Twilight, New Moon, and so on

You'd think the Twilight books would be made for me. It's a huge bestselling romance series about vampires, and I'm a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood, as well as the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris on which True Blood is based. I even liked Moonlight, which I'll admit wasn't the strongest vampire television series ever made.

But the Twilight series doesn't completely work for me.

I definitely enjoy reading them; these books are well-written, fast, fun reads. I even enjoyed the first two movies. The Twilight universe has tremendous appeal, and I totally get why; the vamps -- or at least, the Cullens -- are romantic, gorgeous superbeings who just happen to be bloodsuckers, and the only beings who suffer for it are bears and mountain lions. I can see why so many are obsessed with it -- especially the young and predominantly female. Who wouldn't want to be an immortal, beautiful, powerful teenager, especially when it includes deathless, obsessive love? The whole "living in the rainy Pacific northwest because we sparkle in the sunlight" thing is a rather fun interpretation of the vampire myth, too.

But the core element of the story is probably the least believable. (For me, anyway.) What makes cold, expressionless Edward so lovable that Bella is almost immediately ready to die for him? Physical beauty and the ability to read minds only goes so far. For that matter, what makes Bella so irresistible to a one hundred year old superbeing? The author's first person account hints that Bella is beautiful, intelligent, selfless, old fashioned, and endearingly clumsy and is unaware of all of this (except for the clumsy part), but it never completely rings true for me. I'm sure the first thing a fan of the books would say in its defense is that Edward and Bella are Romeo and Juliet, so there. They really don't need an explanation, a reason to love each other; they just see each other across a crowded (lunch) room, and that's it. Okay.

The werewolves dominate the second book in order to jumpstart some romantic conflict. As if we're going to believe that anyone other than Romeo Edward will ever do for Juliet Bella. Werewolves have never done much for me. Maybe it's just that I'm a cat person. At least these werewolves, like the vampires, are gorgeous, romantic and over the top instead of hairy guys with snouts.

But what I keep thinking when I'm reading the Twilight books is "Mary Sue." If you're not into fan fiction (and I'm not, but I have friends who are), "Mary Sue" is wish-fulfillment fan fiction, the fan writing herself into the story. The fan is beautiful and brilliant and everyone is obsessed with her and the story revolves around her, although there's really no reason why it should. Bella feels like the ultimate Mary Sue, except that the story isn't fan fiction, it's original. Except that I understand the plot of these books was borrowed heavily from The Vampire Diaries. Which I haven't read, so I'll shut up now.

Let me close by repeating that I did enjoy all four books, and I even read them twice. I also enjoyed the two movies, and I'm looking forward to the rest. But I enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse books and the True Blood television series a lot more.

That doesn't make them better. It just makes Eric Northman my kind of vamp.
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

24 comments:

Kajal D'Souza said...

I completely agree with u on this. I don't know whether u noticed this but Meyer uses the word "chagrin" a lot, especially in the first book. There are a few other words as well, but I can't remember them of the top of my head.

Harry said...

I think one of the main reasons I prefer the Sookie Stackhouse books so much is that she is a very strong, independent character who has her own goals in life which don't revolve around a guy, unlike Bella who seems to be defined solely in relation to Edward (dont want to spoil people by giving examples but there are quite a few) and doesn't stand up for herself nearly as much. Not very empowering.

Emily said...

Billie, I agree with you in almost everything in television and life, but...the Twilight books, well-written? No. No, no, no, no, no.

Paul Kelly said...

I'm one of the minority who preferred the Twilight Saga to the Sookie Stackhouse novels. The only thing I didn't particularly like about them was Jacob. Half way through "Eclipse" I actually had to put the book down mid read, outraged at his pushiness towards Bella. I have no idea why anyone would root for Team Jacob. I spent the last half of "Eclipse", and most of "Breaking Dawn", hoping the Volturi would off him. I'm still hoping Stephanie Meyer writes a fifth novel called "Breaking Jacob". Pushy werewolf ass-hole! That's right! I said it!

Yeah, I know, it's only a book ;o)

I also found them to be reasonably well written. They were never going to win any prizes for high-brow literature. But I'm kind of puzzled by peoples reactions to Stephanie Meyer in particular. Stephen King went on record as saying her writing was crap. Yet I found all four books in the series reasonably engaging. I never barfed at any point. That must count for something?

As for Bella being a poor example of female empowerment, I have to say, Edward's not doing us dudes any favours, either. Moping around like some emo fart. And he's just as dependent on Bella as she is on him. They're both weak and feeble specimens. But not every novel has to be about providing good role models. I quite like seeing emotional wrecks in fiction. It makes me feel better about myself. At least I'm not as pathetic as those guys. Right?

