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In the Twilight

September 30, 2008

It’s been a busy month. I have all but finished Carmilla, and by “all but” I mean that I’ve finished the Introduction, all the footnotes, the appendices, and have gathered together the illustrations. I have one other illustration to secure (which means calling a library in Ireland and paying for a reproduction of a magazine cartoon, which will be sent to me electronically), and then I think it’s ready to send. Yikes! That feels pretty good. I’m also waiting for a colleague to proofread the Intro and give feedback, so I’m pending corrections there. BUT–it looks like I’ll send it of to the publisher at the end of the week. I’ll let you know when I find out about publication dates. Then you can search for me on Amazon, like a real underpaid author!

I’ve also been beginning the school year, which took a little longer to adjust to due to the new position. My learning curve has been really high, and I’ve gained some valuable insight into how the University runs. This is good some days and terrifying on others, but so far I think it’s been a good move. Just finished teaching Chaucer in Brit Lit I, and that’s always more fun than people ought to have.

I have also been reading. I read Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch, which is stunning and beautiful, though deeply sad. I would highly recommend it, for the lovely prose, for the depth of character, and for the best evocation of London during the Blitz that I’ve read (including Elizabeth Bowen’s Heat of the Day). I’m reading Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Johnny Green’s memoir of The Clash Riot of Our Own, and the second half of Don Quixote . All great in very different ways, all feeding important parts of me.

In between Waters and Chabon, though, I read Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight. This was at the urging of several friends, all of whom know of my interest in vampires and all of whom really wanted to know what I thought of Meyers’ series. I wanted to read it anyway, due to the film version coming out in November. So I’m here to respond.

Okay. This is a hugely successful franchise that inspires fierce loyalty in its fans. I can see why–the writing is immediate and fresh in places, and the descriptive passages, especially those dealing with Forks, Washington can be beautiful. I truly liked the Cullen family–quirky and interesting, and if we didn’t get to explore most of them as in depth as I’d like, I’m hopeful the other three books may do that for me. Meyers does very little new with the vampire myth, the fact that these guys glitter during the day is about the only thing not drawn directly from earlier literature. That’s not a criticism; all vampire literature either builds on what came before or else makes a big deal out of breaking with convention. Meyers does both–broody good looks, superhero-like powers, vampires who refuse to drink from humans due to their ethics are all de riguer for modern day vamps. The fact that religious artifacts don’t bother the Cullens (there’s a big cross hanging at the top of the stairs at Chez Cullen) is a break from convention, but it’s been done before pretty often as well. The vampires walking around in daylight might seem fresh to some readers, but every vampire up untilthe 1922 film Nosferatu did that as well (even Dracula, who walks around at high noon during one scene). As I said, these aren’t criticisms. Meyers seems to know her vampire folklore and presents it in as fresh a manner as possible.

“High school girl falls in love with older vampire and aren’t they angst-ridden star-crossed lovers” is a little harder to call fresh after Buffy, and “you’re fascinating because I can’t read your mind” is only slightly altered from the same trope in Charlaine Harris’ novels. But still, it’s hard to bring new stuff to this genre, and the proof, as they say, is in the blood pudding.

So, much of the book is quite good. It’s easy to see why it captivates the hearts and minds of its target audience. I particularly like Edward’s sister Alice, who is cool and self-assured and a clairvoyant vampire. I wish she had more on-stage time in the book. All the Cullens, frankly, were intriguing and deserved more attention. And that leads to the main problem I had with Twilight–I can’t stand the protagonist. I wanted more development of the auxilliary characters partially because I liked them, but mainly because Bella drove me round the bend. Whiny, self-absorbed, accident prone, and helpless like no heroine I’ve seen since the worst misogynist writers of the nineteenth century. I can see nothing, literally nothing, that would make her attractive to Edward. I did occasionally find myself becoming compelled by her family relationships (particularly the underdeveloped history with her mother), but then any connection I felt would be sabotaged by her whining about Edward. “Oh, god, don’t be nice to me!” “Oh god, Edward’s been out of school for three days!” “Oh god, don’t take me to the prom!” By the end of the book I was hoping the tracker vampire would get to kill her so that I could spend more time with the Cullens, or Chief Swan, or Jacob, or anybody at all.

Don’t mistake me–Meyers is a good writer. The sense of being in Bella’s head was very real; the book at times feels very much like a diary. Bella is a believable, fully developed character. She’s just not likable, and that’s a big problem for a first-person protagonist in a four-book series. I hope that Bella can grow up somewhat during the next three books. I plan on eventually reading them, because the story, setting, and other characters were well done and for the most part fully realized. I just wish Bella would stop whining.

Incidentally, two of my Twilight fan friend s agree with me. They love the books, but are irritated by Bella. Maybe it’s purposeful. I don’t know. It was a maddening experience, to be caught up in a narrative with someone you’d rather not spend time with. For now, I’m reading some other books to cleanse Bella from my pallette before I wander back to Forks.

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