It's funny that, as we go along, Steph Meyer herself seems to state (often via exposition) exactly what bothers me about her storyline. A few examples:
--Bella herself, in the process of bemoaning all the people who want to sit near her in school, describes her newfound popularity as "inexplicable." --When Edward's been ignoring her, Bella is herself frustrated by how much this affects her. "I couldn't allow him to have this level of influence over me. It was pathetic. More than pathetic, it was unhealthy." Yes. --Much of Edward's appeal (that isn't physical) is that of the "bad boy."
"'What if I'm not a superhero? What if I'm the bad guy?' He smiled playfully, but his eyes were impenetrable. ...'You're dangerous?' I guessed, my pulse quickening as I intuitively realized the truth of my own words. He was dangerous. He'd been trying to tell me that all along... 'But not bad,' I whispered, shaking my head. 'No, I don't believe that you're bad.' 'You're wrong.' His voice was almost inaudible..."
First Contention: Major Character Flaws
Not too much further in, Edward shows an almost bizarre disregard for Bella's own personal choices, when he insists on driving her home by physically dragging her over to his car.
"We were near the parking lot now. I veered left, toward my truck. Something caught my jacket, yanking me back. 'Where do you think you're going?' he asked, outraged. He was gripping a fistful of my jacket in one hand. I was confused. 'I'm going home.' 'Didn't you hear me promise to take you safely home? Do you think I'm going to let you drive in your condition?' His voice was still indignant. 'What condition? And what about my truck?' I complained. 'I'll have Alice drop it off after school.' He was towing me toward his car now, pulling me by my jacket. It was all I could do to keep from falling backward. He'd probably just drag me along anyway if I did. 'Let go!' I insisted. He ignored me... 'I am perfectly capable of driving myself home!' I stood by the car, fuming... I was mentally calculating any chances of reaching the truck before he could catch me. I had to admit, they weren't good. 'I'll just drag you back,' he threatened, guessing my plan.'"
I really don't know what to make of this scene. I can understand concern for her safety after she fainted in Biology class. I can even understand insisting on driving her home. What I can't fathom is grabbing her jacket and dragging her to your car, and this being okay. What I can't fathom is insisting on driving her home after she said "No" and "Let go."
Ladies, this is sexy?
Edward seems to constantly be doing this on a small scale. ("'I think you should eat something.' Edward's voice was low, but full of authority.""'What are you doing?' I asked. 'I'm taking you to dinner.' He smiled slightly, but his eyes were hard." "'Drink,' he ordered. I sipped my soda obediently...") It's just rather unsettling--it's like he totally disregards her will, and will override it with physical force she tries to do things her own way.
Another thing that doesn't sit right with me, is the characters of Bella's friends. For all Bella's sudden popularity, for all her friends sitting with her at the lunch table... very few of them seem to be real friends. The boys we hear the most about are Mike, Eric, and Tyler: all three of them seem only to be her "friends" because they're interested in her romantically/sexually. (The first two she unflatteringly compares to Golden Retrievers; the latter seems to be something of a jerk.) Of the girls she hangs with, she commented that she "suspected Jessica enjoyed my inexplicable popularity more than my actual company." And Lauren is described as catty, jealous that Bella talked with a Cullen, constantly making snide remarks.
It's normal for a new kid to a school to not have friends. What bothers me is that, in this story, in this world, everyone so far who's wanted to be Bella's "friend" really wants something from her. No-one seems to be her friend for the sake of friendship. And, for that matter, Bella seems to find them all a nuisance, and doesn't seem to particularly care about any of them (except, of course, for Edward). We never hear her talk or think about any of her friends from Phoenix, either. Again, much like her lack of hobbies or interests, this has a very isolating effect on the character.
I can't say I'm thrilled by Bella's flirting-as-a-way-to-get-more-information-on-Edward that she uses on Jacob, when they meet. (Later, she even admits that she "used" him.) But then, I'm male, and I've never had patience for mind games, or being used. I like to talk honestly and openly with people.
Second Contention: Folklore Abuse
And, here we go:
"You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf--well, not the wolf, really, but the wolves that turn into men. You would call them werewolves."
Ugh. I know this is something of a trope at this point, popularized by the Underworld series and Van Helsing, but really its roots trace back no farther than Dracula vs. Wolfman in the '40s. Werewolves and vampires, natural enemies? Not really. They're in entirely different categories: in the medieval legends a werewolf was either someone cursed by a demonic power, or someone who had bargained with a demonic power to get that ability on purpose. A vampire, however, was someone who was so evil in life, or had committed suicide, or who had died and laid in unhallowed ground, and whose corpse comes back as a soulless fiend after death. (The idea of vampirism being contracted, like a disease, originated with Dracula, but did not exist before that.) The only distinction, half the time, between vampires and werewolves is that one is dead, the other is still alive; one is a corpse, the other still breathes. A werewolf could even become a vampire after he or she died.
