Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Into the Twilight Zone

Article by Guest Reviewer, Samantha Tonge.

I first entered the Twilight Zone three weeks ago, when my husband went away on business. It was a long time coming. For a year or two my early teen daughter has been pushing me to read Stephenie Meyer’s series of books. Unlike many of her friends who have simply fallen in love with Robert Pattinson, my daughter had for a long time enjoyed a deep passion for these books, which she has read, re-read and re-read once more. And this was before the first film came out.

And yet I simply dismissed it all as the latest teenage fad.

Anyway, back to that Saturday night, me alone in the lounge, drumming my fingers, watching digital dross. Not expecting to be overly impressed, I reached for the Twilight DVD, loaded the player and settled back with a snack and purring cat. Two hours later, just past the witching hour, I was hooked.

Talk about the ultimate romantic hero! For those of you who, like me previously, know very little of the plot, it centres on Edward Cullen, a one hundred and nine year old vampire, helplessly pulled towards the scent of new girl in town, Bella. Boy, would he love to suck her blood – but he can’t. Not only is he a ‘vegetarian vampire’ (he and his family strive not to feed off humans), he has fallen in love. Cue pages of burning desire, held in check by his fear of harming Bella.

And that’s the core of the story – embellished with werewolves and clans of less human-friendly vampires.

Having just seen the film, I skipped reading Twilight and moved straight onto New Moon. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Would Bella ever see Edward once again (he leaves for what he considers to be her own good)? Would the Volturi (ruling vampire clan in Italy) make Edward one of them?

And now I am on the next in the series, Eclipse. And once more I find myself rushing towards its climax – will Victoria, a vampire seeking revenge against Edward, kill Bella? Or will the werewolves and vegetarian vampires, now working side by side, manage to destroy her and the reckless clan of newborn vampires she has formed? And will the Volturi hold Bella to her promise of becoming a vampire (that was part of the deal in letting Edward go earlier – um, read the books for more detail)?

I think the key to Meyer’s success is the page turnability factor. Not only does each book have its climax, and its questions, which drive you to get to the end as fast as possible – the whole series of books are pointing to the same bigger questions. Will Bella really become a vampire and live forever with Edward? Or will she give up her dream of immortality and settle for a life with Jacob, her other admirer, one of the werewolves?

Yet, Meyer has had more than her fair share of detractors. One common criticism is that Bella is a classically submissive female character, protected by the dominant hero. Not a good role model, supposedly, for our young girls. Yet when I explained this to my daughter – and we have had previous conversations about the feminist movement and the quest for equality and what life used to be like for women – she just looked at me a bit puzzled and said: “But Bella doesn’t like all that protective stuff.”

Another criticism is that there is nothing special about Bella, therefore why is she so attractive to vampire Edward, to werewolf Jacob, to high-school student Mike? My answer to that? One word: chemistry. Look back over your life, at the loves and crushes you’ve had. Unless you are super-human, several of them, you shall see, in retrospect, weren’t ‘all that’. And Bella does have attractive qualities. She cares deeply for her father, Edward and Jacob, she is stubborn, in a good way, courageous (if not a little reckless) and a bit of a loner – she’s happy not to follow the crowd. Surely this is a positive message (yes, I know, even if not following the crowd means hanging out with vampires).

The quality of writing has also received acidic comments from various blogs – apparently she uses the verb ‘to be’ too often, her sentence structure is confusing, her characters unbelievable and the book is littered with grammatical and editing errors. Can’t say I’ve spotted one – but then the writing half of my brain switches off, when I am utterly engrossed in a story. Even Stephen King added his pennyworth:

Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people… The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.

But then King recalls that when his mom was alive, she read all the Erle Stanley Gardner books, the Perry Mason mysteries, obsessively when he was growing up. “He was a terrible writer, too, but he was very successful,” King says.

Somebody who’s a terrific writer who’s been very, very successful is Jodi Picoult. You’ve got Dean Koontz, who can write like hell. And then sometimes he’s just awful. It varies. James Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very very successful. People are attracted by the stories, by the pace and in the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.

(Posted by Brain Truitt on The Who’s News Blog).

