Those who unquestioningly loathe “Twilight” often make very facile arguments against it. A pity, because honestly the books do deserve some criticism and just calling fans of the books names contributes no wisdom to anyone. Let it also be said (or, in this case, written) that Stephanie Meyer got some things spot on. I’ll even maintain these have a lot to do with her books’ popularity.
Stylists sneer at these books, but when I read the text of those sneers what I find are rote criticisms about adjectives and adverbs and the like. Curious how these some folks don’t hurl their ire at Dean R. Koontz (who piles simile upon simile upon simile) and David Webber (he of the identical voice for all his characters in the midst of gigantic datadumps) or even Emily Bronte (“Wuthering Heights” is a magnificent novel, but its writing style is abominable). In fact, Stephanie Meyer will never win the applause of those looking for beautiful prose (myself included) but she deserves credit for putting together a tale eminently easy to read. That is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. Don’t believe me? Read ten randomly chosen pieces of fan fiction. Or anything by David Eddings.
2. Blood as Metaphor.
One thing I’ve seen Twihards gush about and their foes never even register is the central image of the story. Edward is a vampire who more than anything else longs to feast upon Bella’s blood. Even the smell of her makes his mouth water, his self control waver, his bloodlusting self strive to break free. He wants to sink his teeth into her throat and devour ever last drop. But–he doesn’t. Nor can he stay away from her, and ultimately he refuses to lie to her. She is his EVERYTHING, yet he shows self-restraint far beyond anything most boys Bella’s age can even imagine. That idea, or ultimate desire and self control, clearly struck a chord. When one looks around at young males of our species strutting around, spouting obscenities and treating girls like kleenex to prove that they’re “men,” the desire for a man like Edward begins to make more sense. He is Lust Under Control. More, he is Lust in the service of worshipful love. THAT is the fantasy, not his Greek God looks.
3. Virtue Empowered.
Stephen King’s (very) funny comment to the contrary, “Twilight” has an idea behind it–a compelling, rather sophisticated one. And quite welcome. Throughout the books Bella, although physically the weakest of the main characters until halfway through the fourth, remains the protagonist. She calls the shots. People ultimately listen to her, and not because they aren’t headstrong, even foolishly so. Edward, Jacob and Charlie in particular all eventually bend to her will. Not because she blackmails them or whines until she gets her way. No, she acts with courage and doesn’t give up, honestly (sometimes endearingly) approaching matters. The third book in particular makes the point that she’s a person who influences the world by example, by persuasion, and by courageous action within her own abilities. Hers is the power of moral authority, a welcome idea amidst so many films, stories, t.v. shows and the like which glorify Wolverine’s claws and invulnerablity, Batman’s amazing skills and gadgets, Buffy’s superior strength and reflexes, etc. Me, too. I love all those characters as well! But I find it lovely to read about someone “ordinary” who still manages to impact everyone around her–not least because I have no such super-powers, no vast financial resources, no mystical destiny giving me an advantage over everyone else.
4. Vampires are Frozen.
Subtle, but vital in making this love story between a teenager and someone over a century old make anything other than really, really creepy. Edward is over five times Bella’s age, but because he was vampirized at age eighteen he fundamentally remains that age. Forever. Thus this union has hope. In a real way they remain equals. Although many won’t like to acknowledge this, John Ajvide Lindqvist said something very similar in “Let The Right One In” involving another May-December romance of vast purportions. Were not Eli and Oscar both twelve in some really basic manner, they couldn’t remain together, not happily. Neither could Bella and Edward unless they too were the same age in some odd way. Bella even recognizes this. Plus Meyer’s vampires retain the first glorious excitement of being in love, forever. They don’t change, except rarely. And when change happens, it too is nearly always permanent.
5. Charm of the Mundane.
The only reason I ever tried mushroom ravioli was because of “Twilight” (delicious incidentally). Tis a curious thing, but a fresh look at what most call ordinary remains a rare thing in fiction–and startlingly powerful. Capturing the imagination with tiny details does much to grab the soul of a reader. Somehow “Twilight” does this. The exact color brown of Bella’s eyes. The description of the local High School and the cloud cover over Forks, all that stuff about cars–it all felt very real and helped me enter into a secondary world almost seamlessly.
6. Undead Politics.
Totally believable, on many levels. The way the Volturi established their position as judges on the one law everyone agreed upon, the way people wanted to believe in them even when doing so seemed really naive, the way rivalries played out, and how some served the vampires in hope of being elevated. Even the disparate way each of the three Volturi responded to the endless years–extremely believable. In this Meyer outdid “True Blood” easily and equals the undead society portrayed by Anne Rice. Bravo!
7. The Venom.
I liked the explanation of precisely how someone becomes a vampire, what it does to them and also why there are so comparatively few of the things. Likewise the amount of blood needed by individuals. In this Meyer outdoes Rice, because even a little bit of math shows that Lestat with Louis and Claudia could not have gone undetected for twenty years much less sixty, not even were New Orleans three times its size! Meyer’s reasons behind it all made so much sense, making for a nicely coherent image of her vampires as a species. Perhaps because she doesn’t read vampire fiction, this helped her avoid some assumptions?
This may be the most subjective basis for a judgment, but the fact remains that I (as well as lots of other people) find the characters in “Twilight” believable, interesting and likable. She also keep the interest level high among the main characters while still allowing lots and lots of secondary ones their own personal lives. Other students at Forks High come across as real, as a cross-section of people that seem both familiar and unique. Edward is real enough you want to slap him sometimes. Maybe most impressively, Bella comes across as a narrator whom two men fall for yet she handles it without coming across as conceited. Now, it is perhaps telling that so many read the books and HATE Bella, but when I ask why the answers often don’t seem to have much to do with the book’s contents. She is attractive, not drop-dead gorgeous. Not all the boys are after her, only two (although she attracts attention as the New Girl at first). Is she a doormat? Absolutely not! This girl punched a werewolf when he got fresh! Plus a certain number of people just don’t care for Kristen Stewart. Which is fair, but has little enough to do with the books. As much as I decry the plots of the four (well, five) books as obvious, I think the characters remain vivid and quietly compelling.
Quite simply, the books are fun. The humor inherent in the whole situation–from Charlie’s dealing with a teenage daughter to Alice’s impish sense of humor, the interplay of the romantic triangle, our slow learning what we do about the characters–plays out in a way that says: Entertainment! In a nutshell, the saga makes for a ripping yarn. Love. Misunderstandings. Danger. Secrets. Hearbreaks. Redemption. Chases. Mysteries. Plotting. All good juicy stuff.
“Twilight” has some great villains. James, the enthusiastic hunter. His brilliantly sneaky mate, Victoria. Then of course there is Jane (her special power–the one manifested from her personality–is to cause searing pain) and her masters, the cold sophisticated Volturi. One thing fans of “Buffy” looked forward to each season (and fans of “Dexter” and “Warehouse 13” continue to) is the Big Bad, the Big Bad. They rightly measured the show in part at the quality of the villain. In this the saga of Edward and Bella hit a slam dunk..