Brain Post – Book Review – Eight Questions of “Twilight”
Stephanie Meyer’s teen vampire romance saga seems to provoke impassioned responses, from deep-seated devotion to out-right hatred. That being said, this review is going to be different from others I’ve done. Rather than just review the series, I decided to go a little deeper and share my thoughts about the characters, writing, and themes. These are all my opinions so you’re free to disagree but should you decide to comment, please be polite.
1. Who are your favorite characters? – Some of the most interesting characters in the series are the Cullens, Hales, and Blacks. I thought all of Edward’s “siblings” were well developed as far as supporting cast members could be and I appreciated their individual and memorable quirks. The Cullens and Hales’ personalities mesh and their overall dynamic is believable. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite among them but if I had to, I’d go with Alice for personality and a higher likability factor. Likewise, Jacob’s family also possesses a good makeup but Jacob is the standout and it’s easy to sympathize with him. I’ll also add that the addition of the Volturi was interesting and added needed conflict and suspense. They do come across as typical bad guys but they’re worth a quick mention for being a good plot device.
2. Who are your least favorite characters? – The high school chums and Charlie Swan are derived from stock character territory, which is fine for a single character that shows up once or twice but not really okay for frequent characters. The high school friends are throwaways and I don’t think any of them are developed past their trope figures. Even Charlie, Bella’s father, seems insipid and the only memorable aspects given to him are that he likes to fish and watch baseball. But even these pursuits feel stereotypical.
Primarily, I dislike Bella because she could have been made more interesting. I would expect her to emerge strong and command the book, but unfortunately Bella recedes into the background, which is a bit odd for a novel’s principle narrator. She lacks any uniqueness that makes her stand out and becomes too much of an “everyman” character, a figure anyone can relate to. True, characters need to be relatable but Bella seems too commonplace. Similarly, she doesn’t possess any striking traits other than she’s clumsy. To be fair, inadvertent clumsiness can elicit reader sympathy but it quickly becomes tiresome. This happens to Bella quite often. We’re reminded many times of how clumsy she is and how plain she thinks she looks. Okay, we get it – she’s ordinary and a klutz. But a leading character has to be more dynamic. Take Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, another teen series. She possesses a determined spirit, sharp wit, hunting abilities, and fierce loyalty. Those are all traits that make Katniss stand out. I think Bella could have worked as a lead character but she feels like she’s lacking something.
My other gripe with Bella is that she’s very flippant and immature. When faced with the choice between preserving or destroying her soul in becoming a vampire, she chooses the latter without much consideration. When deciding between staying friends with Jacob or running into the arms of Edward, she breaks Jacob’s heart (more than once, I might add). Bella also purposely puts herself in harm’s way so she can hear Edward’s voice in her head (in New Moon), which shows she possesses little to no executive decision making abilities. Likewise, she acts like a spoiled brat at times towards Jacob when the latter doesn’t do anything to deserve being treated as such. In Eclipse especially, Bella pits her two love interests against each other, which doesn’t seem fair. She treats Jacob terribly and sometimes manipulates Edward. The difference is that Edward calls her out for it but Jacob seems to take it. Perhaps all of this is to show Bella’s teenage immaturity but it works against her rather than for her. For the first time, at least for me, Bella finally gains a bit of color in Breaking Dawn as we see her uniqueness in adapting to and adopting the vampire lifestyle. Likewise, she turns out to be a good mother. Becoming a vampire certainly matures her and I made me wish it happened sooner! Overall, Bella had potential as a character but needed to be less of an “everyman” figure and display some degree of maturity.
3. Which Team are you on – Team Edward or Team Jacob? - I’d have to say both (and by that I don’t mean Team Switzerland!). The chief conflict in the series is Bella’s decision over which man she will choose but I found Edward and Jacob’s respective conflicts far more interesting. Edward knows Bella’s rash decision to become a vampire is what it is – rash. But under threat from the Volturi, Edward knows he has no choice but to change her and you can tell he’s not entirely thrilled about it. He acts more mature about it than Bella, seeing as he fully understands the agony involved. I also respect Edward as he strives to make good judgments. He treats Bella respectfully, is mindful of her well-being as well as Charlie’s, and is willing to wait for her sexually. Meyer avoided making him too perfect so Edward is relatable but no angel.
