Archive for August 23rd, 2008

August 23, 2008

Mary-Sue and the incandescent vampires

I’ve been aware of the existence of Twilight for a while now. First as a vampire book with shiny fruit on the cover, then as the Cedric Diggory movie, mostly (I suspect I am now middle-aged) as Something Teenagers Did. As a result I’ve been feeling rather guilty about not having read it, even after well wishers such as Roswitha (who described it as “a world of pain”) warned me against it. I read it anyway. There are many things I could say about this book; some of them are even vaguely complimentary. But then:

He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare.

Anyway. Some thoughts.

  • Good things first, since I’m nice. It was somewhat refreshing to know (in great detail) what the male protagonist of this book looked like and only have the haziest idea of what the female protagonist was like. I suppose not hearing too much about her looks was expected, since she was the narrator (and since Twilight is better than a lot of bad fanfiction, I’ll give it that) , but it’s just nice to have the girl being the one doing the looking and wanting. And having the uncontrollable sexual urges (though at some point in history this was the idea, right? Women couldn’t control their insane sexual desire?) and having the responsibility for stopping sex be on the man. Though I’m not sure how valid this is as praise for the book, since the negative consequences of sex (were it to happen) would be almost entirely to Bella.
  • Bint Alshamsha said over Twitter a few days ago that her daughter really loved seeing Native Americans portrayed as something other than drunks, killers, and the like. I am horrendously ignorant about most non-fantasy American YA literature, so she’s far more likely to be right about this. But while I haven’t read Meyer’s other books, plot summaries I have read have the NA characters doing some things that do cause a bit of a squick reaction. This whole “imprinting” thing, for those of you who have read the books. Still, I’m really pleased that in the movies these roles are going to be played by actual NA actors. Movies are sometimes awful about that sort of thing.
  • And on to less good things. For starters, this is an entire book about people not having sex. I’m not suggesting that not having sex is a bad thing. I myself often indulge in not having sex. But it really doesn’t make for a great plot. Scene One: Bella and Sparkles Edward are not having sex at school. Scene Two: Bella and Edward are not having sex in her house. Scene Three: Bella and Edward are not having sex in a forest. And so on. Around scene twelve another, less attractive vampire wants to kill Bella, but by scene fourteen everything is resolved and Bella and Edward are not having sex at the prom.
  • Edward the vampire cannot go out in bright daylight because he sparkles. When I first saw people talking about this book, I thought talking about Edward’s sparkliness was a mere metaphor for how fanficcish the characters in this book are. Nope, he actually sparkles.
  • Everyone is beautiful. Our narrator Bella thinks she’s unattractive, but she isn’t. She doesn’t even have a subtle, special beauty that only the hero can see. The minute she arrives at her new school, every male in sight asks her out. The vampire family all seem to have unearthly beauty as well, though we’re never told whether this is something they developed at birth or at conversion to vampiredom. The mere mortals at Bella’s school have bad hair (two of them, I think) or have pimples (geeky Asian boy who asks Bella out). One character pleased me by not caring if her boyfriend was shorter than her (and choosing to wear high heels anyway), and that was a positive moment. But obviously Edward had to be tall, or what would be the point?
  • Twilight has the most obvious Mary Sue I have ever read in a published work of fiction.
  • Actually, Niall at the Vector Editors blog pretty much sums up what I dislike most about Meyer’s writing in his review of The Host:
    The Host, you see, is a novel in which everything is special. It is not enough, for example, that humans be sufficiently willful that they are hard to subdue, and sufficiently emotionally intense that occupation be disorientating for the souls; they must be the most willful species the souls have ever encountered, and their emotional reactions must be the most emotionally intense the souls have ever encountered, such that Wanderer (the narrator) is driven to wonder how any soul could survive in a human host. (And this is not to mention humanity’s “physical drives”, the like of which the souls have never seen, although in fact Meyer does a very good job of not mentioning them for most of her book’s six hundred-plus pages.) Nor can the narrative simply be the story of a soul and a host wrestling for control of a body: it must be the story of an extraordinary soul, who has lived many lives on many worlds, and an equally extraordinary host, so secure in her identity that, one soul asserts, she would have “crushed” any soul other than Wanderer in days.

  • An observation: As I write this, a facebook group titled “Because I read Twilight I have unrealisteic expectations in men” (sic) has 59, 358 members. I’m sure some of the people on it do not in fact have unrealistic expectations in men (or possibly do expect men to behave in this way, see that it is horrific and are now celibate*. or have embraced political lesbianism.), but there’s still the possibility that 59,358 young women are currently fantasising about meeting a moody, obsessive stalker who is cold and clammy and intrusive, and who refuses to have sex with them. I find this alarming.
  • But seriously. What passes for a romantic relationship in Twilight is really very unpleasant. I suspect I was exactly the sort of kid who would have been receptive to some of the more warped ideas.
  • Bella’s clumsiness. I suspect this is meant to be endearing in the aww, look at Bella! She’s so smart and everyone loves her so much, but she can’t do anything without falling over! way. How it actually plays out is to make her too useless to rescue herself from any situation. (She cannot run away from men who plan to rape her because she will fall over). She is constantly being rescued. Edward’s scintillating arms lift her out of danger; his incandescent chest is hers to lean against. Plus (SPOILER, do not read if you care!) she ends the series a married teenage mother who has given her baby to her best friend. Said best friend has chosen this baby as his future mate. Charming.

For more (if you haven’t had enough or are actually interested), Cleolinda’s Twilight page is a morass of sparkly hilarity. Elizabeth Hand‘s WaPo review is also excellent.

* You’ve ruined sex for me!