19 December 2009

Twilight

The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer is terrible. I read the books recently, and even though I had been expecting a grim experience (I'd already seen the two movies), I was still surprised by how bad this series is. I don't have a lot of experience with young adult fiction, so I don't know if they are par for the course. I hope not.

First of all, the writing is terrible at the most basic level. Most criticisms about writing quality focus on the description or the like, but Meyer's work contains more than the usual purple nastiness. She fails at simple mechanics, as well, and I have to hope that her editors have been fired (doubtful). She misuses words frequently and has terrible grammar. And this is not “bad grammar” in the sense that she has dangling modifiers or similar nitpickery. Instead, she will compose sentences that barely make sense, with ambiguous pronouns and pointless clauses slopped around like a drunk's last beer of the night.

Consider this passage from Twilight:

I read carefully through the descriptions, looking for anything that sounded familiar, let alone plausible. It seemed that most vampire myths centered around beautiful women as demons and children as victims; they also seemed like constructs created to explain away the high mortality rates for young children, and to give men an excuse for infidelity. Many of the stories involved bodiless spirits and warnings against improper burials. There wasn't much that sounded like the movies I'd seen, and only a very few, like the Hebrew Estrie and the Polish Upier, who were even preoccupied with drinking blood.

Only a very few... what? “Movies”? “Spirits and warnings”? No, wait, “few” must mean “stories”!
Naturally those things can be puzzled out, and any reader will solve the problem in a moment. But such poor composition occurs on almost every page, and make the books difficult to read smoothly. An abandonment of technical regularity is certainly not an unforgivable sin in a book if it's for a purpose, but there doesn't seem to be any reason for this devolution in this case. Meyer has poor grammar and her mistakes were not corrected, plain and simple. It's painful.

The poor writing is only the start of the problems, though. It continues with the characters, who are one-dimensional enough to be paper dolls. They are defined simply and immediately, and never grow in any interesting way (with a single exception, addressed later), with their identity and evolution easily expressed in a sentence without any loss. Bella is clumsy and introverted, and in love with Edward. Edward is handsome and good at everything, and in love with Bella. Jake is non-threatening and mildly exotic, and becomes a werewolf.

You'll notice I don't say “spoiler alert” or the like. And that's because no one with two brain cells to rub together could fail to see any of the plot coming. Oh, wow, the boy Jacob, who tells about the legends of his people who become wolves, and then briefly disappears and changes strangely... he's a werewolf?! My goodness! I see now... that wolf in the forest whose eyes reminded Bella of Jacob- that must have been Jacob himself!!!!!exclamationpoint

If we leave aside the writing and the lifeless, puppet-like characters, then we are still left with the worse thing of all: the ethics.

Bella's entire life revolves around her the men in her life. She has only a single aspect to her character other than her all-consuming adoration for Edward: she's clumsy. More text is devoted to how much she worships him than any other subject, with their exchanges always crammed with expressions of how beautiful and perfect he is. And when Edward leaves her, Bella breaks down so fundamentally that the word “catatonic” is thrown around. The totality of her shutdown is expressed by Meyer by having a series of blank chapters, representing passing months of nullity.

This is not, of itself, a terrible thing. Many romances have tried to express the depths with which two people can feel for each other in a similar way, and the devastation that can come from subsequent loss. There's nothing wrong with it.

But what is sad is that she only returns to life when another boy enters her life and fixes her. While trying to reconnect to her vanished man-god, Bella makes friends with the nice Jacob. And soon Jacob's kindness and male presence has restored her back to life. She has a huge hole and woe is her, naturally, but she is a functioning person again.

In other words, Bella needs a man in her life or else she can't function. She may have inherited this from her mother, who on the first page of the novel is depicted as being completely incapable, but who will be okay now that she is remarried to her second husband. In the same way, Bella's life completely revolves around having a man in her life, and she can't exist otherwise.

And what manner of relationship do Bella and Edward have?

Consider that this is a man who is not just older than her, but almost a full century older than her. He is world-traveled, highly skilled at everything, very intelligent, godlike in appearance, and a supernatural mind-reader to boot. Yet he is attracted to Bella, and starts a relationship with her. This is a girl who is a minor and a fraction of his age; he is literally six times older than her and infinitely more sophisticated.

Further, Edwards constantly yearns to hurt Bella – in fact, he wants to eat her and kill her. It is a strain for him not to do so, and he comes close to it quite often. It's not his fault, of course... he just naturally has those impulses and desire.

When they meet, he is cold to her. He's so attractive that she will easily and immediately forgive him her behavior later, but for some time after their introduction he is distant and cruel. We find out later, though, that he has been breaking into her house at night to go through her belongings and watch her sleep. Before they even have a conversation, he is climbing into her room to stare at her and listen to her slumber.

So what do we have? A violent old man who stalks a little girl, and a little girl who can't function without a man in her life. And through her books, Meyer portrays this as entirely normal and reasonable behavior – no, more: it's something to emulate. It's not dangerous or misguided or sick. It's romantic.

Think about if you knew a man of sixty years who wanted to date a seventeen-year-old. You would wonder what was wrong with him. And if he broke into her house to watch her sleep, you would (hopefully) think it was insane and creepy. The excuse of “We're in love!” wouldn't cut it. You would rightfully think that guy was a disgusting monster. It wouldn't matter if he was pretty.

Terrible.

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