As we prepare for the (presumably) next-to-last movie opening in the “Twilight” franchise, the Twihards and the haters of same raise their banners high, preparing to do verbal war across cyberspace. Despite my own deep interest in all things undead, I am that relatively rare exception–one who neither loves nor loathes the series. From a (hopefully) more objective viewpoint here are what seem to me the top ten problems with Stephenie Meyer’s saga.
Let us get this out of the way right now. Personally, I don’t find sparkling skin any sillier than a vampire turning to dust when killed or turning into such a small and relatively un-threatening creature like a bat (really–its just a mouse with wings). But the avowed purpose of it makes zero sense. Maybe if somebody today saw another human being shimmering as if their skin were embedded with diamond dust they’d feel attracted. Maybe. More likely, they’d run. As a means of attracting one’s prey, this simply does not work on homo sapiens. Our gut reaction to something that bizarre would (rightfully) be fear. That vampires are beautiful, smell good, have delicious-sounding voices, etc. has good logic behind it. Bravo. Shimmering in the light like a gemstone, however, crosses into the too-freaky-not-to-be-dangerous category. Not matter how silly the idea might be on a visceral level to some, as a practical trait in vampires it is counter-survival.
2. The Plots.
C’mon, anyone who regularly reads or watches television, movies, etc. can figure out what will happen within three chapters of every single book. This problem actually gets worse in each tome. Halfway through chapter one of “Breaking Dawn” I knew pretty much the entire story. Granted, Meyer’s strength as a storyteller are her characters, not her plots. Is that an excuse for obvious plotlines any well-read twelve-year-old can see coming for miles?
3. Vampiric Reactions to Blood.
Let us grant that nosferatu should indeed have a reaction to the smell and/or sight of blood. Makes perfect sense. However, if that reaction is pretty much always an almost-impossible-to-control frenzy, vampires cannot remain secret. Everyone would know about them, and the world’s governments would already be using napalm and atomic weapons to wipe them out. There’s just too much blood getting spilled all the time. Every single battle, car accident, prick of a finger, slip of a knife or sewing needle would be like playing Russian Roulette with fate. Recall that Jasper lost control when Bella got a paper cut! God only knows what one of them might do around a woman during her period!
4. Only talking about darkness.
“Twilight” aims a specific audience, one to which the author (naturally enough) belongs. In general they aren’t so much into vampires, gothic sensibilities or horror. Nothing wrong with any of that per se. Yet we only hear about Edward’s darkness, with few details and rarely does anything like it occupy center stage. Yet we’re told this man spent time hunting human criminals for food, a la “Dexter.” Methinks frankly that side of Edward sounds really interesting. It would also make for a more compelling story if Bella were part of the process of his leaving that, as well as making his other activities a little less wig-worthy. Remember, a large number of people (mostly women) react badly to things Edward does that seem stalker-ish to say the least. In the context of someone lost in his own darkness trying to find the light–that makes it a better tale, one that frankly reaches a larger audience. It also puts more meat into the plot instead of, well, candy.
5. Kryptonian Vampires.
The notion that vampires essentially only have each other to fear sounds good, but one really ends up wondering why they didn’t just take over the world ages ago? As it stands, Edward to could trade blows with Superman, play tennis with the Flash, out-mind-read Professor X. It feels very lopsided, and emphasizes how utterly at the vampires’ mercy every single human being on the planet must be.
6. Too many Good Guy Vampires.
In the very first book, we meet no less than seven of them. Dedicated to the undead equivalent of “vegetarianism.” One even spends his days working as a doctor, healing the sick. In that some book, we meet three evil vampires. Almost immediately the thought comes to mind–aren’t the bad guys like seriously out-numbered? This only gets more extreme. We learn about more evil vampires but they are offset by a whole tribe of benevolent werewolves, another coven of Vegetarian Vampires, coupled with more neutral persons and the beneficient UberVamp that Bella becomes. It creates a skewed perception that the supernatural beings in this world are essentially guardian angel super-hunks.
I’m not one of those who sees Bella as some kind of anti-feminist Icon. She’s quite clearly the protagonist of the books–the character whom drives all the action via her personal decisions. But there is a pattern in the books far more disturbing. Female characters fall into two types when it comes to gender roles. One are traditional wife/mother types–Bella, Esme, Alice, etc. The others more overtly seem rather masculine–take charge and/or boyish characters. Every single one of the latter are deeply unpleasant at least, actively evil and vicious at worst (and frankly, the latter is far more likely). Indeed the two major antagonists of the series–Victoria and Jane–are not only female but about as un-girly as one can imagine. Likewise the most dangerous male character fits the sexist stereotype of being the least masculine male character in any of the books–the leader of the Volturi.
8. Lack of Sexuality.
This changes in “Breaking Dawn” where the matter of Bella losing her virginity to the man she loves on their honeymoon is done very well indeed. But up until then, there’s a curious prudery in the tales. I’m not suggesting Meyer was wrong to keep Bella and Edward’s love unconsummated. Methinks that was part of her point in the tale. But without any examples of anything else, we the readers don’t have much to help us feel any sexual tension. None of Bella’s friends at High School have become intimate. We don’t really get any sense of how the other Cullen couples relish the physical side of their relationships. As far as we can tell, Bella’s dad is celibate (the films are actually funnier and better at portraying Charlie’s watchfulness over his budding daughter) while I’m not sure if her mother ever is described as holding hands with her younger, hunkier husband. It isn’t that the potential isn’t there, nor is it ignored exactly, but its lack is felt.
9. Way Too Interesting Supporting Cast.
An extremely common mistake, sorry to say, in virtually all media. Bella and Edward come across as nice people, interesting folk in their own way, but the rest of the cast is so much more so. Alice eclipses nearly every scene in which she appears. Bella’s dad feels more vital than Edward. I myself don’t see why Bella wouldn’t fall for Jasper, a far more interesting person, while Jacob is arguably the most boring (as well as the most whining) member of the pack. Meyer has gotten better about that. Bree Tanner, the central character of her one-off novella, grabs your attention and keeps it. Likewise what she wrote of “Midnight Sun” (her retelling of “Twilight” from Edward’s point of view) explores far more competently the nuances of Edward and Bella.
10. Cheap Victories.
We suspect it with the first book. Every one that follows increases the trend. Our heroes will win in the end, and the cost of that victory in the end will be–well, close to nothing. A few characters we don’t know die. Jacob has a hissy fit to outshine all other hissy fits, but he gets over it and becomes a very happy camper indeed. None of the Cullens are even wounded. This is called “pulling your punch” and is a notorious way of leeching strength out of a story. Back in the 18th and early 19th centuries hacks used to do with Shakespeare all the time. Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after. King Lear survived, while Cordelia married Edgar. Othello failed to murder Desdemona. It was a desecration. “Twilight” in that respect has nothing to desecrate. The author arranged things so that the bad guys lost virtually all their advantages before the final battle even began–then kept the battle from taking place anyway! Her one lingering drop of a shadow in all this syrupy light was even banished with the arrival of the other half-breed. It’s the dramatic equivalent of Harry Potter defeating Voldemort by winning a game of rock-paper-scissors.