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Ramble on the Twilight books

I should start by saying this ramble comes from someone who hasn't read the whole series yet. I only just started book 3 (Eclipse), and the fact that I picked it up at all after the many annoyances I found in book 2 (New Moon) is at least one compliment I can pay Stephenie Meyer. I do want to know, at least on the surface, in a soap-opera way, what happens with these characters. There's also the desire to obtain the whole picture so I can ridicule it, or at least critique it, better. I admit that. But both desires are there for me, conflicting and warring and sparkling absurdly in the sunlight. I haven't had such a bipolar reaction of being compelled to read more and wanting to smack the author and the characters every other chapter since discovering Thomas Hardy about ten years ago.

As I've recently discussed on Facebook and elsewhere with dirae, kenshi, and others, the "vampiric death = sex" metaphor shines glaringly clear the more you read of the Twilight series. (And it was immediately and almost hilariously obvious in the film, with Robert Pattinson using all his considerable James Dean angst to convey vampire-Edward's difficulty in keeping his hands, teeth, and other body parts off that jailbait girl-crush of his.)

But Edward's way of dealing with it is the dull, mildly religious-conservative route: abstinence only. In some ways I find it refreshing, I suppose; a book for teens that's free of sex, drugs, or swear words. On the other hand...is that really the teen life any of us knew?

When Joss Whedon introduced his teenage heroine (Buffy Summers) to a "nice" vampire (Angel), and later a not so nice one (Spike)--well, I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer yet (which everyone should), but much more dramatic things happened. Believe me, the subtext of "vampires=sex," and the correlating "sex can equal death," rapidly became text. Buffy's interactions with Angel and Spike illustrated it loud and clear, and with about fifty times as much fascination, humor, and heartbreak as the chilly Cullens have inspired in me so far.

Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite veered other directions with their vampire series. Rice's vampires were, she claimed, chaste, but please; every scene was about how sensually obsessed they were with each other. Brite just went ahead and made her vampires all promiscuous lovers, having them use sex to draw in mortal victims as well. You want a really sharp, horrifying picture of the "vampire sex as death" thing, even involving teenagers, go read Brite's Lost Souls.

For that matter, going back farther, anyone over the age of about 16 who reads Bram Stoker's Dracula can clearly see the Victorian horror of female sexuality inherent in the story. Demure young women get forced to taste blood, and they turn into red-lipped, heaving-bosomed seductresses whom one must stake and decapitate as soon as possible. Yet there's a thrill in it too--everyone knows that Dracula and his she-vampires are considered sexy and alluring, at least in the lives they've taken on outside the book. Within the book itself they're not exactly painted in the most flattering terms. But the fact remains, Stoker isn't afraid to let more bad things happen to more good people than Meyer seems to be. When Stoker writes about his vampire sneaking into a young lady's bedchamber, that vampire isn't there to "watch her sleep." He's there to bite her neck, feed her his blood from his bare chest, and Make Her His.

Speaking of watching her sleep: again, anyone over about 16 who reads the Twilight books is a bit troubled by the stalker-like, semi-pedophiliac nature of Edward Cullen. For whatever reason, it hasn't occurred to young teens on the whole, but a man sneaking into your bedroom night after night, without your knowledge, just to watch you sleep, is scary, not romantic. Call the freaking cops if this is happening to you. Furthermore, we adults immediately find it weird that 100-year-old immortals would want to attend high school over and over, instead of, say, college at least. But you know who finds the scenario just perfect? High school girls, that's who. And that's part of the allure of the Twilight series as a whole: we are entirely locked into Bella's first-person, impulsive, obsessive, honest, female-adolescent point of view. Even when she annoys the hell out of me, I find it weirdly interesting to read what is, in effect, her diary. I just wonder if the books might not benefit from the point of view of an actual adult once in a while too.

(Yes, I hear Meyer's writing a new one from Edward's point of view. But he's not exactly your usual adult, so we'll see...)

