Sunday, March 01, 2009

Twilight in a Nutshell

Reader, I recently finished the fourth and final book of the Twilight series, for a total of 2,560 pages under my belt. Granted, I skimmed or skipped parts that were repetitive or boring. There were a lot of them. If you ever felt that you ought to know what the brouhaha is all about, but didn't have the patience to pick these books up, this post is for you.

Bella Swan is a seventeen year-old living with her mother in Phoenix. When her mom gets involved with a minor league baseball player, Bella volunteers to go live with her dad, the chief of police in rainy Forks, WA so Mom can hit the road with her man. Emerging theme A: Bella's self-sacrifice.

Once in Forks, Bella is immediately drawn to a strangely beautiful group of kids in her high school, the Cullens. She is particularly fascinated by Edward, but he glares at her hatefully, cringing and running whenever she is near. After witnessing shows of his freaky strength and speed, his cold and pale skin, and getting hints dropped by family friend and Quileute Indian Jake Black, Bella eventually figures out that Edward is a vampire.

Edward admits that he doesn't hate her at all but is in fact insanely attracted to her, driven so mad by the irresistible smell of her blood that he must exercise rigorous self-control as to not destroy her. Emerging theme B: acting on sexual desire can kill you! Also, Hey, that's kinda hot.

Bella wants to sex him up but Edward constantly pushes her away. Though many of these scenes simmer with sexual tension, there's a tinge of ick because Edward is patronizing as he chuckles (a word Meyer uses ad nauseum) at Bella's attempts to seduce him. Here I see the appeal of Twilight for younger girls--in this series the responsibility for everyone's virtue and health sits solely with Edward and it is Bella who can safely test the limits.

We also gradually see that Bella is clumsy and draws danger to her like flies to honey and needs Edward to protect her, even watching her as she sleeps. Emerging theme C: those hapless ladies need to be protected. Emerging theme D: creepy domestic violence dynamic.

All four books are stuffed with lots of needlessly complicated subplots to distract us from the fact that these books are vapid, poorly written and could easily be condensed into one 300 page novel. One subplot involves the Italian vampire overclass called the Volturi, who rear their destructive heads from time to time. Another subplot involves the rivalry between Edward and Bella's friend Jake, who turns out to be a werewolf, the sworn enemy of the the vampire. Jake holds the torch for Bella big time; he and Edward despise each other. Bella always chooses Edward, who's the bigger dick of the two. He in turn forbids Bella to see Jake. (Themes C, D)

Along the way there are multiple variations along the "rogue vampire with a grudge" theme which continue to put Bella in peril. Edward, the Cullens and the werewolves save her ass repeatedly. Because she feels her status as a human makes her a liability to everyone around her, Bella continues to pester Edward about changing her into a vampire and Edward continues to find ways to delay her transformation.

Edward and Bella get married at the beginning of the last book and finally do it, which results in the shredding of lingerie, splitting of headboards and Bella wearing the physical manifestation of Edward's internal struggle to not kill her, giant hand-shaped bruises all over her body. This actually sounds more like a book I'd like to read but since this is a young adult series, we instead get a lot of "he led her into the bedroom ..."

Bella becomes pregnant immediately, but a weirdly accelerated pregnancy since she is carrying a half human, half vampire baby. Edward tries to convince her to have an abortion (this word is never used) because he knows the pregnancy might kill her (theme B). Bella enlists the assistance of Edward's vampire sister to keep her safe, and starts drinking human blood to satisfy the ravenous vampi-fetus. After a month of pregnancy, she gives birth to their daughter. But in the process she nearly dies, so Edward makes her into a vampire. More needlessly complicated events come to pass involving the Volturi subplot but the take-away is that Bella now has her own special vampire skill that allows her to shield her family from the kooky mind torture games the other vampires play. They triumph, etc.

Despite all the convoluted plot twists and turns and immersion in the supernatural, Bella is a conventional girl who simply wants to be with her man and raise her baby. The series upholds basic conservative social tenets: no sex before marriage, no becoming a vampire until procreation happens (because vampires cannot give birth), and in the end the ultimate battle is to protect family. That author Stephanie Meyer is a practicing Mormon sheds light on these choices. These books wouldn't be my first choice for young girls partially for these reasons but mostly because they aren't very well-written.

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