Valid points, indeed. Meyer may not be the most talented of prose-writers, but boy can she tell an entertaining story that thrills and moves your average teenage girl who isn’t quite ready for the more graphic descriptions of adult romantic novels.

I’m not saying the books are perfect. In fact there have been several pages in Eclipse I’ve skipped over where the legends of the werewolves were explained in painfully (for me) minute detail. But I am prepared to overlook the flaws as I love Meyer as an original storyteller. Where else will you find vampires that don’t attack humans? Werewolves that aren’t, stereotypically, ruled by the full moon?

So, don’t listen to the derogatory hoo ha. Buy the books, put on your teenage hat, and decide for yourself. You may hate them and bolt at the first chapter; you may find it impossible to ignore the technical faults; or, like me, you may suddenly understand what all the fuss is about and, for one second, be reminded of the irrational, egotistical, thrilling, intense rollercoaster of being a teenager in love.

Samantha Tonge is a writer of Women’s Fiction and is currently submitting her time-slip, romantic comedy, Lunch Date with a Tomb Robber. She administrates and writes for the team blog, Strictly Writing.

25 comments on “Into the Twilight Zone

  1. Sam
    December 11, 2009

    Just to update, I have now almost finished Breaking Dawn. My God! What a bundle of suprises there, I would never have guessed how the plot was going to turn… I shall be sorry to finish the series and hope Meyer, as she has hinted, eventually writes a 5th book.

  2. CarolineG
    December 11, 2009

    Interesting post, Sam. I did enjoy the first couple but Bella’s soppiness [and I do think she is soppy. She may push against the paternalism of Edward, but she just complains and does nothing about it] drove me mad in the end.
    Also couldn;t get my head around all that ‘marble chest’ malarky. Sounds uncomfortable! I do think I’d have loved them when I was about 10 or 11 though…
    I’ve lost a bit of respect for Stephen King over those comments. No need to be so dismissive and nasty about her writing, even if he does go on to look at what she does well.

  3. Sam
    December 11, 2009

    I had another chat with my young teen daughter, Caroline, and she admitted that Bella could be irritating. However, ultimately, she felt Bella was weak on the surface but strong at the core, and therefore she liked her as a female character. And i can relate to that – i think many of us can dig deep when we have to.

    I wonder if one’s enjoyment of the books is also dependent on how much you like Romance. To me, the Twilight Series is, above all else, a love story, so for me, the idea of a protective hero is no bad thing. And, like i said in my article, i think readers ‘get’ that Bella grudgingly accepts rather than revels in all the protective stuff.

  4. hrileena
    December 11, 2009

    I read Twilight, but not the any of the others, so I can give you my opinion based only on that, though I have to say, I don’t think it would make much of a difference even if I slogged through the rest. You see, my dislike is rooted in the way that Ms. Meyer’s portrays her vampires, which is fundamental to the work as a whole, and hence, necessarily, fundamental to my ability to enjoy it as a reader. Obviously, this is a personal quirk, and no reflection on Ms. Meyer’s ability as a storyteller (on which I will only be able to decide if she ever writes anything not featuring her strange version of vampires).

    You ask in your review: “Where else will you find vampires that don’t attack humans?” But I don’t want to read about sparkling vegetarian vampires, I want my vampires to be suave, sexy and sinister. I want them to be vaguely dangerous, and then suddenly become downright terrifying. That’s why I don’t like the Twilight series — the truly transgressive elements of the vampire myth (or reality) have been thoroughly neutralised, to the point where I don’t see why the stories have to involve vampires at all.

    On Ms. Meyer’s prose: based on Twilight you have to admit that it’s not going to win any prizes. But that alone I could have lived with: Polidori’s writing is at least as problematic, but I enjoyed reading about the activities of Baron Ruhven in The Vampyre.

  5. Sam
    December 11, 2009

    I can understand your point, Hrileena, if you are a fan of traditional vampires. I’ve never been pulled to read about vampires before, yet what’s attracted me to Edward Cullen is the self-control he has to exert in order to stay close to Bella. It’s the ultimate sacrifice for a bloodsucker and i think this makes him a fantastic hero and, for me, and does make him sexy in a very attractive restrained, understated way.

