Don’t read this if you like Twilight. Seriously. If you like Twilight stop reading right the hell now. I don’t want to be shived and/or lynched for my insightful yet true opinions.
Also, don’t read this if you intend to read any of the Twilight books and will get mad at me for spoiling them on you.
Since I was feeling cranky and unsatisfied today I decided to make myself feel better by trashing something. And what more trashable item have I encountered in the last couple of months than the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer?
The Twilight Saga, consists of four published books: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn plus a fifth unfinished internet-leaked novel called Midnight Sun. All of the books are written from the perspective of a teenage girl named Bella who falls in love with a century-old teenage vampire named Edward.
Click below to read more about them and the problems I think they have.
In the first book of the series Bella moves in with her dad to go to high school in a Pacific Northwest town called Forks. She largely ignores the locals in favor of lusting after a pale boy who turns out to be a vampire. He belongs to a vampire family who doesn’t eat people. He stalks her, they fall in love, but he won’t turn her into a vampire. Then some random vampires show up and cause a fight.
In the second book, Edward decides he’s not good for her and breaks up with her. Bella gets depressed and starts hanging around with a kid called Jacob from the Indian Reservation, who turns out to be a werewolf. Bella has to rush to Italy to keep Edward from killing himself when he thinks she’s dead. The vampire ruling class in Italy threatens Edward’s family if he doesn’t turn her into a vampire.
Bella is still not a vampire. Edward wants them to get married fist. They try to out-stubborn each other. Meanwhile Jacob is in love with Bella and an evil vampire is making an army to try to wipe them out. They fight, they win. Bella and Edward are engaged.
Bella and Edward get married, Bella gets knocked up with a half-human half-vampire kid that nearly kills her on the way out. Edward turns her into a vampire, Jacob falls in love with the baby instead, and the good vampires manage to get the Volturi to bugger off and not kill the weird monster baby.
Unfinished. Basically the first book again but from Edward’s perspective.
…. and now, on to the problems with the series.
DEPICTION OF TEENDOM
A lot of critics slam the series for an unrealistic depiction of what teenagers are really like. The funny thing is I don’t even have a problem with the whole Mormon values thing that Meyer is using as the “good” baseline for her characters. I don’t care that none of Bella’s supposedly high school friends drink or do drugs or have sex. (Bella spends so little time with them that you can easily believe that they do behave more normally when she’s not around).
I don’t care that Meyer’s jumps on the self-restraint bandwagon by having Edward insist that they can’t get it on or he might cave and eat her, because it sounds reasonable to me.
I don’t care that Edward insistes they get married before having sex. He’s from 1918. Of course he’s a bit old fashioned.
I don’t even really care (but I thought it was funny) that Meyer went so far with the anti-sex thing as to make Bella pregnant with a half human half vampire monster baby after the very first time she had sex (with her HUSBAND. Come on. When is it okay if not then??)
I didn’t even really notice all these things (except the monster baby thing, that was just hilarious) until after I’d read all the books and someone had told me about it. Then they started to occur to me in retrospect. All my problems lie with the writing, not the stance.
USE OF VAMPIRE LORE
Stephenie Meyer’s vampires do not spontaneously combust in the sunlight. They sparkle. I assume this is meant to be romantic, but it fails epically, since after reading the part where Bella watches Edward sparkle in a meadow I laughed for like FOUR HOURS. And then read it over again and laughed some more. I guess Meyer had to come up with some reason why he couldn’t go out in the sun so that Bella would suspect vampirism, but come on.
LANGUAGE AND WRITER’S VOICE
Meyer’s writing somehow manages to be mimic both Dawson’s Creek and your old-school (think Jane Austen old) romance novels at the same time, but not in a good way. Edward is described in the girliest possible terms (“beautiful” and “enchanting” and whatnot) so that instead of looking hot in my head (like he was probably supposed to) he just ended up looking like a nancy boy. The Puritan “oh my lips they are tis of thee” nonsense that she drags out for any references to the more “physical” aspects of their Tru Wuv are nauseating. What’s wrong with the word “sex”? If Bella’s old enough to ask for it she’s old enough to say the damn word. Enough with the tiptoeing around bushes.
CHARACTERS – BELLA
Bella herself is an unlikable cardboard-cutout person who only really gets interesting once she turns into a vampire. (which happens two thirds of the way through the fourth book, or in time-wasted terms, after about 2,700 pages of repetitive relationship dialogue).
Another problem I had with Bella, is that she’s billed (repeatedly and obviously in spelled-out-look-at-me-touch-my-nose terms by the author) as extremely selfless. But she’s not, unless somewhere along the selflessness scale it goes right past altruism and loops back around to selfishtown. Because that’s what Bella is: selfish.
