Monday, 26 July 2010

SOME THOUGHTS ON TWILIGHT

Firstly, I must admit that, yes, I *ought* to be writing right now. However, I've just realised that I have once again wandered down the forbidden Cul-De-Sac of Plot Digressions and found myself at the Dead End of Doom. Which means that in a few moments I am going to have to go back, find the point at which I began work today, highlight and delete. And that stings us, my precious, it stings us. So I'm going to delay the stinging just for a little while - just long enough to get these thoughts out.

I'm not going to summarise Twilight here. Chances are that even if you haven't read it, you know enough about the story to keep up. If not, and you still want to read on, go here first. But not if you're at work. Your boss may find your uncontrollable hoots of laughter suspicious.

I'm also not going to make any comments like 'lots of people loved it anyway' or 'these are just my opinions' because that's blindingly obvious. If you want to try and flame me because you're convinced Twilight is perfect, go ahead, although you should be aware that working in the publishing industry has made me pretty much flame retardant.

Romance is a tricky thing to write. I know - all my novels so far have a romantic element, and I find it one of the hardest things to get right because what you're trying to capture on the page is something that has been talked about, sung about, acted about since the beginning of time. Every description has already been used. Every phrase is already a cliche. When you're trying to convey a great, immortal love in paper, it's like trying to paint on a canvass that has already been painted by every other painter that ever lived. No matter how good you are, all those layers of old paint are going to effect your colours and composition. They're going to shape what you paint. They're going to show through.

Even worse than that is the fact that in real life, love has a massive physical component. On film when Gwyneth Paltrow walks into the room and the hero stares at her, drumstruck, we GET it. In writing, you can spend ten pages describing the beauty of your love interest without conveying the smallest part of that vital, obvious human connection.

Stephenie Meyer runs up against both these problems in Twilight. She spends on average one paragraph on every page of Twilight describing Edward's physical beauty. She's trying to create that impact - that blinding moment when you look at someone and fall a little in love with them instantly, just because of their eyes or the way they smile. Unfortunately, she does not succeed. To me, what happens instead is that I find her writing - and her main character's internal monologue - so incredibly tedious that I wish Edward had died of the influenza rather than inflict these endless lines about his butterscotch-ochre eyes, flawless sparkly skin, tousled bronze hair and perfect crooked smile on the world. What's more, Bella does not find one single way of thinking or talking about Edward that is not already a cliche. Perhaps aware of this, the author tries to pretend that the colours showing through her work are there on purpose, by flinging literary references at us. Unfortunately, once again, it does not work. Instead, comparing her own prose to that of Austen, Bronte and Shakespeare only makes it all the more clear how remarkably and painfully average her writing is.

So what I'm saying is, Smeyer (as I like to abbreviate her name, just for efficiency's sake) isn't that great a writer. She falls into the two big romance traps. However, I could forgive her that. I've read many, many books with worse writing, and Smeyer's universe, descriptions and plot are at least internally consistent. My main problem with the Twilight books is that, once you've read them all and begin to compare them to other romantic books, a single fact begins to dawn on you.

The Twilight Saga is NOT ROMANCE.

Deep breaths now, people. Stay with me.

To illustrate my point, I'm going to talk to you about one of my favourite YA romance fantasies, which is called 'Howl's Moving Castle' by Diana Wynne Jones. Here, we have two characters who are (like the lovers in Twilight) separated by many factors. The main character, Sophie, is a shy, dutiful and self-effacing young woman who, through a misunderstanding, falls under a curse which turns her into an eighty year old woman. Following this, she becomes part of the household of the Wicked Wizard Howl, famed for eating young woman's hearts. Actually, Howl isn't a cannibal. He's a vain, arrogant and cowardly young wizard who (unbeknownst to Sophie) is under a curse of his own. He seduces and abandons young women without a qualm, slithers out of any real work and, on one memorable occasion, fills his entire castle with green slime because he's having a bad hair day. Sophie (finally freed from the need to be 'respectable' by the fact that she's become a crone) meddles, argues, bickers and fights with Howl constantly, messing up all his plans, forcing him to do things he doesn't want to do. Her interference sets Howl's world upside down, but he does the same to her, turning out to be an entirely different person than his first appearance would suggest.

This doesn't sound romantic, does it?

BUT IT IS. By the end of the book, when these two finally risk their lives to save each other and declare their love, the reader is totally and utterly convinced that their love is a real, breathing thing between them. That they are perfect for each other, not because their relationship is or ever will be perfect, but because it isn't.