Now I know that Jacob and his ilk aren't true werewolves (Lycanthropes), but rather skinwalkers (Therianthropes). This, however, doesn't really fix the issue, as there are very few Native American vampire legends. Once again, the idea of this "natural emnity" is cringe-worthy, at least for a lover of folklore.
The abuse of mythology continues in the next chapter, when Bella begins doing research on vampires. It starts out surprisingly good, very accurate: "It seemed that most vampire myths centered around beautiful women as demons and children as victims; they also seemed like constructs created to explain away the high mortality rate for young children, and to give men an excuse for infidelity." That is a spot-on description of the oldest vampire myths, of Lilith and her children. Meyer mentions a few cultural vampire myths--the Filipino, the Polish, the Hebrew.
She loses, though by identifying the "Stregoni benfici" as the "good vampire," the human-friendly vampire. (Presumably referring to Carlisle?) The nearest I can figure is that this is a garbled explanation of the war between the Benandante and Stregeria--between supposed "good witches," fertility witches, who defended the crops of the peasants, and the evil Satanic witches who would try to spoil the harvest. "Stregoni" refers to witchcraft, not to vampires. (Nowadays you'll find several websites listing the stregoni benfici among vampire folklore, but if you notice, the entry always quotes straight from Twilight.)
By this point we're well aware that Edward's a vampire. Even Bella's aware of it now. She's aware that he could, you know, eat her. But the thought of avoiding him, or staying away from him, well--when she considers that possibility, she says, "I was gripped in a sudden agony of despair..." Which is similar to her miserableness back when he made a face at her, and she didn't even know him. All because he's really hot. (Excuse me, "carved in marble," with "perfect hair.")
Sounds like Dan Brown meets Mary Shelley meets average romance writer. I haven't read any Twilight. My kids have and think it's horrible. Shimmering vampires? Come on; someone watched too much My Little Pony. Psycho pedophile irresistibly attractive? Please!
I may have to dig up the link to that blog post using Edward as an example for domestic abuse awareness. (In a sentence, "If your boyfriend acts like Edward Cullen, here's a hotline for you to call.") Meanwhile, "werewolves that turn into vampires" is giving me way too many ideas for my next story...
@Saakara - Well, it's a slight but crucial difference. A skinwalker's ability could be the ability to change into one of a number of types of animals (Raven, Salmon, Eagle, Bear), but the skinwalkers in these books just happens to turn into wolves. In other words, it's luck of the draw, ancestry, or some kind of totem allegiance that a skinwalker becomes a wolf and not, say, an otter. (There are even skinwalkers that can change into any animal they want, rather than being limited to just one, though this tends to be a divine trait.)
Werewolves, well, it's wolf-specific. And it's often either a externally-imposed curse or a self-inflicted trait--it's rarely because they're "brother to the wolves" the way a wolf-form skinwalker might consider himself. Also, in the Twilight book series' mythos, the "true werewolf" is forced to change by the phase of the moon, and does not retain intelligence or personality during the change; a wolf-form skinwalker can change at will, and retains their mind while in their animal form.
I am so putting off what I really should be doing, which is A) writing a grammar test, B) writing a social studies test C) figure out what I'm doing for 7th grade Lit tomorrow and D) writing some lesson plans.
I would much rather spazz out about the blood splatter, which is why I keep doing it.
@sonnetjoy - The BBC would like to apologize to everyone in the world for that last item. It was disgusting and bad and thoroughly disobedient and please don't bother to phone up, because we know it was very tasteless, but they didn't really mean it and they do all come from broken homes and have very unhappy personal lives, especially Eric. Anyway, they're really very nice people underneath and very warm in the traditional show business way and please don't write in either because the BBC is going through a rather unhappy phase at the moment, what with its Father dying and the mortgage and BBC-2 going out with men....
I am really enjoying your commentary on the books so far - spot-on and very worthy critiques.
As we're talking about folklore, I thought I'd share a point of interest with you - I read an interview with Stephenie Meyer wherein she stated that she did absolutely no research on vampires except when Bella did, because she didn't want the research about vampires to mess with her vision of what vampires were.
I haven't read the books and don't plan to. My condolences on your challenge! You've only left out one reference: Dark Shadows. I may be the only one here who is old enough to remember the series. I was 8 or 9 when a childhood friend introduced me to it. It was pretty scarry, and my mother didn't let me watch it. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059978/
The main character was Barnabus Collins. ....Collins....Cullen.... I don't think it's coincidental. Ms. Meyer's target market is middle and high school aged girls, with the hope of drawing in mothers and *cough* grandmothers with the name similarity.
As for the vampire vs. werewolf thing, I gotta say -- I just watched Rise of the Lycans and REALLY enjoyed it, including the nobility/serfdom angle explored between the races. Imma let you finish, I'm just sayin'.