Her attitude is that she must take upon herself all possible suffering to “spare” her friends, family, and of course Edward. But sparing THEM is not what she’s actually doing, because they love her so much (god knows why) that to see HER suffer causes them great pain. So what she’s really doing is sparing her own feelings, so SHE doesn’t have to be the one to watch THEM suffer. If she really cared about them, she’d think of their feelings as well and allow them to occasionally do things that made THEM feel better (i.e. HELP HER OUT) which in almost every case would have prevented the worst disasters in the story anyway.
Bella does not fit in with Edward’s family, although Meyer claims she does. Bella is not a team player like the Cullens are. She’s a martyr. At least when team player situations go south, everyone can comfort themselves that they all did their very very best to prevent it. When martyrs go down, they may be satisfied with themselves, but they leave everyone around them wallowing in a big black hole of self-hatred, haunted by the “if only I…” virus.
CHARACTERS – EDWARD
As for Edward (Mr. Supposedly Most Perfectly Perfect Guy Who Ever Was). The creepyness (that no one apart from myself seems to see) of whole situation is that we’re all supposed to be falling all over ourselves for a SEVENTEEN year-old (which is okay for children and teenagers but considered cradle-robbing for their moms or older sisters) who’s actually over 100 years old chronologically. So it’s like crushing on both your younger brother’s friends and your grandfather at the same time. NO THANK YOU. Even setting aside those issues, I still find him bland as a character.
Sure he’s mysterious, but having people you trust constantly holding things back from you to “protect” you (like Edward does to Bella almost constantly) gets really annoying after about five minutes.
Edward suffers from the same issues re: loving someone so much that he has no respect for their feelings only their physical well-being (see the entire second book) but mixed with rampant insecurities, so that while the thought of Edward being better off without her never occurs to Bella, it’s almost the entire basis of Edward’s feelings for her until she turns into a vampire. It just makes you want to say: “Edward, you twat, she’s a big girl, she’s made her choice, it’s you, you know you’re happy about it so why not let yourself actually act like it?”
In a repeat of the Bella situation, I don’t really like him until Bella becomes a vampire. After that point he tells jokes, smiles, instigates physical contact, stops all that “just let me kill myself in peace” nonsense, and in general becomes a very likable guy.
Before her change Bella and Edward are in the world’s most unbalanced relationship. Edward is super strong and fast and could break her in half by accident. Neither of them can really let loose either physically or emotionally with the other for fear of either driving them away (in Edward’s case) or making them accidentally eat you (in Bella’s case), yet they both claim to be in Tru Wuv (in big capital letters dripping with sap). But isn’t Tru Wuv sort of a sham if you and your partner are holding at least half of yourselves back?
The whole thing smacks of naive angsty “of course we’ll be together forever, DUH” teenage crushes rather than real love. I only really believe they’re going to work as a copule after she gains the same superduper powers he does, putting them on equal footing in the relationship and enabling him to let loose with himself and her to let loose with herself.
DIALOGUE VS PLOT
Holy repetitive relationship dialogue, Batman. You know how when you read a “normal” (mystery, adventure, whatever) book, the bits you really look forward to are the ones that progress the relationship between the love interests rather than the ones that advance the “real” plot (i.e. the things that are happening around them that throw them together somehow so there CAN be a relationship)? (Assuming “you” are a girl, obviously) And you think to yourself, when you have gone back to read these parts for the fifteenth or sixteenth time, “wouldn’t it be great if someone wrote a whole book of just these parts?” Well someone HAS and it DOESN’T WORK.
For one thing, when your entire novel is a giant representation of teenage “he loves me/she loves me not/I’m not good enough” angst, how do you know when to end it? Stephenie Meyer’s answer to this is to parachute in a big fat plot-danger climax from what I can only assume is another book, because none of the elements that come into play at the end of the books are in any way built up throughout the novels they’re supposed to end.
In the first book, James and Victoria (the villains) pop up out of nowhere during a friendly vampy baseball game near the end of the book (and no, the fact that Edward’s sister Alice had a vague vision of danger in one paragraph that was lost in the middle of the book does NOT count as setup), prompting a panicky split-up cat-and-mouse chase that puts Bella in enough danger for Edward to realize he loves her… which we already knew halfway through the book, so it was essentially a pointless exercise.
Which is a shame, because there really NEEDED to be some sort of antagonistic force working against Bella and Edward getting together. James and Victoria being seeded in occasionally would have worked. The only vague danger they face is that Edward might slip up and eat her, but since we spend the entire story in first person POV with Bella and she possesses all the self-preservation instincts of a cardboard box, we never really feel any danger. It would have worked much better had we been able to get POV on Edward as well to see how hard it was for him to keep a leash on himself.
