Via Media

Via Media


posted by awelborn

I’ve had a few inquiries about Twilight, the book series, now beginning its film life, about vampires and the girls who love them.
I didn’t read the books, but my daughter did, succumbing to peer pressure. She hated them, although I still am not sure how much of the hate was real and how much was stubbornness. Well, I will say that her critiques of the book are consistent with the critiques I’ve heard others make, so perhaps it was real – she said they were repetitious to the extreme, not very-well written and she thought the central female character was a pathetic piece of work.
Despite not being the closest observer of the Twilight phenomenon, I will still say that even from the outside, the whole thing seems disturbing to me, and not because of any occult content, but rather because of the overheated needy romanticism that seems to be at the heart of the hysteria. Blech.
A few links, and add your own thoughts.
Regina Doman reviewed the first book in the series here.
A very critical look at Spes Unica
Jeffrey Overstreet’s review will be up Friday, but he posts today about his reaction to the reaction:

Sure, the basic “Beauty and the Beast” elements are at work here. They will always work. I’m not going to deny that the Power of Myth is at work in this story. What disappoints me is how poorly it is developed, how many opportunities for thoughtful storytelling are bypassed for the sake of including long sequences that amount to “How far can we go without actually fornicating?” If you want a good vampire story involving a fascinating, monstrous vampire and an engaging heroine, check out Robin McKinley’s book Sunshine. Now THAT would make an interesting movie!
But don’t tell me that this is a love story. This is a lust story. You have to get to know someone to really be “in love” with them. Otherwise, it’s just hormones. Good luck with everything after.
Remember the lesson of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? If we make hasty commitments in the rush of infatuation, we’re in trouble. We need to be ready to “carry each other” (as the song says), and to live with and love the brokennes and the rough edges. These two are already saying “You are my life” before they’ve seen past the pretty facade. Bella is pledging herself to a stranger, drawn only by his burdened expression, his high David Lynch forehead, and his gel-sculpted hair. (Sure, he saves her life, but only after she’s already smitten.)
I cannot think of a weaker female “heroine” than Bella. She cannot do anything for herself—anything. She can only surrender to her ill-advised infatuation. She lectures one of her friends on being an empowered, independent woman, but cannot put that into practice herself. I’ve known girls just like her. They did not end up in healthy relationships. They ended up getting hurt again and again by guys who were alluring and exciting, but eventually abusive and selfish.
These days, it seems the every successive generation gets its repackaging of the Vampire Story as Romance. Those who enjoyed the Buffy phenomenon were treated to some remarkable pleasures and some memorable storytelling, not to mention spectacularly creative television. Based on what I’ve seen so far, this new generation’s inspired by the same inspiring material, but their version is sub-standard and misguided.
There’s nothing wrong with a good vampire story, or a story about redeemable monsters. But this film splashes around in the shallowest end of the pool of love stories. Or better, it only dips its toes in, inclining us to follow our emotions. Some may claim it’s about being open-minded toward one another. To me, it looked like Bella’s mind was so open that her brain fell out.

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posted November 21, 2008 at 7:43 am

I read the first book as young friends raved about it. It is interminable. It’s a 50-page story told in 300 pages or more.

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posted November 21, 2008 at 8:28 am

I’ll admit to being sucked in by the fervor of my 17-year-old, but both she and I became disillusioned by the end. These books have opened up a great discussion in our house about love, relationships, choices, salvation, morality, and what makes good writing, among other things. For that alone, these books are worth a read by an older, thoughtful teen. And I have a 14 year old son who read them too!

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posted November 21, 2008 at 8:41 am

Providing “overheated needy romanticism” looks to be something of a cash cow. I only wish I knew how to tap into it.
But, really, it does say something about the ‘space’ many readers are filling with this stuff.
On a plus side, I thought the covers of the books are extremely attractive. I haven’t read the books, but I would surmise the covers deserved better content…

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posted November 21, 2008 at 10:03 am

The vapid, passive heroine isn’t a new innovation. Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) was a huge success in its day and features sweet young Emily, who just can’t seem to do anything. (And it’s also way too long.) Jane Austen sent up the Gothic genre in Northanger Abbey, which features a far more charming, and proactive, heroine.
Maybe there’s some kind of subconscious feminine longing for a take-charge sort of guy? Dunno, I haven’t read Twilight.