The reason why this romance is convincing is that Sophie and Howl are both fully realised people in their own right. They come together despite or even because of their differences, make a choice to be the most important thing to each other, to mesh their lives despite possibly having to sacrifice other things which are are important to them. This holds true of every good romance any of us have ever read, from Pride and Prejudice through to The Sharing Knife books by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The problem comes where an author tries to write this kind of romance by creating a hero and heroine who have no real interests in life or attachment to anyone BUT EACH OTHER.

Let's look at Bella. I mean, really look at her. What do we know about her? She's clumsy - but that's not a personality trait, anymore than having a mole on your cheek is a personality trait. She likes reading. Not much - she's not passionate about it or anything, but it's something she does. She doesn't like rain or cold. She is mildly fond of her parents, but has no respect for either of them, and no apparent need for or reliance on them. She cooks, but not out of any sense of enjoyment - just because she thinks she should. Aaand... that's it. Those are literally her only traits. She has no ambitions. No dreams. No hopes or fears. She doesn't worry about college, plan to travel, intend to become a writer or an actress or a bank manager. She doesn't think puppies are cute or disgusting. She doesn't sing in the shower. She is completely self-reliant and has no true bond to any human being or human experience.

She comes to Forks not because she wants to but because (once again) she thinks she should. Despite what appears to be a borderline disassociative disorder on Bella's part, young people at her school try to get to know her, but she has no interest in or empathy for any of them. They bore her. She doesn't think any of them are attractive or worth her attention. Her only emotion when any boy approaches her is 'Eugh'.

Then Edward appears. By her own account, he is utterly, breathtakingly beautiful. And he's the only person in Forks who apparently doesn't like her and want to be friends with her immediately (apart from one girl, called Lauren, who is so minor a character that she doesn't count).

Considering all this, it's hardly surprising that Bella is willing to risk her life to be with Edward within a week of knowing him. That she can say to him, straight-faced, that she would rather die than have him leave her alone. It's because he's a) the only person who she has ever found attractive or interesting b) SHE HAS NOTHING ELSE IN HER LIFE. In sacrificing her humanity she's called on to give up nothing significant to her, nothing that she needs or cares about. She's not human in any real sense anyway.

The same things are all true of Edward. He has spent his entire undead life believing he is damned and soulless, moping about being the only singleton in a 'family' made up of passionately devoted couples. He says he loves his family, but they seem to inspire more exasperation than affection in him. He plays the piano. Other than that, his only occupation seems to have been going to High School over and over and over and over, feeling superior to every person he meets because he can read their minds. Except for a brief stint at medical school. But he's never attempted to be a practising doctor. To do that he'd need to take an interest in something other than his own misery, which he cannot apparently bring himself to do. He's never had a relationship, even of the hand-holding variety, with anyone. What kind of a life is that? He might as well have died!

So of course *he's* willing to sacrifice his being for Bella. She is literally the only interesting thing that's happened to him since he turned into a vampire. He can't read her mind and she smells good enough that he actually wants to kill her, unlike every other girl he's ever met, who all put him off with their stinky perfume and bore him with their pointless internal monologue.

And even when these two link up, there's still not enough human life in the pair of them to make one real human being.

Bella and Edward never think of anything but each other, discuss anything but their feelings for each other, or have any thoughts about their future except for being together. They're perfect for each other because no one else could possibly establish or maintain a relationship with either of them. When you think of it like that, you realise what you're looking at in this book isn't a romance at all. It's about a co-dependent relationship of socially retarded loners who are both so isolated that they have no choice but to cling to each other and call it love.

Now, if you want to write a story about the suffocating and unhealthy relationship between a pair of sociopathic teens who are both unable to form any meaningful relationship with anyone other than each other...fine. But please don't gussy it up and pretend that it's the next Romeo and Juliet. Please don't pretend that the 'love' these two have for each is the 'love' that the rest of us experience in our lives. It isn't. Neither of them know what love is.

Love is accepting (as Bella and Edward never do) that the other person in the relationship is a PERSON. Flawed. Conflicted and contradictory. Stuffed with insecurities and anger and shame and sadness. And laughter and life and joy. Love is looking at another person, knowing that they are not and never will be your 'dream lover' and choosing to be with them anyway. Choosing to give up every fantasy you ever had about Mr Perfect swooping in and fixing your life, because that fantasy doesn't mean as much to you as the guy with the head-cold snoring on the sofa in front of Match of the Day.

Love is being with someone not because they're imprinted on you or destined for you, or the only person in the whole world whose mind you can't read, but because they're them. Joe, or Sally or Pilar or Hasif. Just that. Only that. That's what love is.

Twilight a love story? Not in a million years. And that's why I despise these books. Because they're supposed to be about love, but there's no heart in them. What they're really about is desperation and loneliness.

Oh, and sparkly stalker boys. Mustn't forget that.