COMMON SENSE, LOGIC, AND RELATEABILITY
If you look at the history of the decisions Edward and Bella made throughout the first book (and the rest of them, too), they come across as the biggest morons in the history of the universe.
“Let me go to my house!” Bella says (where James knows I live, so I can get eaten) “No!” says Edward, “let’s send you to a place very far from me so I cannot protect you in order to protect you!” to which Bella replies “yes! Of course! But how about instead I go somewhere totally obvious!” “That’s brilliant!” shouts everyone, and of course everything falls apart and the whole family sweeps the Darwin Awards that year.
If you’re going to create a world where your characters have superpowers, you have to let them use their superpowers. So don’t give them powers you only want to them use once, then bend over backwards coming up with reasons why they can’t use them later.
Alice, Edward’s sister, can see the future. It sounds great in theory, and it was intriguing when Alice was firmly in the Edward camp, never saw Bella, and Edward wasn’t sharing her insights, but once Bella shoehorned her way into the family, there was no reason why Alice shouldn’t see and prevent every danger that could befall them. Thinking of reasons WHY Alice can’t see/didn’t understand/isn’t telling about these dangers sends Meyer into such chainsaw-juggling magic storytelling contortions that it’s almost funny (because it’s so obvious). She can’t see werewolves. She can’t see Renoodle (or whatever retarded name Bella gave her monster baby). She has to go away and not tell anyone, etc etc.
Edward, meanwhile, is a mind-reader, and his powers are too simplified. He seems to have a free subscription Babel Fish Thoughtwave, because as you well know no one’s thoughts are carefully ordered into the words Edward manages to pick up. It’s much more likely he’d be constantly picking up snatches of song fragments lodged in peoples’ ever-shifting trains of thought and be driven mad.
Another thing about being a mind reader is that he should have been the least popular guy ever (except to Bella, whom he can’t read). Let’s face it. Not all our thoughts are nice or smart or something we’d be proud of. That’s why we have a filter between our brains and our mouths. No one wants every dirty and/or uncharitable thought, conscious or unconscious, picked up by Mr. FM Radio, and if people knew about his power (like his family does) they’d avoid him like the plague.
Don’t even get me started on the hoops Stephenie Meyer jumps through to get out of writing action scenes (alright, do). In the end of the first book, Bella was bitten by a vampire and is only semi-conscious so she doesn’t see how Edward, his brothers Jasper and Emmett and his dad Carlisle managed to defeat the evil James.
Doing something like this once is okay, but from there, Meyer continues to use thin contrivances to get out of action moments and it becomes a little obvious (and by a little I mean A LOT). In Eclipse she has Bella hide on a mountaintop during the battle. In Breaking Dawn the massive supernatural Italian mafia army vs smallish but plucky supernatural vegetarian squad showdown ended in “oh well Bella has super shield powers, I guess we’ll all just go home then”
At that point I almost threw the book through a window. It was cheap and it was maddening and I am beyond glad that there’s no way they’ll be able to (or even want to) get around the shooting the battle scenes when they make the films.
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENTS
Even though writing the series over again from a different perspective is just a money-grab, Midnight Sun is more interesting than the Bella series because Edward hears thoughts, giving the illusion of more than one point of view. In fact, The Twilight Saga would have been a lot better had POV bounced back-and-forth between Edward and Bella and even maybe the baddies (had there been any) in the first place.
The most interesting characters in the whole series: Jasper, a former Civil War soldier and general in a vampire army, and Alice, who has a mysterious past possibly involving mental institutions and medical experiments, were tragically underused. They should be given their own (less overrought) book.
Or better yet, throw the whole series in the scrap heap and start again, judiciously weaving the material in as back-story for the adventures of a globe-trotting, crime-fighting, “vegetarian” vampire/werewolf/crossbreed gang that’s constantly clashing with the evil Italian mob vampires (the Volturi) from the Breaking Dawn with the eventual conclusion that there’s a huge battle and the good guys win.
Of course, having said all this, I must admit that even with all the problems I had with the Twilight Saga, I still read all the books, not just so I would know what my friends were talking about, but because I genuinely wanted to know what happened to the characters. The last third of Breaking Dawn (with the exception of the retardedly named half vampire-half human baby Renesmee and the non-battle fiasco) and the unfinished Midnight Sun were my favorites.
I know, I know, this review is over-long and over-mean. But what the hell? Stephenie Meyer will never read it (unless I’ve fallen through a portal into another dimension where people actually READ my blog) though even if she did I don’t see it bothering her all that much, what with her legions of fangirls and buckets of money. And look, I’ll even put a link here in case you want to buy the books anyway and give her some pity money.