On a note unrelated to sex and death, but still related to realism in the teen world, there aren't nearly enough cell phones or computers in Meyer's books. The kids mostly call each other on land lines and pass each other handwritten notes. It's almost as if...gosh, as if the author is someone my age who's remembering how things were back when she was in high school. I still don't text-message, so I feel her reluctance to fake it in fiction. On the other hand, teens are eating this series up despite the anachronism. Goes to show, there's no predicting what will fly and what will crash in the world of fandom.

All the same, vampires have been done to (sexy) death. Guess I'll have to try my hand at making Greek gods, fairy folk, ghosts, or selkies the next hip thing instead.


( 49 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Jun. 15th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
I only noticed the lack of texting etc. because someone pointed it out in one of my own rough-draft YA novels. Then I went, "Hey, wait, Stephenie Meyer got away with it!" :)
Jun. 14th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you....just thank you.
Jun. 15th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
*tips hat* Anytime. :)
Jun. 14th, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
Bella did have a super slow dial up connection. She needs to get with the FUTURE, man. Dial up is so... 80s. Or maybe 90s.

I kind of like the Twilight series in an entertaining turn your brain off and read kind of way, but Meyer's book the Host is a bit better in my opinion.
New Moon is not my favourite because there's soooo much angst in it and it gets irritating. I still haven't seen the Twilight movie because I hate movie versions of books I like a lot, but the shirtless guys might make me see New Moon...
Jun. 15th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
Actually, there are still some remote rural areas in the US that only have dialup. Forks doesn't seem to be one of them, though: http://www.city-data.com/forum/washington/560849-what-broadband-high-speed-internet-services.html
(no subject) - mollyringle - Jun. 15th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 14th, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
Great Topic!
Hi Molly,

I loved Twilight (though partially flawed, it is an easy, fast, and intriguing read) but the series began to fall apart with New Moon. Still, I continued on, pressing forward because I wanted to know what happened to the characters...Then came Breaking Dawn AKA Breaking Fail AKA the day Twilight died. Seriously, I can't recall ever being so let down with a series.

I'm not sure if I'm ready to let go of sexy vampires just yet. I was a huge fan of Buffy. The show aired when I was in college and worked x2 jobs. It was the one night per week (New Tuesday, remember that?) I was guaranteed off. But even Sunnydale began to crumble toward the end, and I’ve yet to find an equal to the series on the boob tube since.

I think this subject meshes with another vampire/shifter/suspense series - The Anita Blake books by Laurell K. Hamilton. But while I bitch and moan over the copious amounts of needless sex and lack of plot, at least Mrs. Hamilton is honest and raw with her material. All I got from SM was the cock block, a pat on the head, and a broken heart.

Jun. 15th, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Great Topic!
Thank you, Jaime!

I've been well prepared for the disappointing nature of Breaking Dawn. We'll see if I bother reading it at all...

I didn't watch Buffy until a few years ago, on DVD. Which was nice in a way, because then I could see it at my own fast pace! Yes, when it was good, it was the best thing ever on TV; when it was bad, it was...well, at least it wasn' t any worse than average TV shows, I guess.

I may give Anita Blake a chance. Haven't tried her yet. Granted, there are so many vampire series out there, I could spend my whole life sampling them all and still not get through them...

Jun. 14th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
Dude, have you read the Southern Vampire Mystery Series or watched True Blood? Very curious to see how you think it compares to Twilight and such.
Jun. 15th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
Haven't yet read/seen either, but Charlaine Harris is at least on my to-be-read list since I keep hearing surprisingly good things about her.
Jun. 15th, 2009 02:26 am (UTC)
"I only just started book 3 (Eclipse), and the fact that I picked it up at all after the many annoyances I found in book 2 (New Moon) is at least one compliment I can pay Stephenie Meyer."

