Last week I talked about 50 Shades of Grey, the Twilight fanfic that is now a bestseller. I mentioned that I’m not a fan of the Twilight series, and I’ve been pondering why exactly that is. I love YA, and often enjoy genre stories. Vampire Diaries is one of my favourite TV shows. I also have a longstanding appreciation for soap operas in many formats. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures (I take pleasure any way it comes and feel no guilt!), and it’s not like I’m reading Chekov before bed. The trials and tribulations of teenage heroine Bella and bedazzled vamp Edward should have been right up my alley.
A friend recently had this to say about the series:
I think there must be crack in the pages of the original stories, because I actively loathed dour, whiny Bella and most of the plotlines, and the writing style, and pretty much the entire premise of the books, and yet could not put those books down while I was reading them. I have no explanation for why they absorbed me in so completely when I hated them so much.
I read the first book in a day or so. It was certainly a page turner and an easy read. But the more I thought about the book after, the more I disliked it. Edward was drawn to Bella not because of her personality or mind, but because she has super special blood that is catnip to vamps. Before long, he and Bella were declaring their everlasting love, although I couldn’t really figure out what exactly it was they loved about each other. Also, Edward sneaking into Bella’s room at night to watch her sleep was rather stalkery and creepy for my tastes.
I started to read the second installment and had to give up partway through because I just couldn’t stand the characters or their actions.
100 year old virgin
Then there’s the fact that Edward is 100 or so years old and is a virgin because he’s been waiting for the right girl. I suppose his ideals are supposed to make us swoon, but I just found myself spraining my eyes because I was rolling them so forcefully. Not that I would expect or want anything explicit in a YA novel, but really? He’s NEVER had sex in all those years of roaming the earth and being dreamy? (Because you should wait for marriage, kids! Even if you have to wait a century.)
“I’m not going anywhere near twenty”
So as I said, I gave up on reading the series because it just was not working for me and I wasn’t connecting to these characters. But of course through osmosis I’ve gleaned other details of the books over the years given how popular they are. I know Bella had a brief dalliance with werewolf Jacob, but that of course Edward is her true love. She barely gave a second thought to her own mortality (or to higher education or any other life goals other than being Mrs. Edward Cullen) and was an enthusiastic proponent of being turned into a vampire herself while still in high school.
While most people would perhaps take some time to mull over such a momentous decision, Bella was on a strict timeline: she wanted to be turned before she began to look older than Edward. Because OMG you guys! Like, she wouldn’t want people to think she was dating a younger guy or something! Ewwww! Bella in New Moon:
“No way. Nineteen I’ll do. But I’m not going anywhere near twenty. If you’re staying in your teens forever, then so am I.”
“He’s seventeen, Jacob. And I get closer to nineteen every day. Besides, what’s the point in waiting? He’s all I want. What else can I do?”
Closer to NINETEEN every day, people! I mean, once you’re twenty, you’re ancient! Yes, this is one of Bella’s primary concerns when deciding to end her life: not looking older than her man. Hey, we all have our priorities. (Sure, there’s the fact that she’s vulnerable as a human thanks to her super tasty blood, and something about the Volturi insisting she be changed, but appearing older than her beau is an ongoing issue.)
And of course, Edward is all she wants. Because we all want the same things we did when we were eighteen, right?
This whole imprinting business
In the final book, Breaking Dawn, Jacob the werewolf “imprints” on Bella and Edward’s infant daughter Renesmee. (Yes, her actual name is Renesmee – after their mothers Renne and Esme.) In Eclipse, before he imprinted on Renesmee himself, Jacob describes his friend Quil imprinting on a toddler:
“I’ve seen what it’s like, through his eyes. There’s nothing romantic about it at all, not for Quil, not now.” He took a deep breath, frustrated. “It’s so hard to describe. It’s not like love at first sight, really. It’s more like . . . gravity moves. When you see her, suddenly it’s not the earth holding you here anymore. She does. And nothing matters more than her. And you would do anything for her, be anything for her. . . . You become whatever she needs you to be, whether that’s a protector, or a lover, or a friend, or a brother.”