18 comments:

Lisa (starmetal_oak) said...

Oh thank you. I loved this post and am so happy someone managed to put into words everything wrong with this book.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you! I'm glad you liked it. I thought the comments might be straight flaming from the start...

Vampires and Tofu said...

No flaming, that was dead on!

Zoë Marriott said...

Yay! Or...is this the calm before the storm...

*huddles under blanket*

bfree15 said...

I think you just summed everything that is wrong with these books that I couldnt figure out or put into words myself. Thank you

Bel

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, bfree. The post ended up being a little longer and rantier than I meant it to be, just because I was kind of cranky and frustrated by having to erase a day's work. I'm glad it made sense despite that!

Saya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Saya said...

WHAT TWILIGHT IS PERFECT!!!!!111one

But moving swiftly on: ohhhh Howl's Moving Castle. I love that book to pieces. So much DWJ goodness. (Btw, did you ever read Maggie's round-table about green slime?)

I watched this really amusing YouTube video of someone ranting about Twi, and she just got so lost for words she gave up - it cracked me up because I do that. Usually about the French, though.

When I was reading Twi et al. (the second time...I know, I know - but you have to understand that I first read it immediately it came out, before anybody had ever heard of it, before YA was hot, when it had this cover, and then a few years later, after I'd forgotten all about it, it became suddenly madly hyped and I staunchly refused to read it on that basis), a friend - who was the reason I picked it up again - told me to count how many times B mentions E's beauty. After about #18, I decided to stop counting - partly because there was so much (the 18 was within a couple of chapters), and partly because I could no longer distinguish one occasion from the next.

Wow, that paragraph had a lot of side-stories. XD

I know lots of people love to hate Twi - I mean, it's kind of fun, and the fans are hilariously provokeable, but I do think a lot of it is overblown. The in-world consistency was a big win, and SMeyer is a meticulous writer even though she could edit better.

I totally get you re: Bella and what on earth does she live for? But I think that can itself be inverted into the idea that she never fit into the human world, or with humans, and that in some ways, it was her 'destiny' to be vampirised (do you remember Vlad the Drac? ^_^) - I think it actually does add something to the Bella-vampire premise, and whether or not it was intentional, it works. She just doesn't relate to her peers, and her life didn't give her much space to be the 'normal teenager' she was expected to be once she returned to Forks.

I want to to give Bella some credit - while she clearly reacts to Edward's beauty, and always reacts to it, that isn't what interests her. It's his sheer otherworldliness, the fact that she can't second-guess him, and that he seems to exist in a universe far and above other people.

Okay, that's the end of my Twi-defence. Your summaries are cracking me up (I'm writing this as I'm reading it).

PS - for anyone who was convinced by my apparent Twi-loving: like most good things, it was faked. Sorry guys.

PPS - have you seen this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZwM3GvaTRM&feature=player_embedded So funny. I've watched it at least 5 times.

Saya said...

(oops, sorry about the accidental double-post - delete this one, too, as I'm just apologising XD)

Zoë Marriott said...

That's okay, I forgive you.

Re: Bella - I get what you're saying, but if that's the effect Smeyer was aiming for, she didn't get it right. *I* have never fitted into the world like I was expected to either. As a teen I was incredibly isolated within my age group and didn't get on with my family at all - but I still had interests, passions, thoughts and dreams. I still relied on my family's support. I still loved my dog. No human being can possibly BE as unconnected as Bella is, unless they suffer from a mental disorder.

It would have been more to the point to try and show *why* Bella was unable to form any human connections, or at least the consequences in her day-to-day life, because I would have expected her behaviour to result in strong peer rejection and bullying, instead of near-adulation from everyone she meets. But since Smeyer has frequently been heard to say that the whole series is supposed to be about choice and sacrifice, it would have been a lot more satisfying and powerful if she had made Bella an actual human, with a real life to sacrifice, instead of a one dimensional author insert.

Having said that: at least Twilight isn't as bad as Evermore by Alison Noel. She and I were on an internet ReaderGirlz chat together once and I tried to read it for that - I couldn't even finish it.

Zoë Marriott said...

P.S. Those Twilight summaries aren't mine! They're from the LJ of Cleolinda Jones. You can get to her blog through that link - she's hilarious.

Saya said...

Wait, what, I've read her summaries and clearly I forgot - although now I'm confused...ohhhh wait, I've re-read your post. What I meant is I was cracking up at *your* descriptions.

I have a philosophy about books (very occasionally derailed) that a book is Canon. What the author says happened, happened. Now, whether the author has interpreted said happenings correctly or not is always open for debate, but the events themselves are gospel. I thnk Smeyer did a lot of really rubbish interpreting, and were I to write a book with the same events, sorry, but I'd make a better job of that interpretation. Maybe it didn't read as badly as it could have for me, because I went through it mentally correcting it all (the same reason I've been able to tolerate any Harry Potter films).