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posted November 21, 2008 at 10:30 am

i love twilight
i am a mom of 3 and loved the books
the books are a must and sttrenthen my 12 year olds writting ming and her creativity

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posted November 21, 2008 at 10:42 am

As a 26 year-old who devoured them (and who is going to the movie tomorrow with two ladies in their 40s, two in their 30s, and a bunch of college students – all of whom had the same reaction) – there is something that pulled us in, despite the fact that most of us would probably acknowledge the problems that everyone else has seen. I personally think it is Stephenie Meyer’s ability to make us care about the characters (to the point where they’re our friends whether they are all that likeable or not) – because I had the same reaction to her book “The Host” (which I must admit is much better written).
In the end – I figure Bella may be weak – but at least Edward believes in abstinence before marriage – thats more than you get in most YA fiction these days… Then again – they weren’t originally written to be YA – I tend to think that they would be somewhat different if Stephenie had started out with the idea of writing for young adults – but she started out writing for young mothers like herself – and I think it is very telling how into the books my friends who have young kids are – but I think its also partially because they do need something light and fluffy to read – they don’t have the mental ability to focus on something harder at this point in their lives (and the rest of us are either graduate students (and working a full time job) or college students – who need a break from the real world – and Twilight gave us that…

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posted November 21, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Don’t see how it’s any worse that the whole silly Harry Potter hooplah.

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posted November 21, 2008 at 1:30 pm

My oldest read it, at the behest of his girlfriend who loves them, and he said it was good, but not good enough for him to want to read the rest.
I have to admit, my youngest has asked about reading it, so I should get it soon and read it before deciding if he can.

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posted November 21, 2008 at 1:30 pm

I am 28 and adored all 4 of the books. After recently “re-devouring” all of my Jane Austin I was skeptical that I would be in the mood for the series. I read all 4 in just under two weeks – (I work full-time and cantor a few masses a week so I went a little slow.)
I was also pleasantly surprised to find a couple wait for marriage in a popular young adult series – a rarity. I liked the main vampires’ “vegetarian” lifestyles (they do not feed on humans.) It is a great good vs. evil interior battle for these characters.
I agree with the subconscious feminine longing for a strong male figure – but I don’t feel Bella was weak. Bella has grown up with divorced parents and has spent her formative years caring for her parents and herself. She is strong in a feminine way.
I really enjoyed them and would strongly advise giving them a try before passing any judgment – I am glad I did. It has been quite an attractive romance for me and my young married acquaintances – and my mom…
I hope the movie does not disappoint – a group of us are headed to see it Saturday night!

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RP Burke

posted November 21, 2008 at 3:01 pm

My daughter, who reads all kinds of books, read a couple of the books in this series and is scornful of them.

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posted November 21, 2008 at 5:24 pm

I’m 29. A young mom. A high school teacher.
Read the books because my students did, which is why I read a lot of YA lit.
Now, I like vampire stories. I like fantasy stories. In large part, the reason I like these genres is because they’re some of the few safe places in literature these days to talk about the big moral questions of Good and Evil. I even taught an elective course in fantasy literature; we studied The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Joseph Campbell, and Harry Potter. My college thesis in literature was on Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. One of the few TV series I’ve watched regularly (and now own on DVD) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The major difference between all these stories and the Twilight series is how they treat evil and salvation.
**********SPOILERS AHEAD**************
Let’s face it — vampires are evil. And like much of what is evil in the world, they are beautiful and seductive. But many vampire characters agonize over the question of whether they can ever alter their essential nature away from evilness. Rice’s Louis spends eternity mourning his lost humanity and desperately seeking salvation. He clings to the hope that maybe, just maybe, his vampire nature hasn’t damned him. Two of the major vampire characters in the Buffy series acquire souls. One gets his through a curse and tries from then on to use his power to help others; the other fights for his to prove to a skeptical Buffy that he can change and become a better man, one worthy of her love. The vampires in Meyers’s novels don’t go through such existential issues. They mourn the inability to have children, or the nice things about life like eating good food, but they don’t seem to mourn their lost souls. They spend a lot of time enjoying the material side of the world — designer clothes, fancy cars, exotic vacations. Although one character is a physician, it seems he does it for practical purposes like access to blood banks, not to attempt to atone for his nature.
The whole reason Louis agrees to the interview in Rice’s novel is to caution the interviewer against wasting his life, much like the damned souls in the underworld in classical mythology or Dante. When the interviewer asks to be turned into a vampire, Louis refuses in a rage born of utter despair. Edward agrees to murder his wife when she asks him; when he finally does make her into a vampire, it’s as she is dying from delivering a half-human, half-vampire baby. For all Edward’s reluctance, he never articulates to Bella what she’s missing by choosing death, and he ultimately puts his desire for her above her soul.
My biggest issue is that vampirism isn’t a moral problem or even much of a moral struggle in Twilight and the subsequent books, and the main characters get a glowing happy-ever-after of eternal beauty, great sex, and a lavish fantasy lifestyle. Being a vampire is a great “life” seems to be the final message in the books, and I have a problem with that.