Amen! I felt exactly the same way (although I've now finished the books). I was curious to see how the story ended, though I was tempted to quit after Eclipse. It was Harry's CAPS LOCK OF RAGE from a teenage girl's point of view. *sigh*
Jun. 15th, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
Heheh. Is any teen experience complete without the caps lock of rage, really? Still, not necessarily a feature of teenhood we want to revisit...
Jun. 15th, 2009 03:57 am (UTC)
Thanks for this post. I liked it. I've only read the first Twilight book, and haven't seen the movie...but I can certainly see where you're coming from on all points. Weirdly, the age difference and stalker-mcstalkiness didn't bother me nearly as much as the fact that the vampires go to high school over and over and over and...yeah. Oh, and the lack of technology didn't bother me at all, because I'm old.
Jun. 15th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
I only noticed the lack of technology because someone pointed it out in some of my own YA writing. Now I notice it everywhere. Still, high school, yeah...what kind of purgatory are they imposing upon themselves with that?
(no subject) - extrajoker - Jun. 16th, 2009 12:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 15th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
Thank you. Great post. :D

Have you read Robin McKinley's Sunlight? Great vampire book, from a woman's perspective but keeping a touch of the vampire sexuality. Definitely my favorite vampire novel, though admittedly I haven't read too many of them.
Jun. 15th, 2009 11:03 pm (UTC)
Hadn't heard of McKinley. I'll add it to my wish list. Thanks!

There are too many vampire books to keep up with, but I like to sample one every few months/years just to stay in touch...
(no subject) - soloreader18 - Jul. 17th, 2009 08:10 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 15th, 2009 06:19 am (UTC)
I'm not too bothered by the lack of cell phones or whatever. I do think the Cullens would have them, because they seem to be pretty into modern technology (or at least cars and state-of-the-art stereo systems), but I get the sense in general that Forks is supposed to be the kind of place that's just a little bit removed from the rest of the world. I know when I was in college in western Massachusetts, even the kids who had cell phones couldn't use them because there was almost no coverage in the middle of nowhere.

Of course, this was five years ago, so they might have more towers there now.

But the rest of your reactions, I'm right there with you. And if you think Meyer is bad at letting bad things happen to her characters now, just wait until Breaking Dawn...
Jun. 15th, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
True, having vacationed on the Olympic Peninsula my whole life, I can attest to the spotty cell coverage. Maybe that's it. :)

I have yet to hear of anyone who really loved Breaking Dawn. Heh. Must be one hell of a letdown.
(no subject) - notemily - Jun. 15th, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 15th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the thoughtful commentary on the series; I'd kinda avoided them, based on some of the premises mentioned--if one is over 100 years old, why go to *high school*?

Like other folks, I'm wondering if you have read other vampire novels. I've not read many, but Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt the Night was an interesting read, if only because it turned Stoker on its head by saying that vampires have no sexual desire, and managed to give a credible reason why. The second book needed a better editor, but was also an interesting read.
Jun. 15th, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I think I cited all the vampire novels I've read, except perhaps Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends, which was lots of fun, but a comedy rather than a serious treatment of the subject. Haven't heard of Hambly... but then, I'm sure I haven't heard of half the new vampire series out there. They've exploded in popularity lately.
(no subject) - peripety - Jun. 16th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mollyringle - Jun. 18th, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 15th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
I would love to get your thoughts in this context on the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.
Jun. 15th, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
Haven't read her yet, but she's on my list--I do keep hearing positive things about it!
Jun. 15th, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)
I've made three good-faith efforts now, but I can't make much progress with the Twilight series. I'm still clinging to my theory that this is b/c Twilight is a girl thing. It seems to span the ages from about 10 to 26, but even within that age group I still haven't met a single male fan... though no doubt someone reading this is about to prove me wrong.

I'm actually OK with the low-tech; if you want your books not to become instantly dated, you want to avoid including too much datable content. This is especially true of YA books: The first Gulf War is as ancient to the average Twilight reader as the Peloponnesian War. No references to current pop songs: Pink and Lady Gaga are tomorrow's Herman's Hermits. And texting may be next year's CB radio. I think this is why good High Fantasy outlives good SF: Lord of the Rings is no more anachronistic now than it was in the 1950s, while Asimov and Heinlein have been overtaken by reality.