The same conflict arises within Jacob where he also cares for Bella, probably just as much as Edward, and doesn’t want to see Bella come to physical or emotional harm. He comes to her aid and defense many times, which proves he’s a loyal friend even though he never becomes Bella’s lover. Jacob also acts like a man in that he expresses irritation over Edward leaving Bella in an emotional pit (New Moon) and stands up for Bella when his own family wants to hunt down her child (Breaking Dawn). Jacob is admirable like Edward but has rougher edges. Plus, it’s hard not to sympathize with him when Bella seems to take his friendship for granted. So overall, I like both male leads but for different reasons.
4. What are some themes in the novels? – First and foremost, the Twilight saga encourages readers to “Look to the cookie!” (This is a “Seinfeld” reference, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_and_white_cookie). While the theme of racial harmony doesn’t ring loudly in the first two books, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn resonate with messages about putting aside differences to work towards a common goal. I liked the way Eclipse in particular tackles racism. Of course we’re not talking overt racism here but vampires and werewolves (okay, shape shifters) have a history of not getting along. For the sake of Bella, Jacob, Edward, and the others of their kind are willing to sit their differences aside. This doesn’t mean everything becomes perfect but it does show that people from different backgrounds can work together. It also explores how there are two sides to every story and in order to fully realize the truth, we have to be willing and wise enough to listen to both sides.
The other theme is consequence. Every act we commit or every omission of an act carries a consequence for good, bad, or all points in between. Naturally, every story reflects this because it is embedded in life itself. But the Twilight books make this plain through characters’ choices, especially Bella. Up until Breaking Dawn, the crux of the plot hinges on who Bella will choose as a love interest. If she chooses Edward, she will become a vampire and live in secret from the rest of the world and never die. If she chooses Jacob (which, of course, she does not), she will live life among the shape shifters and remain mortal. Everything depends on a solitary decision that carries life-impacting consequences. Sadly, Bella doesn’t seem to possess good decision-making skills and in many decisive moments her immaturity and impulsiveness are exposed. Granted, perhaps this is meant to depict how teenagers don’t always think everything through. But it seems to toe the line of suspension of disbelief that Bella so easily accepts what Edward is and her desire to become a vampire as well. To me, her attitude is a bit nonchalant but I digress.
The third theme is, of course, love and romance. While the romance is sped up for the sake of time, Bella and Edward do make a good couple though she does act very immature at times. Characters aside, the theme the saga depicts is that love is something worth dreaming of, fighting for, and working on. Edward has waited years for the right lady and it’s easy to cheer alongside him when he finally finds his long-awaited soul mate. Likewise, Edward is willing to fight for Bella and work through their rough patches. In the end, while the series doesn’t present an entirely realistic portrayal of love, it does reveal the strong thread of commitment every lasting relationship thrives on.
5. Is ‘Twilight’ fantasy literature? – I would label the Twilight saga as urban fantasy since it concerns itself with traditional characters from fantasy, namely vampires and werewolves, who possess unnatural (magical?) abilities but populate the contemporary world. True, these figures have also been employed in horror and purists would argue that vampires and werewolves belong to that genre since they are monsters by nature. I would agree to a point that the characters in Twilight are deviations from traditional legends. But while it’s fine to expand upon legendary characters, it is another matter to add to or disregard part of their original mythology. Unfortunately, Meyer does this through her variation on vampires. For example, the traditional reason why vampires avoid sunlight is that it will reduce them to ashes. But in the Twilight books this reason is for cosmetic purposes (in sunlight they sparkle and would draw attention to themselves). Again, in order for this to have worked, perhaps some sort of justification could have been made, such as sunlight is harmful to vampires who hunt humans but is merely an inconvenience to those who refrain from human blood. Similarly, all this time we’re led to believe that Jacob and his family are true werewolves; but as we find out later on, they’re actually shape shifters. I think this information could have been brought into play sooner since New Moon’s focus is on the Blacks and their tribe. When the revelation is made (or perhaps corrected, might be a better term) in the final installment, the reader does end up feeling a little cheated, wishing he or she would have known that earlier because there is a big difference between the werewolves from legend and shape shifting beings. Overall, Twilight is more like urban fantasy-lite where the characters’ mythology could have been more closely tied to traditional legends.
6. What about the writing and plotting – are they good or bad? - Plot-wise, Twilight by itself is slow-going and the only plot device is Bella’s fascination with Edward. New Moon is a little better but, once again, the pace doesn’t really pick up until past the book’s halfway point. The last two books are the strongest of the series in terms of pace and plot. Eclipse still has the Bella-Edward-Jacob love triangle but increases the overall internal tension by adding in the inevitable revenge of Victoria. Her looming threat is well-played and while the end is predictable, it still adds a good dash of tension and conflict the previous books in the series lacked.