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posted November 21, 2008 at 5:28 pm

And that doesn’t even get into what a vapid excuse for a heroine Bella is, nor what a pretentious twerp Edward is.
But my students who are rabid fans were quite put out when I shared my observations on Edward’s shortcomings. If nothing else, Meyers has certainly created a character who’s an adolescent girl’s fantasy.

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Joe Marier

posted November 21, 2008 at 9:24 pm

I haven’t read the books, but my wife has. She loved them.
Essentially, her take on it is that Bella, for all her faults, makes for a psychologically accurate portrayal of a child of divorce, and Edward and Bella’s relationship make for a pretty accurate portrayal of a relationship taking place across moral/ethical universes. Make of that what you will.

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posted November 21, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Mrs. Darwin,
Don’t forget Richardson’s Clarissa, the ultimate in passive, self-destructive, sexually victimized heroines, whose 18th-century readership got to be vicariously oppressed, seduced, and raped by the handsome and amoral Lovelace. The more I read about Twilight, the more I picture the ambiguously (un)willing Clarissa. Plus ca change….

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James Kabala

posted November 21, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Gina: I have never read the books and probably never well, but I gathered from reviews that the sympathetic vampires (like Edward) had pledged themselves only to drink animal blood. Obviously this would still be immoral from a vegetarian or kosher/halal viewpoint, and even from a Christian viewpoint it would probably involve stealing other people’s animals, but it isn’t quite the same as drinking human blood.
Could you also (with spoiler alerts for those who prefer not to know) explain your reference to Edward as turning his wife into a vampire? Is that the “happy ending” of the series? If so, that is pretty creepy.

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posted November 22, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Read most of the book last week (required reading for a book festival for my oldest son), could not get through it, found it a bunch of extremely repetitious, poorly written eroticism for teenagers, and just plain dull. None of the characters, especially Bella, were believable at all. You cannot write a story like this with fantastical elements and have the humans be as unbelievable as the fantasy characters. A good comparison, I think, is that now classic A WRINKLE IN TIME. Fantasy here, too, but characters that were much more true to life, with a “love story” entwined there, too, but with many, many fewer words. Not as erotic, of course, but we were more innocent then.
I really could have told you the major outlines of the plot from the blurbs on the back of this book. When I “finished” reading it, I told my son it would probably make a decent movie, as it read like a screenplay adapted to be a novel. Imagine my surprise when I heard the movie advertised!

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posted November 22, 2008 at 7:03 pm

I’m a 22 year old college graduate and high school teacher who read all four Twilight novels, though I did feel kind of guilty for doing so. There’s a reason why the most common metaphor people use when describing them is junk food, candy, or a variety of illicit drugs. They are fluffy and addictive. I think the reason they’re so addictive is partly because the writing, while it can’t properly be described as *good*, is good in a fast-paced, YA novel kind of way – lots of angst, emotionalism, danger, not too much thought, and almost no delayed gratification. That is to say – it’s full of cheap thrills. I’ve never read any other vampire novels besides Dracula (which sparingly uses rather expensive thrills – you have to wade through a hundred pages of tedium to get to them, but when they’re there, they’re much more real), though I did watch every Buffy episode, but they fall into pretty much the same category as Twilight: fun, addictive shows that eventually grow tired even of miraculous happenings.
In answer to James’s question: yes, getting turned into an amazingly sexy and self controlled (from the blood drinking perspective) vampire was the fairy tale happy ending of the Twilight series.
And no, the vampire family does not usually drink human blood, though most of them have in the past, and “slip up” sometimes (read: murder innocent people and then run away from the scene of the crime) in the present. They don’t, on the whole, seem particularly concerned about that.
I agree with Gina that one of the major failings of Twilight was that they never took a hard look at the costs of becoming a vampire, and whether vampires must be inherently evil. I found that all the more disappointing because Edward actually *does* know this to be an issue, and so the author must as well. But Bella is so insecure, needy, and terrified of losing Edward to his conscience, she won’t let anyone talk about it, and Edward gives in from force of emotional “anguish.” After reading the entire series, however, I came to realize that the main reason Meyer never dealt with any very interesting moral questions is because these are not, nor could they be, serious books, without becoming different books altogether (with a much smaller fan base). Serious questions would interrupt their status as self-indulgent day dreams, and therefore ruin their appeal. (the fangirls would probably say, as Bella does when Edward show regret for covering her in bruises on their wedding night: “you are killing my buzz!”)

