August 17, 2010

Twilight: When an Irresistible Plot Device Meets an Emotionless Object

Twilight, pp. 53-57

I threw down a quick bowl of cereal and some orange juice from the carton. I felt excited to go to school, and that scared me. I knew it wasn't the stimulating learning environment I was anticipating, or seeing my new set of friends. If I was being honest with myself, I knew I was eager to get to school because I would see Edward Cullen. And that was very, very stupid.

You know, as I go through this book a second time, I hate it a lot more. With the tide of badness washing over you, it's easy to miss the little things. Take this paragraph here.

First, I had no idea the phrase 'throw down' referred to eating. I know its literal meaning, and I know it's a seldom-used euphemism for fighting, but I didn't know people referred to eating food quickly as 'throwing down'. I got a good laugh, though, by my literal reading of the phrase. I pictured Bella, in a chipper mood for the first time in the story, cheerfully making a bowl of cereal and then throwing it on the floor. Then, rather than throwing the carton of orange juice down after it, she pours some juice into her hand and throws that on the floor. Go ahead, picture it. Might as well get some amusement out of this thing. (No, I didn't picture her fighting with her cereal, but that would've been awesome.)

Notice how, yet again, Bella utterly dismisses people she calls friends, who have been nothing but considerate and friendly despite her generally gloomy demeanour and cutting remarks. Maybe this is an accurate portrayal of an average teenager (though I remember liking my friends, and even wanting to see them on occasion), but it comes off as a kind of psychosis. Edward is the only thing that matters, and every other contact is all but shut out. Whenever she's not talking to Edward, she's thinking about Edward, even when other people are talking to her. I don't know how she continues to pass her classes, since she treats schoolwork the same way she treats her friends (as distractions from Edward). In fact, this is yet another point at which I can see an interesting direction the novel might have taken. (Go ahead, try it yourself.) What if Bella, the socially inexperienced girl with excellent marks, falls so hard for Edward that her grades start to slip, jeopardising her future?

But no, that would introduce some conflict into the story, since Edward would then not be perfect for Bella. It really is a mark of how much vampires have been neutered in contemporary culture. Edward can lust for human blood, but he can't cause Bella to get a B in chemistry!

I'm beginning to suspect Charlie is a very private man and is also constantly busy so that Meyer doesn't have to portray Bella shutting him out as she does her friends. Throughout the book (and, I'm given to understand, in future stories as well), Charlie comes off as the most sympathetic character. We see another example of this here:

Charlie had gotten up who knows how early to put snow chains on my truck.

Chief Swan comes off as a decent, loving father, and Bella remains self-centred, deceitful, and ungrateful.

We also see also another instance of Bella's maddening contradictory traits. She breezes through all her classes, an advanced prep, straight-A student, but she is 'scared' because she is 'excited about going to school'.

And I was suspicious of [Edward]; why should he lie about his eyes?

Bella here is referring to Edward's evasiveness about his eyes changing colour--to what end, I've no idea--but I still find it amusing that his lie about not having a chance to introduce himself gets a pass. Then there's this gem:

...Mike's puppy dog behaviour and Eric's apparent rivalry with him were disconcerting. I wasn't sure if I didn't prefer being ignored.

So when Mike sat next to Bella and escorted her to her next class while Eric looked on with jealousy, 'that was flattering', but now the exact same behaviour is 'disconcerting'. What's happened here?

Well you see, Oh My Brothers, now Bella has Edward, who is higher up in the food chain. So now the other two boys' desire for Bella and their rivalry with each other is meaningless, and hence their antics now annoy Bella.

Now we get another moment that made me laugh out loud the first time I saw the
Twilight film. But first, the set-up.

Edward Cullen was standing four cars down from me, staring at me in horror. His face stood out from a sea of faces, all frozen in the same mask of shock. But of more immediate importance was the dark blue van that was skidding, tires locked and squealing against the brakes, spinning wildly across the ice of the parking lot. It was going to hit the back corner of my truck, and I was standing between them. I didn't even have time to close my eyes.
But a lot of other people had time to hear the sound of the brakes, turn to look, recognise what is happening, and assume shocked expressions. Unless 'a sea of' people were already all looking at Bella. And surely that wouldn't be the case.

Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around the truck bed, something hit me, hard, but not from the direction I was expecting. My head cracked against the icy blacktop, and I felt something solid and cold pinning me to the ground.

I hope you see the romance in 'Edward violently shoves Bella into hard surfaces', because this won't be the last time we'll see it.

I was lying on the pavement behind the tan car I'd parked next to. But I didn't have a chance to notice anything else, because the van was still coming. It had curled gratingly around the end of the truck and, still spinning and sliding, was about to collide with me again.

A low oath made me aware that someone was with me, and the voice was impossible not to recognise. Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van's body.

Wow, two unnecessary adverbs in the same sentence! Meyer has outdone herself. (Plus, 'providentially' is used incorrectly, given what Bella says about the dents [sic] later.) Bella is fine, of course, and there are some words exchanged to this effect, during which Edward speaks in a 'low, frantic voice' and assumes a 'concerned, innocent expression'. Some vampire. When Father Callahan lamented the world no longer had Evil for him to confront, just evil, the vampire Barlow showed him the error of his thinking in 'Salem's Lot's most powerful scene. ('Come, false priest. Learn of a true religion. Take my communion!')* One gets the feeling Callahan's faith would be more than adequate to send Edward fleeing back to his coffin--err, crypt--err, stately Cullen manor just outside of town.

Then we get the novel's version of one of my favourite moments in the
Twilight film:

'How in the...' I trailed off, trying to clear my head, get my bearings. 'How did you get over here so fast?'

'I was standing right next to you, Bella,' he said, his tone serious again.

I'm not sure exactly why I find this exchange so hilarious, but I do. After Edward stops a speeding van with his bare hands, Bella demands to he reached her so quickly. I can't tell you how hard I laughed once I realised she was never going to bring up his superhuman strength and durability, not to Edward or to anyone else. She will pursue him relentlessly about how he got from where she saw him standing to where she was, but she never thinks to herself that it's a wee bit strange that he was able to stop an out-of-control vehicle barrelling towards him just by pushing on it. No, the reason her puzzler hurts is that he seemed to be standing far away. He mentions that she has a concussion and that's why she doesn't realise where he was (frankly, not a bad explanation), but she's convinced.

To be fair, the novel does have Bella bring up his leaving hand-prints in the side of the van from pushing it to a stop, but only later, in the hospital, and after she's harped on the 'how were you there so
fast?' bit.

I'm sorry, but I'd sooner demand an explanation of 'you stopped a speeding van with your bare hands' than 'I thought you were standing over

*We'll just ignore Callahan's appearance in the later
Dark Tower books. Should be easy to do, since after reading the later Dark Tower books, I slammed my head into the desk until I dislodged all memory of them.
**Good thing nobody notices the van has two hand-shaped dents in it, eh?


  1. You made me laugh at reading this one. Being southern I had heard that saying about eating. But I can understand others might be confused. The cops must not be good in their town either since they missed the hand prints as well. I would never watch the movie but I'm having a blast reading this.

  2. Hand prints. Ugh. Such observant people. I'd believe it in my inner city neighborhood before I'd believe it in a small town. People notice EVERYTHING in small towns where they know everyone.

    I would watch the movie, Riff Trax is your friend.

    I subscribe to Learn To Write Fiction and receive their newsletter that sends me the writing routine and habits of best-selling authors. I just got the one for Stephenie Meyer.