    I suppose it’s whatever turns you on!

  6. Pen
    December 11, 2009

    I’ve never really read vampire books either before reading Twilight. I’m another grown-up fan of the books. And I agree, ultimately this is a love story and I think this is why so many people love it. The vampires and the shape shifter werewolves add the extra spice and the danger, but it is at its core a tale of impossible love that triumphs and grows stronger in spite of what’s thrown at it – true love.

  7. Gillian McDade
    December 11, 2009

    These are the key phrases – ‘when my husband went away on business’ and ‘Robert Pattinson’ 😉 I fell asleep watching the film. I just can’t seem to get into the whole Twilight thing, but each to their own!

  8. kirstyjane
    December 11, 2009

    “Where else will you find vampires that don’t attack humans? Werewolves that aren’t, stereotypically, ruled by the full moon?”

    In the Discworld? 😉

    Lovely review Sam – I have to say I don’t think I will ever find Twilight to be my cup of tea (I’m definitely in Eve’s camp on this one) but it was interesting to read another perspective.

  9. Sam
    December 11, 2009

    Nice to find a kindred spirit on here, Pen!

    LOL, Gillian, i don’t know what you mean!

    Ooh, i haven’t read any Terry Pratchett, kirstyjane! This is the first time, as i say, that i’ve read anything that remotely features fantasy or horror, it just hasn’t appealed before – maybe i need to explore the genre a bit more!

  10. Jovenus
    December 11, 2009

    I think you did the right thing Sam, to talk to your teenage daughter about the book. I don’t think Bella is a good role model, and was hoping that she choose sanguine Jason instead (which didn’t happen).

    I read all of them same time last year, and understand what all the fuss is about and, like you said, reminded of the irrational, egotistical, thrilling, intense rollercoaster of being a teenager in love. But it is safe for me to say this as a mother of two looking back at my teenage years, but I would be worried for the teenage girls who are reading these at their tender age.

    Brilliant review.

  11. Sam
    December 11, 2009

    Thanks, Jovenus.

    I must say i don’t think the books are suitable for under 11s, certainly under 10s.

    I was intrigued as to how my daughter felt about Bella and i think it is due to her maturity (12 years old) that she can recognize Bella’s weaknesses, but still admire and like her as a basically strong-minded female.

    I can forgive Bella choosing Edward as, like i said in the article, looking back at my past loves, i made some interesting choices!! i think as adults we sometimes forget the fickle, naive nature of youngsters ,and how we all have to make our own mistakes.

  12. SamRuddock
    December 11, 2009

    Really interesting post, Sam.

    I’m intrigued by the whole Twilight fad, but I don’t think it’s enough to dismiss it solely as a fad. Anything which gets so many people passionately excited about it has to have its qualities. Things don’t become so popular without reason.

    I’ve heard many intelligent a well read people wax lyrical about the books, particularly the representation of being a teenage girl, with Bella’s over dramatic reactions to everything, her obsessiveness. The people I know who like Twilight like it because they relate to it as reflective of a time in their lives.

    And for this I find it thoroughly interesting. I haven’t read the books, but I know I will at some point. The films were quite entertaining in a harmless sort of way, and I’ll happily see the future offerings. I’m quite a sucker for romance and do have a soft spot for Bella. It is her everyday-ness that I think makes her such a powerful character. She is vulnerable at times and yet has immense reserves of determination and strength.

    I should probably shut up now, as I haven’t read the books and don’t really know what I’m talking about. But good review. Sometimes I think critics are too quick to jump all over popular books without stopping to also consider their positives.

    Things don’t become popular without reason.

  13. The Literary Omnivore
    December 11, 2009

    I personally find the Twilight books harmless, if a bit silly- Breaking Dawn makes me giggle. If teenage girls want to read about sparkly vampires and romance, at least they’re reading. The only really offensive thing about Twilight, to me, is that Meyer’s werewolves can imprint on newborns, and any attempt to break an imprint bond goes terribly wrong for the imprintee (I believe one of the werewolves has a girlfriend whose face is torn up for that reason? I may be remembering incorrectly). It really grosses me out.