I guess I also forgive it to some extent because the author never meant it to be taken seriously - it was a purely self-indulgent write. That said, I have a violent dislike for the nature of the fandom, the strange paranormal-is-glamorous movement that it's begun, and also I resent greatly the disenfranchisement of this domain of fiction - taken away from the geeks and fangirls of old, repackaged and fed to brainless people/teenage girls.

In the end, the experience of reading a book is a combination of the book, yes, and also what you bring to it as a reader. If we ever have a tea and cakes summit, I have a story for you :D

Ohhh Evermore. I did actually read them all, in a weirdly compulsive way but argh I wanted to murder all of the characters ESPECIALLY EVER. Somewhere, I read someone calling it 'just boring', and it suddenly struck me that it was. Seriously, I don't even know why I read a lot of books sometimes. I'm sticking to my good, reliable fantasy for a while.

Saya said...

PS did you watch the two YouTube videos I linked?

Zoë Marriott said...

Ooh, yes I did! The Melina one is *hi-lol-rious*! I love the fact that this obviously really smart, articulate, well-read young lady is practically frothing at the mouth and barely able to speak with outrage. Melina: I FEEL YOUR PAIN. SMeyer turns around and casts aspersions on Elizabeth and Darcy? What is she, *clinically insane*?! Gnrh!

I've seen the 'And then Buffy staked Edward. Then End' one before, but it's definitely worth a re-watch. God, I loved that show. Now THAT was a tortured angsty romance worth sighing over.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh, you wonderful, wonderful woman you! bloody oaf, you got it in one! thank god someone finally has said it and said it wonderfully!!! Twilight is a farce, a book full of insecure characters that drive me up the wall! First book I read, okay that was sweet, in a sense until you read it for the forth time and everything starts coming together and you discover the underline problems. Bella, frankly is a pain in the ass who never discovers that SHE is responsible for her OWN happiness, while the books focus on the nit-wits problem of finding love, losing love, finding a replacement love, losing the replacement love and replacing it with the former controlling love.. well if that is love, I don't want a frecken bar of it. jumping off a frecken cliff for a man, is she insane. why yes, I think she is. man. what a waste of paper, i feel sorry for the trees that were cut down for such lameness.

and don't even get me started on breaking dawn. A vampire CANNOT have children. his swimmers are dead, he is a vampire, he is dead, his swimmers are ancient and DEAD! that annoys the ants of me. grr.

YES SOME SHOULD STAKE EDWARD, honestly, give us a break from such far fetched delusions. obviously he stole every glitter source in the world. oh yes, i always knew he was very self involved.

Apparently there is a comedy coming out called Vampires suck I think, bags the shit out of the twilight saga. I think it will be a very good movie.


P.s. ' Looks around wilding before quickly raising her hands,up in front of her' "Don't shoot" Any Twilight Lovers, I mean no offence to you, to the book, well that is a whole different kettle of fish.


The only exception to the whole twilight saga is fanfiction. some of those stories are so good, they could cause the published books to go up in flames. and if i had to chose, fanfiction makes jake and sam my favourite hotties to drool over. yes, i said it. but don't get me wrong. The Published books by Smeyer, no no no, but FANFICTION, YES YES YES!




And to Zoe! you woman. I may not know you but I love you. in a platonic way of course, don't be afraid, i can already see your what the hell expression. Your books are wonderful, I read the swan kingdom and than the daughters flame almost three years ago now, well okay, okay, maybe i have re-visited them a few, well more than a few times over the years but hey saying three years makes it somehow more woahing per say. and I still love the journey they take me on. I eagerly await your next books =D

Peace OUT,

Jess =D

Zoë Marriott said...

Ha ha, Jess - thank you for your enthusiasm. It's much appreciated.

Emma Heuchert said...

Love your comparison to Howl's Moving Castle! In that book, or the two sequels, Sophie starts describing her Husband, Howl, to someone, and basically saying he's vain, lazy, and a coward. The other person is confused at her dissing him, and she says something like "what, no! those are the GOOD things!" (note: I haven't read the books in a while, paraphrasing here!)

This is one of my favorite parts, 'cuz she loves him despite the fact that he's not at all perfect.

Oh, and I agree with the rest of the stuff too =D

Zoë Marriott said...

Emma: Heh - that's one of my favourite bits of Castle in the Air, which is the first sequel. She's describing him to Abdullah, who says 'My condolances', or something like that and she says, 'What do you mean? I'm just *describing* him!'

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