twilight Book - Twilight Book Review

Jun 7 07:43 2010 Gen Wright Print This Article

I finally broke down and read Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer, over winter break this year.

Curiosity was my entire reason for reading it,Guest Posting but that curiosity came from several different sources. One was how the series as a whole has been touted as the next Harry Potter, and how there seemed to be a significant overlap in readership (but only among girls, I found out later). Since I love Harry Potter, reading the book thus made sense.

I was also curious about its popularity, and how many critics have said the plot is horrendously unhealthy and unrealistic (aside from the fact that it's about vampires) due to its negative portrayal of female sexuality. Additionally, I wanted to find out why some critics considered the series to have a pro-life message.

The series, written by Stephanie Meyer, covers several years in the life of Bella Swan, a girl of high-school age who gets involved with the underground world of vampires after meeting and falling in love with the vampire, Edward Cullen. The series covers their relationship from their first meeting to their wedding and the birth of their first child. It is narrated mostly in the first-person by Bella, and takes place mostly in the town of Forks, Washington - which actually has received significant attention and increased tourism due to the success of the books.

I will come clean right now about how much I've actually read. The series is made up of four books, and I read the first and skimmed the last, with a three-minute Wikipedia search to figure out the missing plot. I apparently missed some Romeo-and-Juliet-style suicide attempts and angst. My sister read the first two books, was told that the fourth, Breaking Dawn, was actually the third, and got several hundred pages in without noticing. Plus, I was the one who told her she was reading the wrong book.

My first source of curiosity about this series was sated about 50 pages into the first book: the series has only one thing in common with the Harry Potter books, and that's popularity. Any critic who thinks that Harry Potter readers will automatically love this series clearly has read neither. Ignoring any comments on plot, character development, or quality of the writing, the Harry Potter series is an epic adventure, while the Twilight series is, over anything else, a romance; hence its overwhelmingly female fan base.

With regard to plot, character development, and quality of writing, J.K. Rowling's series easily wins in each category. In case the fact that I skipped half of the Twilight series didn't give it away, I did not enjoy reading these books. The main difficulty I had with them was that I disliked the person who narrates the books. The girl has very few redeeming qualities. Normally, self-deprecation in a heroine works well at keeping the character real, but all that Bella's self-deprecation does is to keep her annoying.

She has very little self-esteem, even after causing the most handsome and mysterious boy in school to fall in love with her. However, you don't feel sorry for her; you just want her to shut up. Her defining character trait (her only character trait without Edward) is her clumsiness, which is ridiculous: Meyer might as well have tried to define someone only by a speech impediment. She exists as a person only through her relationship with Edward. Trying to decide what Bella was going to do with her life if she hadn't met him is a difficult and pathetic task, since she shows no real interest in any subject or activity, or even any interest in her "friends." If you're not a member of the gorgeous undead, Bella Swan wants nothing to do with you.

But Bella's lack of personality is only part of why any remotely feminist critic would dislike this series. For some background information, Edward's family, by definition, is a set of "vegetarian" vampires: they only feed on animal blood, not that of humans. Therefore, just being near Bella, whose blood is referenced as Edward's "brand of heroin," is a huge challenge for him. It's made even more difficult by the fact that Bella really wants him to bite her and turn her into a vampire, even encouraging him constantly to do so. The reader is led to believe that his resistance to her temptation is noble and romantic.

The critics have a point, and there is a clear argument that Edward's desire for Bella's blood is a metaphor for any male's desire to sleep with his lover. Her own desires (and therefore female sexuality as a whole) are painted as impure.

What the feminist critics miss by focusing on the negative portrayal of female sexuality is just how inherently stupid Bella's plan is. She doesn't want to become a vampire to do all sorts of vampire things; she wants to do it so that she can be immortal like Edward and be with him forever, and in the process cut off every other aspect of her life. As a source for comparison, Edward was turned into a vampire in 1918 to "save" him from the Spanish Influenza, had no choice in the matter, and was an orphan at the time of his transformation. In other words, he was going to die if he had not transformed, and was utterly alone.

Bella, however, has parents, has friends (although they, too, are barely developed as characters), and is not actively dying. She pushes herself on Edward with the ultimate goal of being one part of a whole, and nothing else. (Cue the various "I can't live without you" suicide-plot variations of the second book.) This plan would be equally repulsive and idiotic if Edward and Bella's roles were switched: no one, male or female, should be living solely for the existence of another.

My third source of curiosity was answered in the final book. The reason for the apparent "pro-life message" in this series appears in that installment, when Bella becomes pregnant immediately after her wedding. The child is a half-vampire, half-human baby, who grows rapidly, meaning that it would be nearly impossible for Bella to carry the child and survive the pregnancy. Edward encourages her to abort the fetus, but Bella refuses, stating she feels a connection to her child.

This is all well and good, and is a somewhat legitimate pro-life plot point. However, it is during the delivery that it all goes wrong. Bella's labor is long, painful, and gruesome; it nearly kills her; and she is ultimately saved only by being transformed into a vampire. Meyer's description of this childbirth is horrendously overblown, turning the miracle of life into a bloodbath.

The worst part of this supposed "pro-life" message is the way in which Meyer (through Bella) ranks the life of the child over the life of the mother. This is a gross misinterpretation of what the pro-life movement actually stands for, as the idea of ranking the life of the unborn baby above that of the mother is one which the movement has been attempting to refute for decades. Meyer (hopefully unwittingly) adds significant fuel to the fire just by writing a few hundred pages about a mutant vampire baby.

Politics and plot quality aside - to be fair, I know why this series is so popular for teenage girls. My sister, who read the first book before me, explained it rather well. She said, "I completely understand why young girls like this book. Every teenage girl wants a gorgeous, mysterious boy to fall in love with her for no reason, and then risk his life to protect her." She's completely right, and the series serves the purpose of romance novels very well.

Therefore, I can only hope that the girls who read this story see it as just a story, and don't begin to make their moral and political decisions based on anything Meyer writes.

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Gen Wright
Gen Wright

This Twilight Review was written by Sharon J. Wright. Her writings appear in the Brown Spectator one of Americas premier Conservative Magazines.

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