May 31, 2010

Twilight: What are Little Girls Made of?

Twilight, pp. 3-11

Chapter one, the beginning of our story. Throughout this series, I will endeavor to give credit where it's due. (Thanks go out to Ken Begg of Jabootu.) To be fair, this first section of the book, before the first break (indicated by a few lines of white space), isn't half bad. As long as the story is focused on Mary Sue--err, Bella, such being Mary's name--it's a fair portrait of a typical small-town high school girl. That's a little strange, considering Bella grew up in Phoenix, but the simple fact is that she seems more at home in the small Washington town of Forks, a place she loathes (at least until the real main character invades the book and takes over the story).

I would point out that author Stephenie [sic] Meyer grew up in Phoenix, but really, does anyone here doubt Bella's a Sue?

Let's start with that name. Bella Swan. I don't want to blow your mind, here, but that would make her name 'Beautiful Swan'. Subtle.

It was to Forks that I now exiled myself--an action I took with great horror. I detested Forks.

Why is she leaving Phoenix? We don't know yet, but it must be something terrible considering her 'great horror' at where she has been forced to go. After all, Bella is seventeen, a high school junior. She will either be in college or on the job market in about a year, so the remaining time she has to live at home is short. It must be a horrible situation she's fleeing. Witness her final conversation with her mother.

"I want to go," I lied. I'd always been a bad liar, but I'd been saying this lie so frequently lately that it sounded almost convincing now.

"Tell Charlie I said hi."

"I will.

"I'll see you soon," she insisted. "You can come back whenever you want--I'll come right back as soon as you need me."

But I could see the sacrifice in her eyes behind the promise.

"Don't worry about me," I urged. "It'll be great."

So she's leaving her mother's home and going to live in a place she hates rather than finishing out her high school years and then going off to college, all for her mother's sake.

Remember what I said about Bella's Noble Sacrifices?

Really, this doesn't make sense. She'll be out of the house in a year or so. Surely she can wait. Now if they'd had some horrible argument, I could see her storming out with a shrieked "I'm moving in with Dad!" Or if she were fourteen and had four more years to look forward to in this situation rather than one. The answer is that Bella is fourteen, despite her chronological age of seventeen and her occasional flashbacks to being thirty-two. Once the main character shows up, Bella will behave exactly like the freshman girl who's never "gone steady" with a boy when she first lays eyes on the coolest guy in the senior class. See if I'm wrong.

Oh, and the statement about lying is suspect, given how often Bella will lie throughout this novel, and what she will lie about. Considering the whoppers she drops like f-bombs in a Chris Rock stand-up routine, her skills should be razor-sharp from constant use.

Bella's father, Charlie Swan (or, 'Charlie' to his daughter), has bought her a truck to use

the kind that you see at the scene of an accident, paint unscratched, surrounded by the pieces of the foreign car it had destroyed.

There's a good Mormon girl, Stephenie. Foreign stuff sucks.

But then, that was a bit on the nose, hmm? It's more effective to keep your rabid patriotism cloaked in a veneer of internationalism. Too bad Mrs. Meyer weren't a man, because then she would have gone on a mission and become immersed in a foreign language and culture. That's a much better way to demonstrate the superiority of America, learning about those other cultures and how American they're not.

I suppose it's just too bad not being a man in general.

Charlie bought this vehicle from one Billy Black, who, along with his son's washboard abs, becomes a focus of later books. For now, though, Bella doesn't remember him because he used to go on fishing trips with her and Charlie when she spent summers at her father's home in Forks.

That would explain why I didn't remember him. I do a good job of blocking painful, unnecessary things from my memory.

I suppose I must lack this power. How else can we explain my memory of the Highlander sequels?

