Regarding 'Twilight'

Monday, August 24, 2009 - 1:06 PM

Good writing is all about having the reader relate to your work, so that they can share in your experience. People will take a different experience away from the same work, depending on their respective point of view. If an author can create a book that provides an experience that a very large number of people can relate to, they are a successful author.

This holds true even if the writing isn't that great. A work of literature can be a beautiful creation full of colorful metaphor, word-play, dialogue and gorgeous grammatical construction, but this only means the writer was a very good writer. If readers can't find an accessible experience in the work, or something to relate to on a personal level, the writer isn't a good author.

The author of 'Twilight' is a good author.

I started reading 'Twilight' recently (yes, the sparkly vampire book). I haven't gotten very far, but it is already apparent to me why the book is so popular, and also why many people have a tendency to detest it.

I think a lot of the people who didn't like the book have forgotten what it feels like to be an adolescent (which is most adults). People have a tendency to polarize their experiences as teen-agers; they idealize it as a kind of golden age, or they look back and try to forget. Bella's point of view in 'Twilight' is quintessentially adolescent. She runs hot and cold. She's talented and beautiful but can't believe it. She views her parents as sad incompetents, and alternately tolerates or attempts to watch over them. Her stubborn nature is balanced out by a bottomless sense of melancholy. Her embarrassment at being paid attention to conflicts with her secret need to be desired and noticed.

In sum, she's a sixteen year old girl.

I think that people forget the story is told from her eyes alone. There's no other view in the story except that of an intelligent adolescent, and in my reading so far, it's a very accurately written view. Therefore, to people who find adolescents aggravating, Bella will be aggravating and whiny. J.K. Rowling did something similar with a very angry teen Harry Potter, but her books were not written in the first person. Therefore you never got to see the world through the distorted lens of angry teen Harry Potter; there was always a framework of omniscience explaining the truth. In 'Twilight', you are restricted entirely to Bella's view of what is happening. When reading the book, you should remind yourself of that fact.

Who, as an adolescent, hasn't dreamed of something horrible happening to them, just so people would notice and be awed? Who didn't dream about a perfect mate who you hated anyway? Who didn't suffer the sinking feeling that everyone was staring, that you were the odd one out, the one who was different? And of course, who managed to make it through adolescence without thinking at least once that the adults don't know everything, but you do... or you will. Adolescents thrive on melodrama, because melodrama is intensity; it is feeling, it is validation that they are something more than what they have been.

People complain about Bella being in an ideal dream world, and being an ideal character. I counter with the statement that of course she's an ideal character... in her own mind. Part of being adolescent is trying to believe yourself into who you want to really be, and that process can run so deep that most adults still carry around the facade they built for themselves in those days. Some of them never get out again. Bella's perceptions about people, how they react to her and how they talk should be considered twisted by her own perceptions of who she is and who they are. Note how often her insecurities bite at her.

I have a long way to go before I finish the book, and my opinions may change in the meantime. Of course, I haven't gotten to the part where she explains that vampires are sparkly. Even if I don't like the story itself, I believe that I will still come away from the book acknowledging that Stephanie Meyer is a good author. 'Twilight' is peppered with nice metaphors, but it isn't any profoundly beautiful work of literature. It is, however, a very close look at the process of becoming that an adolescent goes through, from the adolescent's point of view. And that is something that all of us should remember.

More later when I finish the book.



At August 24, 2009 3:03 PM, Blogger C Hanson said...

I will indeed be interested in your later opinion, once you're reached the end, whether the end of the first book or the end of the trilogy, if you go so far.

Do Not Read The Fourth Book.

For the love of all the gods, believe this.


At August 24, 2009 8:18 PM, Blogger Scattercat said...

For me, the issue is complicated by the fact that the author does not appear to realize what you realize, i.e. that Bella is this way in her own mind and not in reality. The author's point of view is that Bella really IS awesome and special and etc. and etc. and gag-me-with-a-spoon. She's said as much, openly, in interviews. Thus, if she is a good author, she is one unintentionally; she herself is still very much mired in the adolescent mindset and worldview. (Read up on how she reacted to the poor guy who played Edward in the movie version.)

