to put her life on the line for everyone and anyone she loves. Her self-sacrifice is so inclusive and pervasive that not only is she a lamb being led to the slaughter, this lamb loves being slaughtered.

Bella is supposedly a strong heroine and yet she embodies all of the conventional female roles assigned to her. She is a caretaker for her mother, a cook for her father, a chaste wife, and a dedicated mother. Despite never wanting marriage and being willing to sacrifice the idea of motherhood for eternity (she has no qualms about never being a mother until she’s actually pregnant and her life is at risk), she willingly submits to all of Edward’s old fashioned morals on marriage and abstinence (regardless of her displeasure). She risks her life to become a mother at 18 (verging on 19) and all talk of going away to college is dismissed in the face of motherhood. In fact, beyond spending eternity with Edward, Bella seems to have no conception of what eternity will entail. For a girl who is supposedly so smart, you’d think she’d have some interest in higher learning or the endless possibility of adventure that eternity presents her with. But no, it’s all about having sex with Edward forever. And then when she gets knocked up, having sex and being mom. They have no discussions about what their plans are for the future other than being together. He pushes her to go to college as a human but seems to have no interest in encouraging her education once she’s transformed into uber wife and mom.

Here’s what I liked:

The myths and legends of the shape-shifters added a dimension to the story that was intriguing.

The descriptions of Bella’s first experiences as a vampire were fantastic. Her growing strength, her sense of wonder, the playfulness of the tone and exploration were all very well done. I enjoyed the humour, the details, and the way the scene itself was crafted. Her vampire awakening was arguably done better than Anne Rice.
The last battle of the final book redeems and valorizes feminine traits and leave readers with a strong heroine. In the end, it is Alice and Bella who save the day. Bella is finally equal, if not in many ways stronger than Edward by the series’ end.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed quite a bit about these books. I just wish she’d been a bit less polemical in her traditionalism in order to make Bella a more equal partner in the relationship and to offer young girls a healthier vision of “true love.”

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