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posted November 22, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Sure, James!
*********SPOILER ALERT**********
While Edward and the rest of the Cullens have agreed to drink only animal blood, they still say that they would prefer human blood, and some of the “good” vampires in the final book who ally themselves with the Cullens still continue to drink human blood. There are also veiled references to previous preying on human beings by various members of the Cullen clan.
Edward and Bella’s half-human, half-vampire child has to be coerced into agreeing to drink animal blood. While Bella is pregnant with her, Bella has to drink human blood, procured, IIRC, from the blood bank at the hospital through the good offices of Dr. Carlyle Cullen.
Edward’s turning Bella into a vampire as she is dying from delivering their child is indeed the “happy ending” of the series. And it is a very creepy thing. She has no regrets about ending her human life; she instead says things like “I was born to be a vampire” and “This is my destiny.”
And then she and Edward defeat the “bad” vampires, make the world safe for “vegetarian” vamps, and run off to their little fairytale cottage in the woods to enjoy an eternity of good looks and great sex.

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James Kabala

posted November 22, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Gina: Never mind (unless you already posted). I read the Spes Unica link and it answered most of my questions.

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posted November 22, 2008 at 10:56 pm

o.h., you are right! Clarissa even built a new “family” from the people around her while she died (of self-starvation, wasn’t it?)

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James Kabala

posted November 23, 2008 at 4:25 pm

Gina and Molly: Thanks.
P.S. Any book that contains the line “You are killing my buzz!” cannot be well-written.
P.P.S. Isn’t there also an HBO (or maybe Showtime) series about vampires who drink a newly invented blood substitute but are still discriminated against nonetheless? (Apparently it is supposed to be an allegory for homosexuality.) Has anyone seen it?

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posted November 23, 2008 at 5:13 pm

I’m a twenty year old student and read the first book, was unimpressed, and read the second and third recently at the behest of my friend, who loves the series. I googled the summary of the fourth, and, needless to say, won’t be bothering to read that now! I’ve also seen the movie. One of things that irked me the most was that
none of the vampires had fangs! Sorry, but that seemed pretty silly to me! What is a vampire without fangs??
The author’s blatant self-insertion, constant bitching, and total spinelessness were pretty hard to swallow after a while.
And why is it that fangirls are going wild over a creepster who is manipulative, controlling, and watches you while you sleep? Ewwwww. (Disclaimer: I like the actor!)

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posted November 25, 2008 at 1:53 pm

–Probably SPOILERS?–
James Kabala,
Yes. The show’s called True Blood, and I’ve seen s few episodes on HBO. Having read about half of the first Twilight book, I think I prefer the tarty, violent, campy HBO series. At least it’s on HBO and not the teen silver screen…it advertizes itself to be what it is.
English/Theology major that I am, I’ve been trying to figure out the symbolism of True Blood. It may well be that vamp-human relationships are a stand-in for homosexuality, but I think interracial relationships are a better fit. Maybe I’m being fooled, but the way the Southern-drawled characters talk about vampires “dirtying the gene pool” and girls who sleep with vampires as (I’m paraphrasing) blood-traitors screams miscegnation to me. There’s also an anti-vampire church, the Fellowship of the Sun, which looks like it will be featuring prominently in the next season.
Two non-vampire characters use True Blood as a drug, and describe “True Blood” itself as the thing to which Communion points. Very interesting…
I really appreciate the nods to the Christian-vampire link and to Bayou and Caribbean culture, which has its own vampire traditions. Overall–I’m shocked to say this–the HBO series seems to be delving far deeper into the richness of vampire lore and the funny-but-frightening identity issues of being vampires and vampire-lovers. Morality? Neither score too high. But at least, as I said before, you expect debauchery on HBO.
Oh, and the main female character, Suki, is indeed a damsel who can hear other people’s thoughts–like Bella. She’s far more powerful, though, functioning as the community’s virginal matriarch. And she *did* finally defend herself this last episode, under threat of death. Phew.

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