Besides, Forks is kind of way out in the sticks of the Olympic Peninsula -- we urban snobs are willing to assign it any amount of backwardness, however unjustly.

I'm not going to say anything at all about Anita Blake. Well, nothing but this: http://www.kitwhitfield.com/2006/09/mary-sue-gets-mean.html.

But I think vampires never get old, so to speak. After Anne Rice I thought I'd never want to hear the word "vampire" again -- until Buffy came along. Now I have a colleague who's pressuring me to watch True Blood. Vampires are Sex and Death/Life, with Blood linking them... as long as humanity is mortal, there will be a market for vampire stories.

The Greek gods (Percy Jackson?), the Fair Folk, and the rest of folklore have been mined pretty deeply, too, but that's OK. Can I go down on record saying I don't like selkies? I just don't.

But I do like the way you do ghosts.
Jun. 15th, 2009 11:13 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :D I have yet to really formulate the selkie idea anyway, but it revolves back there in my mind sometimes. Usually when I sit admiring the cold saltwater expanse of Puget Sound and dreaming up paranormal stories to apply to it.

Hmm, sounds like Anita might not be much fun to read. I may give that a pass.

I go back and forth with the here-and-now technology and pop references. True, they get more dated more quickly...but would films like Pretty in Pink be half so charming now if they didn't have those cute '80s-isms? Like Andrew McCarthy tapping a bunch of computer keys from his machine and making a photo appear on Molly Ringwald's screen? (Or the notion that the horrid pink prom dress was actually attractive?) Similarly, we all learned from War Games that you could accidentally declare war on Russia with your computer if you messed around too much. Gotta be careful with that stuff.

But you're right: SF becomes cute eventually, at best, rather than staying relevant for long. Look how amusing Disneyland's Tomorrowland area was. The '50s anticipating the year 2000, and getting it all grandly (though optimistically) wrong...
(no subject) - naill_renfro - Jun. 18th, 2009 06:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mollyringle - Jun. 20th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
You analysis is spot on :)

After I finished Twilight my first reaction was that had I read it as a teen I might have enjoyed it, but from my adult perspective much of it annoyed me. Since I have read other young adult novels without that reaction, in my view it goes back to Meyer's skills as a writer.

Furthermore, we adults immediately find it weird that 100-year-old immortals would want to attend high school over and over, instead of, say, college at least.

So true. And how weird that it's not only Edward attending high school again and again but his "brothers and sister", too!
Jun. 18th, 2009 11:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've been impressed with the writing in plenty of YA books, noting that it was not in the least "dumbed down" for the teens. That's how I hope to come across when I write YA. Not that Meyer is intentionally dumbing anything down, I don't think, but there's just some level of quality and substance that will suffice for teens (and largely teen girls) more often than it will suffice for adults, let's say.
(no subject) - naill_renfro - Jun. 19th, 2009 01:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mollyringle - Jun. 20th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 17th, 2009 02:20 am (UTC)
All the same, vampires have been done to (sexy) death. Guess I'll have to try my hand at making Greek gods, fairy folk, ghosts, or selkies the next hip thing instead.

i'd support that
Jun. 19th, 2009 02:17 am (UTC)
a book for teens that's free of sex, drugs, or swear words

This way she can still hold her head up in her LDS ward, to say nothing of selling the books to a gazillion Mormon teenagers.
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've figured that must be an influence. The condition "I'll bite you, but only after we're married" looks kind of suspicious. :) Are they especially popular among Mormon kids? They've obviously crossed lines into other sectors, but I'd believe they held a special spot for some groups more than others.
(no subject) - new_iconoclast - Jun. 20th, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mollyringle - Jun. 20th, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
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