And now, oh my Brothers, we get to the, like, brilliant part of the story. This is where the producers in the US film industry who wouldn't hire a young Clint Eastwood get to point and laugh at the fourteen agents who rejected Twilight. I'm willing to bet cold, hard cash that most if not all of these agents were men, despite the fact that I don't have any money. (The publishers smelled money, though, which is why eight of them competed to publish Twilight and the one Meyer chose signed her to a three-book deal.) This is why the book became huge, and this is why It Must Be Stopped. It's this passage right here:

I didn't relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth was that I didn't relate well to people, period. Even my mother, who I was closer to that anyone else on the planet, was never in harmony with me, never on exactly the same page. Sometimes I wonder if I was seeing the same things through my eyes that the rest of the world was seeing through theirs. Maybe there was a glitch in my brain.

Hundreds of thousands of fourteen seventeen-year-old girls read this paragraph, gasped, and said, "Me too!" I mean, what message could resonate louder and clearer with young adolescents than "I'm special, and no-one (especially my mother) understands me"?

Hey, I'm not ragging it. Like I said, it sold lots of books. I fell victim to it myself, with Raistlin Majere. Small, sickly, unpopular, freakish-looking, smarter than everyone else? You just described my adolescent vision of myself. (I've since discarded this portrait. Well, except for that last bit.)

The difference is, DragonLance didn't suck.

Okay, I'll do better. The difference is, Raistlin was the villain.

Even before his heel turn, he isn't liked by the other characters, characters the reader is intended to like (and does). So we like the character and find him interesting, but he isn't a role model. The authors are sympathetic to his plight, but his actions are never excused. The focal characters condemn his bad behavior, and you get the distinct impression they only tolerate him because of their love for his twin brother, a likable character who suffers constant and undeserved abuse at his hands. Once Raistlin does become a villain, he does all sorts of terrible things, and at the end of the story (big spoiler here), he loses. The Raistlin arc in the Chronicles and Legends trilogies is essentially this: If you're a big jerk, eventually you lose out, no matter how brilliant you are or how powerful you become, and nothing about how other people treat you excuses the choices you make.

A lesson Ted Turner doesn't seem to have learned. Maybe I'll post him a copy of those books.

Bella, on the other hand, is the story's ostensible protagonist, the audience's identification character. The protagonist doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) perfect, but she should learn from her mistakes and grow as a character, at least if she's going to come out all right in the end. Bella isn't perfect, but she's treated by the author as if she is. Her only flaws are the pseudo-flaws of your standard Mary Sue, like being endearingly clumsy and introverted. All of her behavior is rewarded, no matter how morally reprehensible or punishingly stupid it is. In the end, (big spoiler) she wins. She gets everything she wants and rarely suffers the negative consequences of her actions, except for the guilt the author claims she lays on herself.

Bella's flat line (in no way is it an arc) is essentially this: Find yourself a much older man (the better to replace your father as the authority figure in your life, my dear) and do whatever he tells you to do, no matter how controlling or condescending he is, including lying to your own father and using sex to manipulate people who are nice to you, and no matter what absurd situation you get yourself into--even if it's entirely due to your own stupidity--your Man will testosterone his way through the situation with his superpowers and get you out of it.

This is what young girls are taking away from this book. And that is why It Must Be Stopped.


  1. Well, first off, you are NOT freakish or the rest of the not nice things!! I agree that telling "any" teens that you do what you want and someone will get you out of it is a bad thing for them to learn. In fact, that thought has been around for quite some time. Murderers are using it today, so are people on welfare..Poor me, I had to do this, now someone needs to "fix" it for me. having a child leave to go live with the other parent would make me want to find out the "real" reason. I probably would go thru the whole movie still trying to figure that one out and would miss any other plot.hehe I like your style of explaining who you say the character is. it's giving me a clearer picture of the beginning. sorry so long to read this. It's hard for me to remember to check back each week. But will do better

  2. This is brilliant! I started at the beginning (obvs)and am going to work my way through your archives, but I was wondering if you are planning on just doing the first book or are you going to take on the enormous task of ripping them all apart?