  14. Sam
    December 12, 2009

    Thanks for that, Sam. And you have summed up very eloquently why I and probably other Meyer fans like Bella so much. She isn’t stunning looking or particuarly witty or the most popular girl in school- so I think readers can relate to her.
    Meyer also makes her affair with the vampire seem like an everyday occurence and I think this makes older readers reflect on their youth and how fearless/naive we used to be, as well as vulnerable without realizing it. After all, Meyer is 33 and supposedly wrote this book for herself.

    Literary Ominvore, it’s not just teenagers who want to read about sparkly vampires and romance:)
    Yes, I felt uncomfortable witht he imprinting on babies, to begin with. Reminds me of my own book I am presently subbing, set in Ancient Egypt, where my MC got married to a 20 year old when she was 13. But i think Meyer – like i hope i have in my own work – transports the reader to the world she has created which makes it more acceptable.

    Thanks for the interesting comments everyone!

  15. Satsuma
    December 12, 2009

    I think that the fact that you were willing to skip Twilight because you’d seen the movie, though, says a lot about them as books.

    Also, I’m pretty sure the point of Bella, as a character, is for others to be able to insert themselves. She doesn’t see herself as exceptional (so you don’t have to), but everybody treats her like she is, so you get the by-proxy princess treatment reading the books.

    I do recognize the appeal– I just don’t feel it.

  16. Sam
    December 13, 2009

    Actually, SAtsuma, i am going to read Twilight when i’ve finished Breaking Dawn. The only reason i skipped it was because i was so keen to get to the next bit of the story!

  17. Novroz
    December 14, 2009

    I like your post 🙂

    You don’t go attacking Mr.King for his comment on Meyer. I don’t read Meyer’s works coz I’m not into any kind of romance. I am 100% Stephen King’s fans and it’s glad to see a blog owner who read Meyer’s but not attacking SK

  18. Sam
    December 14, 2009

    Thanks, Novroz!

    I am reading SK’s ‘On Writing’ at the mo, Novroz, and loving it! Very inspirational.

  19. Novroz
    December 14, 2009

    I haven’t read On Writing 😦 my reading on SK is depend on whatever books avaible in the bookstores. I’ll get it oneday…I’m sure of that 🙂

    I saw on writing once but it was translated…and I am not into translated books, I like reading it still in English.

  20. Fionnuala
    December 14, 2009

    Hi Sam,
    What a brilliant review!I have to confess I haven’t read the books – having only glanced at my daughter’s copy and decided to pass. But then she wanted to see the films and I went with her and ahem… loved them. Sssh. Don’t tell anyone. I have my reputation to consider.

  21. Sam
    December 14, 2009

    LOL, Fionnuala! Go on, read the books, i dare you:)

  22. twilight movie trailers
    December 28, 2009

    I have read all the books and loved them. But unlike the usual movie of the book franchise, the twilight saga on the screen, for me, lives up to the world Meyer created. Beautiful stars, stunning cinematics and a sound track that rocks (huge Muse fan). Loved it and can’t wait for eclipse. Guess i’ll just have to read the books again.

  23. cathi
    January 22, 2010

    I LOVE TWILIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  24. readinrobin
    February 1, 2010

    I know I’m late to the party here but am catching up on some posts! My older teen (now 19) absolutely loved this whole series, reading each book as soon as it came out. I intend to read them some day…

    Your daughter’s comment that Bella doesn’t like all that protective stuff gave me a little insight. My daughter has always gravitated towards books with a strong female heroine overcoming adversity, and I thought this seemed a little bit of a deviation for her.

    As for all the complaints of Meyer not being a good writer, sometimes that just doesn’t really matter when the story is good. An example that comes to my mind is Nicholas Sparks, he seems to be very popular and I don’t think he’s that great of a writer, but I read his books because he is a wonderful storyteller.

  25. Pingback: Romance with Bite – Guest Article by Samantha Tonge « Vulpes Libris

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This entry was posted on December 11, 2009 by in Fiction: romance, Fiction: young adult, Thursday Soapbox, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .



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