Is there a more controversial vampire story than Stephenie Meyers’ “Twilight” saga? Doesn’t seem likely. For one thing, fans and detractors of the series hardly even try to restrain themselves. Some Twihards literally cannot even see any tale of the undead or of lycanthropes through any other lens (the notorious poster who called “The Wolf Man” a poor ripoff of the books seems to epitomize this aspect). The less rabid types make pilgrimages to the town of Forks, visiting the places where events in the tale take place–and in the process doing wonders for the profits of a certain restaurant that serves mushroom ravioli!
Check out the other side the equation, then–the routine commentary by those who question whether the author could have possibly read “Jane Eyre” (really quite a dig, the more one thinks on it) and the insistent (albeit totally inaccurate) description of Twihards as 14-year-old girls. Odds are both camps will read this. Belonging to neither one–as a (somewhat) rare individual who neither loves nor loathes the series–and as a writer myself, I do offer how the books might have been better. In the not-so-very-humble opinion of this reader and writer, anyway.
First of all, the sparkling thing. Lose it. Not because it is much of an inherently bad idea (although frankly, its stated reason–to attract prey–makes little enough sense to me, having taken College-level biology), but because of the reaction it engendered. Frankly, that seemed inevitable. It seems so very not vampire and more very cheesy elf. Likewise, methinks the vampires of “Twilight” would work better dramatically if they weren’t quite so Kryptonian. The Volturi have far more justification if the human race could conceivably pose a genuine threat, even if requiring numbers and massive firepower to do it. Also, this frankly introduces more genuine menace into the tale. As it stands, the vampires literally have nothing to fear from anything except themselves–an interesting but ultimately isolating idea in practice.
“Twilight” does explore some interesting themes (and frankly, rarely gets any credit for it) and that exploration should remain intact. In anything, such matters deserve sharpening. While ideas of sin, guilt and redemption seem pretty intrinsic to the story, Meyers pretty much pulls her punch. The most intriguing aspect of Edward Cullen’s history remains the time he left his family to hunt evil humans, slaughtering murderers and the like to slake his thirst. It also is very nearly ignored in favor of talk about really cool cars and baseball. To make this all more more foreground and less background, here is the next major change–the Cullen ‘family’ consists of Edward, Alice and Jacob only. Not that Carlisle, Esmee, etc. aren’t interesting characters in their own right. They do however by simply existing lessen the loneliness and tension inherent in Edward, the male lead. Having an example of ultimate undead virtue tells us this struggle isn’t so hard. Focusing instead on a couple who’ve already achieved a special kind of balance–one via despair and then love, the other via precognition–offers the possibility without so much of a guarantee. The (in my version) three Cullens make “good” vampires rarer, more threatened, far more extraordinary.
Likewise, that makes the Wolf Tribe far less sure of their undead neighbors. As is, they come across as a bunch of bigots because the total Cullen clan seem so very kind, so very humane, seems churlish to not adore them on some level. If on the other hand there are only three, and we know explicitly at least two of them struggle with a lust for human blood all the time–well, Jacob seems like less of a jerk.
Next, make Charlie more of a threat. Were he deeply suspicious of the Cullens from the get-go, as well as a just generally darker person (not to the point of child abuse or anything like that) the whole tension of everything increases–especially vis-a-vis the lead! Remember Bella Swan remains the central character, the hero of these stories. The novels actually do a fine job of making sure she is a protagonist throughout, rather than a victim to be rescued. That she makes every single major decision in the books remains a not-so-subtle (but often overlooked) virtue in “Twilight.” At the same time, she’s about as far from an “A Type Personality” as one can imagine. Rather than loose that, I’d like to see that brought more out into the open. Were her father an angrier, more remote, more judgmental human being–one whose relationship with Bella was worse than simply awkward–that makes for a better story. Bella has something more to work with.
Finally, the ending of the Saga really comes out as many times too neat. No prices are paid for Edward and Bella to have their happier-ever-after. What occurs to me in the last novel would be to have that ultimate battle actually take place–and people we care about should get hurt. Some of them should die. Probably Alice and Jacob. If either Bella or Edward lost a limb methinks that would feel right. The battle should have rocked the vampire world, seriously weakening the Volturi and creating a new rival to their domination–a faction led by Bella and Edward as well as perhaps the Romanians (uneasy bedfellows to put it mildly) and with the werewolves as allies. Maybe. Jacob and Nessie should have vanished before the fight began, as per Bella’s plans.
I prefer open endings anyway, containing bitter along with the sweet. Maybe the last book could end on the note that Jacob and Nessie have been found by a friend of Bella’s. They’re on their way home.
Never minded the romance. Loved many of the characters. The plots always struck me as rather weak in “Twilight” and the drama short-changed. In some weird alternate timeline where I am the writer of this series, this is how I like to think the Saga would have looked.