(Originally published August 28, 2009)
This is “Controversy Week” in the Literature Department. While I was at the library this week, I picked up Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling teen-romance in an effort to remain consistent with one of my governing literary principles – never criticizing a book I haven’t actually read myself. Just in case you haven’t already heard the basic plot outline, here’s a quick rundown:
A girl named Bella Swan moves from Phoenix to Forks, a small town in the middle of Washington where it’s almost always raining or overcast. She has some difficulty fitting into her new school at first…but all her personal stresses evaporate once she meets the handsome Edward Cullen. Edward proceeds to rescue her from a car wreck and a gang of would-be muggers (in increasingly implausible ways), and Bella inevitably falls head-over-heels in love with him.
Unfortunately, Edward (and everyone else in his family) also happens to be a vampire.
Now, these aren’t quite the Dracula breed of vampires. They don’t sleep in coffins, shun symbols of Christianity, or get burned to a crisp by the sunlight. Edward and his family make a point of feeding on animals rather than people. But even after Bella finds out, she doesn’t care. At all. It’s all about Edward for her, no matter where that might take her.
Hold on…wait a minute! The Guy’s A Vampire…And You Don’t Care?
Ah, therein lies the biggest problem with “Twilight” and its ilk.
The book isn’t really as bad as everyone says. In fact, the first 200 pages or so are actually quite charming. I found myself becoming engrossed in Bella’s world and wondering where her relationship with Edward would take her. Unfortunately, the book soon devolves into a muddled mishmash of plot holes, cliches, and bad character development.
The skewed depiction of teen romance is perhaps the book’s most grievous flaw. As soon as Bella arrives in Forks, she is swept up into the teenage dating scene. Thoughts of schoolwork and other responsibilities generally fly out the window when compared to the wonders of youthful romance. These students are only seventeen, and (in my humble opinion) they should be focusing on what to do with their lives instead of developing emotional attachments to people they will likely never see again after high school. Instead of developing friendships and enjoying positive coed activities, the teenagers of “Twilight” rapidly slide into “exclusive dating” mentalities that result in hurt feelings and the alienation of other friends.
Meyer also links far too many of her teen relationships to mere physical attraction. Page after page is filled with descriptions of how “beautiful” “gorgeous” or “stunning” Edward looks. Bella promptly swoons over him and proclaims her undying (no pun intended) love for him. She doesn’t even stop to see if their moral convictions are compatible (an absolute necessity in any “serious” relationship). Nor does the fact that’s he’s a vampire bother her in the slightest.
(For some inexplicable reason, Edward develops an almost puppy-dog-like attachment to Bella and professes his eternal love for her. This is one of those plot holes I was mentioning earlier…we never really get any sort of explanation for Edward’s affections.)
Some of Edward’s actions border on stalker-ish. For one, he follows Bella wherever she goes – presumably to prevent her from hurting herself. (And just to be fair, he has some remarkably cool action-hero moments early on in the story). Also, there’s one scene where Edward spends the night in Bella’s bed (both are fully clothed, and nothing happens between them other than a brief kiss). Edward’s “thirst” for blood is an obvious metaphor for sensual desire, but to his credit he keeps this urge under control throughout the book. Nevertheless, the book seems to take pleasure in throwing Edward and Bella together in sexually charged situations. Once again, not something to be promoted and encouraged.
All the romantic drama aside, however, “Twilight” is marred by the presence of static characters and uncompelling action scenes. Neither Bella, nor Edward, nor any of the other characters undergo significant growth during the course of the story. By the end of the book, Bella is desperately in love with Edward, but she hasn’t matured in any way. (Rather, I would argue that she has regressed emotionally and become entangled in an unhealthy relationship…in other words, she was more mature before she came to Forks in the first place.)
“Twilight” also tries to build suspense by introducing other vampires who don’t share the convictions of Edward and his family. These predators, led by a “tracker” named James, select Bella as their target and proceed to hunt her down. There is no explanation given for where these other vampires came from or why they’re so bent on killing Bella. Villains aren’t scary unless the reader has an understanding of their history and motivations…and no such information is provided for James. It’s just not that compelling.
So, the big question: Should you read “Twilight”?
I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other on this one. I don’t read teen-romance books, so I’m not particularly qualified to judge how well this one stacks up against them. I do think that “Twilight” has the potential to give young women an unrealistic/unhealthy image of romantic relationships, emphasizing the physical characteristics over emotional maturity and moral depth. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great.
Not the worst book out there, but certainly not the best.