The last book ends up being my favorite, oddly enough. Jacob gets the chance to serve as narrator for the novel’s midsection. Though I liked this, I felt this device should have been used sooner in the series. Otherwise, it does come across as a little jarring since all this time we’ve been used to Bella serving as our eyes and ears to the novel’s world. But some of the same problems plague this book, too. First, while Bella isn’t making off-the-cuff decisions as often, her father seems to accept her fate and the fact Jacob is a shape shifter a bit too easily. Instead of being utterly freaked out (a perfectly normal reaction), Charlie seems cool and okay with it. My major gripe comes with the confrontation with the Volturi near the end of the novel. It’s essentially built up to be a possible physical showdown but, instead, is simply exposition that ends rather peacefully. It’s dragged out and very anticlimactic, especially considering the Cullens enlisted help from other vampire covens around the world. There is no threat in these final moments and plays out too safe. Again, to reference The Hunger Games and even the Harry Potter series, principle characters die and are put in genuine danger. Yet each and every one of the good guys and gals in Twilight make it out unscathed. Killing off or endangering one or more of the Cullens or even Bella’s parents would have upped Breaking Dawn’s ante.
Overall, the series’ writing is simple and direct, mirroring Bella’s youthful tone. Sometimes it can be dry and repetitive and there are no moments of standout prose. The writing mainly works as a vehicle to move the story along but nothing really wows the reader. I wouldn’t say it’s poorly written but I feel even the Harry Potter series makes better use of a more mature style in terms of description, delivery, and even vocabulary. Twilight works but it’s not a master of words.
7. Is Edward a stalker? Could these books give girls wrong ideas about romance? – Some readers have purported that due to Edward’s intense protective behaviors towards Bella, he qualifies as a stalker. However, I disagree since a stalker’s mentality is to possess his or her target with intent to control. Edward, on the other hand, acts this way because he wants to keep an eye on Bella. (A clumsy chick has to have somebody watching out for her!) My other defense would be that Edward is not Human; therefore, his actions will not be in line with typical Human behavior. To presume he is a stalker would be akin to labeling Hobbits as gluttons because they eat several meals a day. If a Human ate that often, we might call that person a glutton but a Hobbit is not a Human. Going back to Edward Cullen, since he is a vampire, his over-protective nature is simply in relation to the fact that he’s not Human.
Concerning romance, any romance book depicts a less than realistic view of love. Naturally, the time frame in which things occur is sped up for the sake of space. But young girls who may still be immature in their thinking (and adult women, for that matter) might assume real life love work the same way. Trouble can arise when ladies (and gents) rush into things. Likewise, books often portray relationship dynamics as such – girl likes boy, boy acts like he can’t stand girl, girl realizes boy annoys her, boy and girl end up together. It’s the classic opposites attract philosophy that doesn’t hold weight in real life. That’s not to say that two people who fall in love are 100% identical but if two people are too polar, they won’t get along.
8. Should young girls read the ‘Twilight’ books? – My best advice is know the age and maturity level of the young ladies in your life who want to delve into Bella, Edward, and Jacob’s world. To be fair, I don’t think Twilight is suitable for ages under thirteen for thematic material and the fact that, honestly, girls at that age don’t need to be thinking about romance. As far as older teens go, it depends on how much you think they can take regarding some of the topics the series covers and the way it deals with them. It might be true that some fourteen-year-olds are more mature than sixteen-year-olds when it comes to the books. But only you can be the judge of that.
My general consensus of the Twilight series is that it’s good – not great but not terrible. Some good points in its favor are that it does take a different approach with vampire mythology though some liberties are a bit too liberal. While the chief protagonist is a bit insipid and flippant, some of the other characters come to the stories’ rescue. Plot-wise, the first two novels drag while the last two, though they’re the longest, manage to maintain a readable pace. Lastly, good themes of loyalty and love exist but immature reader could garner other messages, especially behind the lines of Bella’s rash and immature decisions.
Overall Score: Three Brains (out of Five). I like the Twilight saga but I don’t make it a point to read it every year. It’s an entertaining vampire series with good elements but definitely not in line to be the next fantasy epic. It’s fun and light but probably won’t be to everyone’s tastes though I would always encourage readers to check a book out for themselves to see if they like it and not just pay heed to the raves of fan girls or rants of haters.
Posted on February 1, 2013, in Analysis, Book review and tagged Bella Swan, Breaking Dawn, Eclipse, Edward Cullen, Jacob Black, New Moon, Stephenie Meyer, teen fiction, teen romance, Twilight, vampires, werewolves. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.