Ooookay. Disturbing much? (I’m so glad to hear it’s not like love at first sight with a TODDLER!) So again it’s not about this girl’s personality or mind – the werewolf just imprints on her for some unknown biological reason and she becomes his raison d’etre. So, does Renesmee get a choice in all this, or is she destined to end up with her mom’s sloppy seconds because he imprinted on her? (And do they ever imprint on boys? I’m going to guess no, since I doubt homosexuality exists in Stephenie Meyer’s world.)
Well, the imprintee becomes the centre of the imprinter’s universe and it seems although she technically has a choice,”…it’s hard to resist that kind of love and devotion.” Well, obsessive stalking did work wonders for Edward! Ah, the romance.
Now, being a human/vamp hybrid, Renesmee is aging rapidly and already mentally communicating and talking. When she is a little more than three months old (and appears to be 4 or 5 years old due to the rapid aging shizzle), Jacob gives her a “Quileute version of a promise ring” for Christmas. Because there’s nothing creepy about that! Clearly he’s just waiting until Renesmee’s old enough (and she’s already such a mature baby!) so he can start tapping that – after he marries her of course. (It would be wrong otherwise.)
Boys don’t make passes at girls who can’t have babies
From my friend J, who is my Twilight fact checker extraordinaire:
One of the aspects of imprinting that is pretty offensive but isn’t talked about much in the fandom is the Leah Clearwater situation. Every wolf who has ever phased [phased = turn into a wolf] is male except for Leah Clearwater. Why? Leah’s theory is that it’s because she’s infertile. The pack leader, Sam, was Leah’s boyfriend when he phased, but he didn’t imprint on Leah; he imprinted on her cousin Emily. Leah thinks it’s because she can’t have children.
After Sam dumped her, she phased into a wolf and her periods stopped. See, the men are meant to fight the wolf battles, and the women have the babies! If you can’t have a baby, the fates might as well have you phase so you’re not a complete waste of space. Of course, it’s never confirmed that this is true; it could also be that Leah’s body changed after she became a wolf. But Leah seems to believe she’s a “genetic dead end.”
Here’s a passage from Breaking Dawn from Jacob’s POV:
Of course I remembered Leah’s panic that first month after she joined the pack—and I remembered cringing away from it just like everyone else. Because she couldn’t be pregnant— not unless there was some really freaky religious immaculate crap going on. She hadn’t been with anyone since Sam. And then, when the weeks dragged on and nothing turned into more nothing, she’d realized that her body wasn’t following the normal patterns anymore. The horror—what was she now? Had her body changed because she’d become a werewolf?
Or had she become a werewolf because her body was wrong? The only female werewolf in the history of forever. Was that because she wasn’t as female as she should be?
None of us had wanted to deal with that breakdown. Obviously, it wasn’t like we could empathize.
I don’t even know where to start. Leah isn’t as female as she should be because she can’t have children? That’s so reductionist and insulting and enraging. Newsflash: some women not only don’t have children, but don’t want any! (I can imagine Stephenie Meyer clutching her pearls at the very notion.) I also note that Leah was “with” Sam before marriage, so I guess she’s a total whore and this is her cosmic punishment.
And hey, just because you can’t empathize doesn’t mean you can’t sympathize, Jacob! Sheesh. It’s not enough that Leah is a failure as a woman, but her menfolk are “cringing away” from her. Stay classy!
I could go on about the uninspired and clunky writing itself, but I can handwave uninspired writing if I connect with the characters and plot. But I can’t get over the misogyny and what I consider a very unhealthy vision of romance that involves stalking, imprinting and very little choice on the part of women. It sets my teeth on edge and doesn’t make for fun, escapist reading.
I sometimes have wondered if I was being too hard on the series since so many love it, but researching this post to put into words exactly why I dislike it so much has put my mind at ease. This notion of romance and womanhood just ain’t my thing.