the past 20 years there has been a fascinating trend in vampire
fiction. Ever since Anne Rice's Vampire
Chronicles crystallized the
sub-genre, there has been a steady and seemingly inexorable trend
towards systematically stripping vampires of their traditional
weaknesses: Garlic and running water were the first to vanish, but holy
symbols were quick to follow. It wasn't long before they were able to
cast reflections and even sunlight was downgraded from an instant
sentence of death to a minor inconvenience before eventually being
phased out entirely. Murderous, bloodthirsty beasts? Not so much. I
mean, sure, they might get peckish once in awhile, but even that hunger
is easily sated by a visit to the local blood bank or sucking a few
The root for the trend was obvious: Vampires
alluring. They have the handsome, civilized polish of Mr. Darcy with a
dark edge of bad boy danger. And this appeal moved them steadily from
them villains to
anti-heroes to heroes and, from there, to romantic leads. The
may be a rather bland creation with only the faintest glimmerings of
moral and ethical complexity that was once inherent to the vampire
mythos (the typical vampire these days has all the moral conflict of
Superman eating a Big Mac), but the motivation was also crystal clear.
What's interesting in reading Stephanie
Meyer's Twilight is
seeing what is, in retrospect, the perfectly logical progression of
the trend: Having systematically stripped vampires of their weaknesses,
the genre had no choice but to start giving them new bling.
thus we end up with vampires who literally sparkle in sunlight while
being gifted with various assortments of psychic powers.
quick concept summary for the three people who have no idea what the
Twilight Saga is: Isabella Feyfucker moves from the sunny world of
Phoenix, AZ to the cold, rainy climes of a small town in the Pacific
Northwest. Once there, she becomes the romantic center of attraction
for every paranormal male in a 500-mile radius. Particularly Edward
Cullen (a vegetarian vampire) and Jacob (a werewolf).
Meyer makes it very easy to dismiss her work as that of a talent-less
hack. Her prose is crude. Her plotting is uneven and often nonsensical.
Her world-building is simplistic and inconsistent. In short,her books
simply exude a sense of either carelessness or incompetence or both.
For example, in New Moon
Meyer very specifically establishes that it's the latter half of
February (within one or two weeks of Valentine's Day). Bella wants to
sneak out of the house to go hiking and she's excited when she
discovers that her father is planning to go ice-fishing on the river.
So far, everything tracks. But when she reaches the woods:
forest was full of life today, all the little creatures enjoying the
momentary dryness. Somehow, though, even with the birds chirping and
cawing, the insects buzzing noisily around my head, and the occasional
scurry of the field mice through the shrubs, the forest seemed creepier
Well, of course it seems creepier!
You've left your father ice-fishing in the middle of winter and entered
some sort of Twilight Zone Narnia featuring eternal summer!
paragraphs later Meyer has added "chest-high ferns" (a well-known
winter growth) and a "bubbling stream" (which has inexplicably failed
to join the river in freezing over) just to maximize the surrealism of
In the big picture, this continuity gaffe is
of relatively minor
importance. But Meyer strews this stuff all over her
apparently unrevised, unedited, and unread manuscript. And it's not
just the minor stuff, either. Major plot points often fall prey to the
It was particularly interesting to watch the
after reading the books: Meyer's fanbase screamed bloody murder about a
number of minor changes which had "ruined the movie", but ironically
these changes almost universally fixed the fundamental flaws in Meyer's
For example, in the novel Meyer gets about
the way through the book before suddenly realizing that she doesn't
have an ending. To "solve" this problem she has three vampires show up
out of nowhere. One of them decides to harass Bella just 'cause he can,
Edward kills him, and... that's it. End of novel. These vampires have
no connection to the rest of the narrative, but apparently because
there's a fight the story can be over.
The film doesn't change much: It just adds a
couple of extra scenes in the first three-quarters of the movie to
establish these evil vampires as a persistent background threat. But
the result is a narrative which actually holds together instead of
The film is also remarkably successful in
Bella's classmates -- who are uniformly bland, forgettable cardboard in
Meyer's novels (to the degree that they quietly fade away in the
sequels) -- into quirky, memorable characters.
I bring this up
only to demonstrate how little effort (or skill) it would take on
Meyer's part to fix many of the most egregious flaws in these novels.
So if these books are so painfully flawed,
why did I keep reading them?
Meyer is not, in fact, a talent-less hack. To the contrary: She has one
particularly exceptional talent that I feel fairly safe in saying is
the reason she's now a multi-millionaire and her books have become
While Meyer's secondary characters are nothing more
than interchangeable cardboard, Meyer's handling of her central cast of
characters is adept. I would even describe it as gifted. Bella, Edward,
and Jacob leap
off the page. They breathe. They live.
Are they foolish? Unstable?
And it's easy to make fun of them for that. But there are plenty of
foolish, unstable, and irrational people in the real world. Meyer
simply captures them in narrative form and then, through the
application of the supernatural, she adoitly elevates these
all-too-human characters into a mythical plane.
those supernatural elements nothing more than a cliched reworking of
the vampire-and-werewolf cultural gestalt created by White Wolf's World
of Darkness? Sure. But it doesn't matter. The mythic elements of
Meyer's milieu don't need to be particularly original in order to
heighten the reality of her characters.
So, basically, you have
the powerful alchemy of teen romance with the dial cranked up to 11.
That, by itself, is basically paint-by-numbers. What can't be trivially
duplicated is the potent reality of Meyer's characters. With that added
to the mix, the result is explosive.
a pity that this gemstone is mired in the muck of Meyer's weakness as a
writer, but the jewel itself glitters no less brightly. And it's not
surprising to me that these books were able to capture the imagination
of a generation of teenage girls.
THE DEEPER PROBLEMS
has always been something vaguely disturbing in the sub-genre of
vampire romances: Holding up the "dangerous man that I can change
through the power of love" as some sort of romantic ideal is certainly
a popular trope, but not a healthy one. On the other hand, while Meyer
doesn't precisely deal with these issues, she does manage to avoid some
of the thornier patches of the sub-genre.
But where the series gets particularly
the sequels. In New Moon,
Edward suddenly embraces hardcore emotional abuse as his modus operandi. And
then, in Eclipse
-- as if Meyer were checking off abusive relationships on a To Do list
-- Edward goes for full-on stalker. Whether it's literally disabling
Bella's car so that she can't go where she wants to go or the constant
variants of "I only hurt you because I love you, baby" that he mouths,
the warning sirens were screaming.
As if to emphasize Edward as a
co-dependent, abusive stalker, Meyer simultaneously establishes a
second love interest in the werewolf Jacob. Jacob is everything Edward
isn't: Emotionally available. Stable. Supportive. And, thus, completely
rejected by Bella as anything more than a good friend (who she can't
see because her jealous boyfriend forbids it).
In Breaking Dawn,
the abusive nature of the relationship drains away. But while it made
for a more enjoyable reading experience, in retrospect it's equally
creepy: The subtext appears to be that marriage is a magical cure-all.
Having problems with an abusive boyfriend? Get married and he'll start
treating you better!
Meyer's strengths as an author only serve to make the Edward-Bella
relationship even creepier. She writes Bella with an absolute
truthfulness, detail, and depth that seems to fully capture the
psychological mire of someone caught in an abusive relationship. In
other circumstances, one could hold this up as a literary triumph. But
the narrative never presents itself as a the gut-wrenching tale of a
girl trapped in a co-dependent tragedy. Meyer is writing a
self-destructive horror story, but she thinks she's writing about
exemplary True Love. It's sad, disturbing, and rather disgusting.
- TWILIGHT: C-
- NEW MOON: C