Saturday, August 9, 2008

Twilight Mania

So I finally gave in to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, a series which has spawned a huge following among teen girls, a handful of considerate boyfriends, and a few groups of dedicated mothers. This succumbing has much to do with finding wounded copies of the books in a donation pile, and a large dose of curiosity as to what makes these books so palatable to girls under eighteen. Let’s not lie; it may also have a little to do with the impending release of a movie based on the first novel, “Twilight,” starring Robert Pattison (of Harry Potter fame, “Cedric”) in the lead male role.

If you haven’t observed this national vampire obsession, look at display tables in any major bookstore. Chances are there is a prominently featured table with Meyer’s novels to catch the eye, each with arresting artwork in red, black, and white. The Twilight series was first published in 2005, and now contains four books: “Twilight”, “New Moon”, “Eclipse”, and “Breaking Dawn”, which was released August 1st at midnight. The books have become immensely popular in the manner of the Harry Potter phenomenon: fan websites, book release parties, and record-breaking sales. Meyer has been compared to Harry Potter author Rowling quite often. Rowling rose from obscurity as a single mother in Edinburgh to one of Britain’s most wealthy citizens. Meyer was a Mormon housewife who has rocketed to popularity with her gothic sagas. In the Twilight series, Meyer creates a tension-filled romance between the pale and slender Bella Swan and her immortal, godlike lover Edward Cullen, who happens to be a vampire.

Isabella Swan (Bella) moves to Forks to live with her father, a police chief. At her new high school, she makes the acquaintance of Edward Cullen, whose apparent distaste for her and exquisite good looks fill her with alternating desire and confusion. Edward and his family of beautiful outcasts quite unlike other Forks residents, and the answers are forthcoming and not disappointing. The Cullens are a coven of vampires who refuse to become monsters by attacking humans, but try to content themselves with animal prey instead. Though believing himself to be putting Bella in danger by his presence, Edward is unable to stay away from her, and the two begin their tumultuous relationship. Bella’s habit of landing in a plethora of dangerous situations (being followed by less exemplary vampires who want her blood) propels the dramatic plot.

Despite enjoying the read, my complaints against the books remain. Firstly, the characters have awkward and pretentious names (“Bella”). Secondly, the book is gushingly and poorly written in many places:

“About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was part of him – and I didn’t know how potent that part might be – that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.”

I don’t think that YA fiction has to be poorly written in order to be accessible. C.S. Lewis wrote that one knows a children’s (or a young adult’s) book is well written if it is read by persons of any age. The Twilight’s fan base largely tends to be female teenagers, although this does have aberrations.

Thirdly, although I find that Edward is an attractive, Byronic, Rochester-like character (as any female reader might), he is often commanding and domineering, and speaks for Bella. Bella, to her credit, occasionally breaks out of her ecstatic love-induced coma to mention to Edward that “I can’t always be Lois Lane…I want to be Superman, too.”

On the positive side, the Twilight series has a heroin-like plot which hooks the reader. I was up until the early hours of the morning wading through the first book. Stephanie Meyer may not be Murakami, but she can craft a brisk plot and many consider her to be giving J.K. Rowling a run for her money. Also, as a new resident of the Northwest, I am rather partial to the series’ setting in Forks, Washington, allegedly the rainiest location in the United States.

Edward’s pseudo-erotic desire to drink Bella’s blood is a question of concern. The theme of desire makes up a very large part of the novel’s premise: Bella has an insatiable desire for Edward’s touch, Edward has an insatiable desire for Bella’s blood, and neither of these themes seem to be suitable for the ten year girls to whom I have sold “Twilight.”

Parents might be glad to have their daughters reading, but I would much rather hand them Rowling’s books instead of Meyer’s. The Harry Potter series appeals to children of both sexes and multiple ages, and addresses timeless themes of loyalty, greed, death, and the complex moral issues involved in the battle between good and evil.

If you like a brisk, compelling plot, tend towards tales of eternal love and damnation, or want to know more about the most recent national best-seller craze, you might as well try “Twilight” before the movie comes out.


laura said...

I just finished the second book (which is not as good as the first). I like them both, but I agree with you that they are not particularly well written. It's an interesting story (though, again, the second book is a bit predictable) and very different, which makes up for the poor writing to an extent.

I'd have trouble comparing Meyer to Rowling though: they're not in the same league either in terms of quality of writing or depth of story. Maybe in terms of shear creativity though, as I definitely wouldn't be able to think up the creatures or worlds in either series.

laura said...

Oh, I also agree with you that I don't especially approve of younger girls reading these--their is an overwhelming focus on beauty which makes sense in the context of the book, but which I think could be widely misinterpreted. Also a kind of prompting to forget everything in the fact of 'true love,' so to speak.