Cecil said...

Hi Billie, I have to disagree, but the only good thing to me about the books is your review of them. The Mary Sue reference was priceless; I haven’t though about that, but now I have totally wrapped my opinion about the books. I haven’t read the Sookie Stackhouse books so I don’t have any thing to compare to, but I do dislike the Twilight books, haven’t found the “well-written” in them so far.

Riversong Massage & Energetic Healing Arts said...

Having read both series, I agree wholeheartedly with Harry: Sookie's character has a fully formed personality, which allows for strength, intelligence, insight & a great BS detector to guide her choices. She doesn't let her attraction to Bill, Eric, or other men, rule every step she makes, nor does she wallow in angst & depression & powerlessness.

Bella's character is the young, powerless teen girl/woman who is written in the role of a victim.

My real issue with this is that this series is targeted for the younger set, & is being read by 10 year old girls & up. It's the classic older guy running the show & really making all the literal life changing decisions for Bella. She is ready to give up her life as she knows it, to be with this "man", leaving behind all that she knows, (or thinks she knows) & walking away from her family, to join up with folks that live a completely "alternative cult-like lifestyle"! She is portrayed as being brave & strong, but is diving headlong into situations that are completely beyond her control at every turn, attempting increasingly dangerous acts all to reconnect with Edward. That is a classic obsession scenario, and hardly what I think any pre-teen, adolescent should be reading & swooning over!

maru said...

I also kind of agree... I do enjoy Twilight series, so far books more than movies. Their characters have a particular charm, vampiric or not. There are details that did not 'conquer' me completely but the story as a whole got me.
I try not to compare, each writer creates a particular universe and its rules.
But... no one as Eric!

WriterDrew said...

Hi Billie, Just wondered if you'd tried either the Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton or the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong?

Billie Doux said...

Hi, WriterDrew: No, I haven't read Laurell K. Hamilton or Kelley Armstrong. I guess I should give them a try?

GreenHornet said...

I haven't read the books or seen the movies, only media coverage of same (a lot!). But one thing just happened to me that I found funny.

I rounded a display case in the local Target store and came across a new display for Twilight, but at first didn't take that in. All I saw was a rack of t-shirts emblazoned with "TEAM JACOB", and thought oh wow, new Lost merchandise! Seriously! And then actually LOOKED at the display, and laughed out loud. And was then asked by one of the employees if I needed help. Which I probably do.

But: is this a clue? Does this mean that the MIB in Lost is named Edward?

Anonymous said...

Hi.
If you try Hamilton, stop after book 7, after that they're all bad. Then they descend into really bad porn. The first few ones are good fun though. Armstrong is much better on the whole though.
Anyway, good and balanced review of Meyer, that's rare to see. I still hate her books, but that's me.
Anna

Heather said...

Hi Billie,

I love reading your reviews. I stopped by and stayed over your opinion of Nikita... LOVED that show! And I believe Firefly is a work of genius. But when it comes to Twilight... while I can understand the appeal to teen girls... I simply could not get through the first book. It really is a Mary Sue and that throws it out the window for me,

Dustin said...

Thanks Green Hornet, I've been thinking about the Team Jacob/Team Edward thing in reference to Lost for a few weeks now, but never felt the right place to comment on it in a Lost review. Of course, the man in black's name could just as easily be Jay, Kay, or Zee (or for that matter Johnny Cash).

As for Twilight, my wife and I rented the movie and thought it was ok, but wondered if the long smoldering looks they kept giving each other translated better when read from the page as opposed to watched on screen. So we borrowed the series and thought it was enjoyable enough.

I can understand why it would appeal to teenagers because the way love is portrayed is very adolescent and not very adult. No one can understand what we feel, no one has felt this way before, it's the world against us, etc.

Lily said...

The Twilight series isn’t horrendous. I mean, it could have been a lot worse. And I'll grant that Meyer has a knack for creating characters (particularly the Cullens – I’m a huge Jasper fan). The only problem I have with Twilight is that there are no redeeming qualities, for me. I can stand a book with flaws – but it feels like Meyer took all my pet peeves and threw them into a single series.

R. Berger said...

Honestly, I think that Bella being a complete self-insertion Sue is a lot of the reason why the series has done so well. Since she's fairly vaguely defined as a character at the best of times -- beautiful, intelligent, selfless, with her most unique attribute being her clumsiness -- it's pretty much an open invitation for not only the author but the reader to step into this love story, and imagine herself as the one exchanging intense stares with Mr. Cullen. I can't really imagine myself stepping into, say, Dean Winchester's shoes. I can, however, imagine myself as Bella Swan (whether I'd want to being a different question entirely).

