At the beginning of October, I allowed myself to be goaded into a reading race. Sounds like fun, right? Reading and athletics should go hand in hand more often, right? Wrong. It wasn’t fun. I lost for the same reason that I always lose at Scrabble: I wasn’t willing to play dirty. And my conscience-less opponent was. Which is why this same, heartless, unfeeling man also always wins at Scrabble. However, my boyfriend’s competition ethic is neither here nor there. Maybe that’s best saved for another post. (And then again, if I want to stay in the relationship, maybe not!)
As it were, the book we raced to the end of (against both our better judgment) was that unfortunate pillar of young adult fiction, pride of bored housewives, propaganda of (and for) teenage girls, and paragon of poor prose. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. And, rather than go into the details of how it happened that I spent the rest of October reading through the other three books in the series (rest assured in the knowledge that this was a solo endeavor; thankfully, the boyfriend stopped after his cheap victory with the first book), I will just skip to the part where I tell you how far I will go (I’m thinking the ends of the earth) to keep this particular set of books out of my daughter’s hands, should I ever find myself to be the mother of a teenage or pre-adolescent girl.
So let’s start with why I hate Bella, the pathetic (not to be confused with tragic or romantic) heroine. To name a few reasons, she’s self-deprecating, co-dependent, obsessive, a wallower and self-pitier, and completely devoid of self-respect. Someone ought to explain to Ms. Meyer that there’s a rather significant difference between self-loathing and humility. Bella is not humble. Bella is merely a sycophantic, relentless self-denier, and the charade gets old fast. Bella spends the entire first book alternating between hating herself, hating small-town life, and drooling embarrassingly over Edward and his beautiful, perfect body. How I was able to pull a single thread of plot out of the tangle of obsessive yarn that is the first book of the series, I don’t know. (And, if I might linger here a moment longer, since when are a deathly pallor, dark circles under the eyes, an ice-cold touch, and skin so hard “it was like cuddling with Michelangelo’s David” the marks of an attractive man? Oh, right. Since never.)
However, I’m torn as to whether it was the first or second book that was the worst, in a literary sense. It is in the second book that we get to know Jacob (the shape-shifting wolf) a little better, and, though ridiculously immature, he is likable at first. But then Edward comes back (wait – he left? yes; he leaves, on purpose, claiming he doesn’t love Bella, never has, and will never return; this, of course, sends Bella spiraling into a six-to-nine-month-long depression that Jacob sort of helps her emerge from but not really). Where were we? Oh, yes. Edward returns, and Jacob morphs into a character I had trouble liking through the remainder of the series. He whines (literally, since he’s a wolf, at times; but also figuratively, in the teenage-boy-doesn’t-get-what-he-wants way); he’s a sore loser; he tricks Bella into kissing him (which, in my book, is certified cheating), even after she declares her unwavering, undying love for Edward; he uses threat of his mortality to persuade Bella to tell him she loves him; when Edward manages to retain Bella’s fickle-seeming loyalty (though it’s unclear why he still wants it, other than that whole your-blood-smells-better-to-me-than-anyone-else’s-and-I-can-barely-keep-myself-from-sucking-you-dry-and-killing-you thing; however, that does seem more an issue of free will [or lack thereof] than of love) and it looks like Jacob won’t get his way after all, Jacob resorts to juvenile name-calling, referring to the vampires as bloodsuckers and leeches; and finally, he falls irrevocably in love with Bella and Edward’s daughter on the day she is born, which, considering the fact that he’s seventeen (and she’s less than a full day old), is incredibly disgusting and creepy.
If I must be forced to choose a team, I suppose I’d align myself with Team Edward, though he’s not without his faults too. He’s annoyingly melodramatic, jealous, possessive, and territorial of Bella, treating her as a possession rather than a person to love. He does well at hiding his irrational emotions some of the time, but in an intimate tent scene with Jacob, the reader finds out that all these emotions have boiled just below the surface the entire time. Edward makes feeble attempts at proving he loves Bella, claiming he wants to marry her before he’ll have sex with her and that she deserves to live as much of a human life as possible before he turns her into a vampire (and yet, he still does turn her into a vampire). He does stick to his guns about the marriage and sexual purity issue but only because Stephenie Meyer clearly had an alternate agenda and less than subtle message for the Mormon youth of America.
While we’re on that subject, we might as well segue into why I hate Stephenie Meyer (not as a person; just as an author). First of all, and arguably most important, at least from a literary standpoint, there are no characters I can root for. By the end of the third book, when people asked what team I was on, I replied with, “Team Nobody. Team I-hope-someone-slips-up-and-accidentally-devours-Bella.” I knew Bella wouldn’t die, but still, I have never hoped more for the death of a main character (except, perhaps, in Book 7 of Harry Potter, although that was for an entirely different reason; that was a hope to see J.K. Rowling be brave and shock her audience; a hope to see how well she could spin the narrative if she killed off the wonder wizard everyone loved best; a hope for her to make me cry really hard; in Bella’s case, I was just sick of her).
