Thursday, May 15, 2008

Reflections on Twilight

As part of a recent research project (that is quickly becoming my dissertation), I read several popular books of young adult literature. One of these books was Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, it is about a girl (Bella) who moves to a small town in Washington and falls in love with a noble vampire. In later adventures, she has another suitor who is a werewolf. If this is hard for you to imagine, picture me trying to describe this book to my professors. By the time I get to the words “noble vampire,” I have completely lost them and they gaze at me with a combination of confusion and disbelief.

The book’s premise, in and of itself, isn’t horrible. It’s not particularly original (it doesn't really tackle anything that Buffy the Vampire Slayer hasn’t already addressed), but it isn’t the worst idea I have ever heard. I suppose a noble vampire is more interesting than, say, a prince or a jewel thief (both seen in Sweet Valley High). Also, the book, which is over 500 pages long, is compulsively readable and has become incredibly popular (the Twilight Saga has spent multiple weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list). A movie version is coming out later this year.

However, unlike the thousands of readers who breathlessly await Stephanie Meyer’s next book and passionately debate the merits of Bella’s two suitors, I just couldn’t get too immersed in the story. While I can understand and even appreciate people's enthusiasm for this book (which a colleague of mine called "Harry Potter for teenage girls"), I find it difficult to become fully immersed in the story.

It isn't that I have anything against teen angst or romance or noble vampires. My main complaint is with Bella. She gives the impression of being intelligent (she likes reading and does very well in school), and she seems nice enough. She isn’t too obsessed with fashion, which is a nice change from the relentless product placement found in the Gossip Girl books. Ms. Meyer goes to great lengths to explain that Bella isn't even unusually pretty (which I find a little hard to believe since every guy she encounters in her high school wants to date her). However, when it comes to Edward (the noble vampire in question), she reverts to being a stereotypical damsel in distress who runs around and requires rescuing on a regular basis. I understand that people in love tend to do crazy things, but Bella’s complete infatuation with Edward makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Even some of the characters in the Gossip Girl series have some outside interests that do not involve dating (I can't believe I just compared Gossip Girl favorably to something).

Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen in the other books in this series, Bella does not get any better. In the second book, Edward, fearing for Bella’s safety, leaves and she becomes depressed. This depression lasts for hundreds of pages, and Bella does incredibly stupid and dangerous things in an attempt to "feel" Edward's presence (it is a long story). While Breaking Dawn, which is coming out in August, is supposedly going to tell readers if Bella ends up with Edward or Jacob, perhaps what she really needs is a hobby (and a therapist).