However, I think that Bella's lack of definition as a character is one of the big reasons that the series just didn't sit right with me. She has no goals, no real hobbies except repeatedly reading Wuthering Heights. Her entire universe centers around this man, to the point that she... reacts the way she does to his actions at the start of the second book (trying desperately to avoid plot spoilers). That's not really what I want the heroine in a book I'm reading, especially when it's presented as something not necessarily unhealthy by the author. And Edward, Mr. Perfect, just leaves me cold. He's controlling, has only marginally more personality that Bella and marginally less than your average ham sandwich, and he freaking well oils the hinges on her bedroom window so that he can more effectively creep in at night to watch her sleep. The last is not something that should make any girl go, "aaw, he really lurves me." It is something that should make her file for a restraining order.

The one thing that I will say in favor of the Twilight books is that they actually don't seem like a ripoff of The Vampire Diaries, to me. I mean, they're both teenage love stories that center around vampires, but beyond that, I don't see that they have a lot in common.

This has gotten long. Wow. Sorry.

Billie Doux said...

Don't apologize, R. Berger. That was a great, well-thought-out, valid comment. In fact, all of the comments on this post have impressed and/or amused me.

I have to admit that I actually thought hard about whether or not to put this post up at all because I didn't want to offend fans of the books. And I can really see why some people love Meyer, and why some would prefer her to Harris. Everyone's mileage varies, especially when it comes to vampire fiction.

Elizabeth Avery said...

Hey Billie: long time since I have lasted visited and I've enjoyed my reading.

Twilight series: 3 ideas have been perculating in my brain for sometime now: (especially since I teach philosophy to high school students)

1. Martin Hieddiger argues that you can't live and authentic life unless you live in the light of an impeding death. Ergo the Cullens don't wpork for me as they are inauthentic.

2. Edward is very creepy. He's attitude towards Bella strikes me as very mysogynistic. Especially the wedding night, rape and abuse everywhere. YUCK!

3. All Bella wants to do is get married and have a kid. Frankly very 1950s if you ask me.

Chow Bella!

Lisa said...

this video explains the books' popularity

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4uuGvmAxTI

this article points out that edward is abusive towards bella

http://pamgutz.livejournal.com/6499.html

Patryk said...

I've read only the 1st book and i don't want to read the rest. (i might watch all the movies though, it's less time consuming)

My reaction can be summed up by this fictional converstation:

Lady Gaga: "I want your love and I want your revenge. You and me could write a bad romance."

Stephanie Meyer: "Sorry Gaga. Beat you to it"

Anonymous said...

Patryk

ROFL! Loved the Lady Gaga
Bad Romance reference in regard to Twilight, it was perfectly priceless!

Anonymous said...

Twilight was NOT well written at all. I tried to read it, but I didn't like it. Nor did I finish reading it. I'm not huge on vampires, even though I'm a HUGE Buffy the vampire slayer and Angel fan. Hey, I was even a big Spike/Buffy shipper.

Tommi said...

I did a total "Mary Sue"! A good few years back I wrote a fan fiction on "Harry Potter" (and I'm not proud!) and I was the leading character. I described myself very similar to how Bella is described and I had two guys after me - Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter. Draco was my true love (Edward) and Harry was my best friend who loved me dearly but I only loved him as a friend (Jacob).
This was BEFORE Twilight ever came out.
So yes - I see what you mean by the "Mary Sue". Never saw that before!

ChrisB said...

I have read all four books, but wouldn't describe myself as an avid fan. Yes, they're entertaining and yes, they are an easy and quick read. But they left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable that young girls were reading these books.

Someone pointed me to the article that is mentioned by Lisa above. It is a very interesting and thoughtful essay on what the author sees as wrong about the Edward/Bella relationship. In my opinion, she nailed it.

I have just started the Southern Vampire series, which I prefer to the Twilight series, but have not yet read TVD series. Maybe they'll be next.

JRS said...

I read all the books, but they're not worth a reread; Bella comes across as boring and obnoxious and as nothing-before-the-man-shows-up. Blech. I prefer Sookie Stackhouse.

I actually like the Anita Blake books a ton. Yes, there was a period when the books became heavy on sex, but I love the way it's turned out in the latest books, with the exploration of polyandry... and Hamilton does great at worldbuilding when she's not describing hot muscular long-haired were-tigers who are actually little kittens inside that just want to make coffee with french presses and wear frilly aprons. (Seriously.)