Second, Meyer paints Bella as the clear heroine of the series, and no matter what I say to dissuade them, teenage girls are going to love Bella, admire her, envy her, and imitate her. I cannot forgive Meyer, therefore, for essentially championing unhealthy, isolated, co-dependent relationships as not only normal but right. Ms. Meyer is doing the same (though a far more egregious) disservice to the current generation that the beloved Jane Austen did to the women of my generation (and beyond). My peers are either still searching for their perfect Mr. Darcy, or they are chastising their settled-upon mates for not being more like Mr. Darcy. It would behoove the entire female race to remember that just because a couple ends up together does not mean a) that their relationship is good or healthy or b) that they should be together. I’d also like to remind anyone reading this that Mr. Darcy is kind of a DB. He ridicules and insults Elizabeth repeatedly before finally (and somewhat begrudgingly, if I remember correctly) admitting that he loves her. Maybe it’s just me, but I am not a fan of hard-won love. Not that I think love or relationships are or should be easy, but chasing after a guy who treats you like garbage? Come on. At least have the dignity to admit you deserve better than that.
Back to the Twilight series: At one point, Charlie (Bella’s dad) does try to talk some sense into Bella and convince her to spend time with people other than Edward. I could laud Meyer for using such a reasonable argument and at least pretending like this is sage advice; however, it comes from Bella’s bumbling, knows-nothing-about-women-or-raising-children chief-of-police, completely out of touch father, and the reader is led to feel as if he’s being ridiculous and Bella is doing nothing wrong. So that’s a pretty big fail on Meyer’s part. She gave herself a gleaming opportunity that she then proceeded to blatantly ignore. (How can anyone respect an author who does this?)
Third, as I mentioned earlier, her message on the importance of abstinence before marriage is nothing if not screamingly clear. No reading between the lines necessary here, as Meyer appears to have a lot to learn about the art of subtlety. She goes to such lengths to harp on the idea that a couple must be married before sexual interaction can take place that the message becomes more about the legality, the piece of paper, the letter of the law, than it is about the spirit behind the covenant of marital commitment. Which is preposterous because Bella is ready to commit to Edward for eternity – and, in these books, when they say eternity, they mean it, since most of them (and finally Bella too, in the last book) are immortal. So it’s ludicrous and completely inconsistent with her character that Bella is willing to make such a hefty promise but is so adamantly opposed to an official wedding and the idea of actual matrimony.
I understand that Stephenie Meyer either received pressure from Mormon circles about the importance of stressing pre-marital abstinence or perhaps feels strongly about the issue herself. However, she went a little overboard here, to the point of disbelief (at least, for me). For the sake of the story and character consistency, how bad would it have been to just let Bella consent to be turned into a vampire (heck, even make a ceremony out of it, for all I care!) and let that stand as the symbolic significance of marriage? After all, if she’s willing to pledge herself to Edward for the entirety of forever, doesn’t that seem to send the same message – a stronger one, even? I’m disappointed that Meyer let her obsession with legalism cloud her literary discernment.
One brief comment on Meyer’s technical skill. I’m making this brief in part because it pains me to mention it (but of course, you knew I would; my profession bounds me to it) but also because there is an entire blog dedicated to chastising her errors adequately and plenty humorously. I suppose that if I could only choose one grammatical issue to plead with Stephenie Meyer to take some sort of class on or get some rudimentary or one-on-one tutelage for, it would be commas. Oh, the commas. I have never seen so many poorly placed commas in all my life, and that’s saying something because I was a writing tutor in college. By the time I was halfway through the series, I could feel my own commalating tendencies declining (yes, commalating is a word of my creation; no, you may not use it), and I’ve had to fight extra hard to be sure I remained at the top of my punctuational game these last few weeks as a result of the osmosis-induced poor-grammar plague threatening to do me in.
Having reached the end of my short but torturous journey through the Twilight series, I will say (as atheists do about their reasons for reading the Bible) that I’m glad I made the trip, for now I am at least adequately prepared to argue against it point by painstaking point. However, I must also assert that I would never, ever recommend this particular series to anyone but the most stalwart and healthy lovers of literature (and then, only for the same reasons I read it – to arm yourself with the knowledge necessary for battle against it). Weak-willed readers, those who are less well read, and the under informed are not advised to read these books. You are not strong enough to stand against Meyer and her attack on good literature* (as is evident by the fact that these books were all bestsellers – proof alone that the world is more full of morons than anything else and also that mob mentality works).
If you want to spend your time in a series and you’re adamant on reading young adult fiction and you’ve read the entire Harry Potter canon seven times over, I recommend The Hunger Games trilogy. You won’t be sorry. If you’ve already discovered and devoured Suzanne Collins’s wonderful three-part narrative about Katniss and her struggle against the ever menacing Capitol, start over and read them again. Or go for an eighth round on Harry Potter. Your time will still be better spent than it would be with Twilight. That is a guarantee.