Also, my personal beef with the book is the sheer stalker-ish/obsessive nature of the gendered relationships and the fact that no one seems to react to Edward and the other Cullens the way a normal person would react. I hesitate to be specific for fear of (ahaha) spoiling it for you, but the way things play out sets off all kinds of warning bells on my creep-o-meter. It reads a lot like a (deeply) latent rape-fantasy, which in turn seems to be what a lot of the readers respond to, and that squicks me out something fierce.


At August 25, 2009 12:59 PM, Blogger Montgomery Mullen said...

Thank you both for popping in and commenting! As of this comment, I am nearly finished with the book, and though I have a bit more to say on the subject, my original opinion does still hold: deliberately or no, Stephanie Meyer is a good author.

Turns out you don't -have- to write consciously for a given purpose to achieve being a good author. In fact, I suspect most writers don't consciously achieve the impact their work has on a greater whole. If Meyer is still completely mired in being sixteen, well, no wonder that she writes it so well!

I totally understand about the stalker vibe in this story, Scatter, but again, look at it from the filter of adolescence, and it makes a great deal more sense. Edward is the adolescent dream guy. He constantly tells you to stay away from him, he's dangerous, but YOU can change him. YOU can give him a reason to live. YOU can overcome his natural darkness. Isn't that melodramatic? And his sneaking in to watch her sleep at night... creepy, but man the parents would freak out about it, and isn't that COOL? He's such a rebel.

Do I like the book? Not really. But I acknowledge how powerful it is.

Er, for some people.


At August 25, 2009 2:16 PM, Blogger C Hanson said...

Okay, your points are on target but I think you've not hit the bullseye, so I'm going to quibble. Good book, yes. Good author, no.

If a writer isn't consciously aware (maybe not in complete control, but aware) of the reasons their book has impact, if the book works because of the default style of writing rather than from deliberation, then the only way the writer can reproduce that impact is to write essentially the same book over and over. And if they try to escalate the impact without knowing the cause, they're in danger of becoming parodies of themselves (see: fourth book, or rather, don't!). A good author can be limited, but they have to know and understand their limitations or it doesn't count, it's a fluke.

I like your interpretation of Bella. It explains to me why, despite my opinion of Meyer, I still felt "Twilight" was a fun read. But you're too kind to the writer.


At August 26, 2009 8:54 AM, Blogger Cynthia Sheppard said...

Even though the internet has had some very not-nice things to say about this book, I'll let it go on record that this is the second piece of writing that's made me curious about actually reading Twilight.

When I was 16, I was a closet fan of vampire novels (no really, I used to read in my closet). So it's not the fact that vampires are cheesy that's a deterrent. I hated being a 16 year old girl. And I think you're right, that that's why some people been skeptical about either reading or seeing Twilight. Because it's steeped in adolescent feelings that we spent so much time and effort growing out of. The same applies to most adult avoidance of teen culture, right?

The other comment that made me curious was regarding the movie, and I'm not sure how closely it follows the book. My good friend Nick said, "I can't even really complain about it, because there's no *there* there... it's not good, it's not even bad." He followed up with me privately that to review it further would be like giving cocktail criticisms to a glass of water. Who wouldn't be curious about that?

I'm really eager to see how you feel after finishing it!


At August 29, 2009 6:53 AM, Blogger Scattercat said...

I do wonder, though: does *being* a certain way and thus writing as that unintentionally count as "good" writing? SMeyer can't really write as anything but the adolescent fever-dreamer. The reason she embodies that perspective so well in her writing is because it's what she is; she doesn't realize how other people would look at the world she has created as her idealized space to inhabit. (And make no mistake; Bella is an idealized version of SMeyer, living out the 'perfect romance' for her author-mother. Just look at Bella's physical description alongside a picture of the woman herself.)

I'm not sure that one can say someone is a good writer just for being the creature that they are and not having skill enough to move beyond that. Perhaps one can say that Twilight is an interesting piece of literature (and it is, in many ways, though not for the reasons intended, I think), but I don't think its creation was an act of skill and high artistry. To me, being a "good writer" means having skill, training, and knowledge as well as a gift for words; to my eyes, SMeyer has none of these, but only an eye-brimming earnestness and raw-skin sincerity. Whatever else these qualities may be worth, I don't regard them as the sole prerequisites to being a "writer," let alone a "good writer."

(I'm trying not to be cruel, but it's a bit like those paintings made by dipping cats' paws in various colors and letting them play on the canvas. Yes, the art itself can be interesting and thought-provoking, but is the cat a "great artist" now? All it did was be a cat.)


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