Sunday, January 18, 2009

Twilight Watch, Part 4: Chapter One Completed! Only 470 Pages Left!

I finished chapter one of Twilight a moment ago, and I'm really making an effort to pretend I haven't read anything about it.  This is, of course, impossible, but I am trying to be fair.  

With that in mind, I think I'm beginning to understand both this book's rampant popularity, and the affection its fans have for it.  I need to be clear.  It's really poorly written (shockingly so, I thought), but more than anything I've read (that's been professionally published), it reads as if it was written by an actual fifteen year old.  Its first person narrative is completely and utterly solipsistic, and it's clear Stephanie Meyer is in no kind of control of the tone.  The young girl telling the story is in some ways an incredibly realistically portrayed kid.  She is self-centered as only a sixteen year old could be, convinced that she is a unique snowflake.  She talks about how she doesn't fit in, how she is "different".  By day two she has a lunch table full of incipient friends, two boys crushing on her, and she's already met her very own Jordan Catalano, the mysterious and ludicrously handsome Edward Cullen.  Twilight is exactly like My So Called life, had Angela Chase been the head writer and show runner.  

Bella is pale, obviously pretty but not in an obvious way, she's bad at sports and is seemingly the center of everything at Forks High School pretty much immediately.  Another way of putting it is that Bella Swan (the name.  I ask you.) might be the biggest literary Mary Sue since Dorothy Sayers created Harriet Vane.

More to follow.  Hopefully we'll get to the vampire stuff soon, because I have lots to say about that.


That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Among the many sad things about so much commercial fiction: In much girl's fiction, the audience-identification protagonist is someone incredibly ordinary, or perhaps a little dumber than ordinary, who's regarded with awe by everyone else but never feels that she deserves it. In boy's fiction, the protagonist may start ordinary, but very quickly discovers His Destiny / His Powers / His Ability, and relishes using them.

Of course, commercial writers do that because the vast mass of buyers like it---Twilight is leagues more popular than Buffy could ever dream of being, even if it had stuck with the S1 template, and I think that's because, not despite, its protagonists patheticness.

Carolyn Raship said...

It's a slow evolution, I think. Nancy Drew has been hugely popular since the early thirties, and she is definitely on the Buffy and of this continuum. But, really. You have no idea how boring this book is. I don't think I can make it.

Carolyn Raship said...

The more I think about your comment, the more I disagree. I keep coming back to Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie novels and even lots of crappy romance novels, and they all have scrappy heroines. It's hard to compare Twilight to most other things as it is so far so conflict free. Everyone is so, so dull and it's so badly written.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Agatha Christie? Who under the age of 40 reads Agatha Christie? I mean, besides the occasional nerd, like, say, us. Nancy Drew, too---isn't that series having great trouble regaining its former popularity (I remember the movie didn't do as well as it seemed to deserve)?

It's true that much fiction features heroine's who are "spunky", but that tends to mean they make witty remarks while everything happens around them. The ideal life of a heroine, as expressed in a lot of girls' fiction, seems to be that the protagonist glides through observing tartly while events fall into place around her (the Hannah Montana model, to shift demographics a bit), without her ever taking action or intervening---the princess image, basically, in which your life is changed by some boy bending down to grant a boon, having acknowledged your inner virtue.

And again, this seems to be popular because it's what the audience wants. I wish that wasn't so, but many a parent has bought their daughter a Rosie the Riveter doll only to find her playing Cinderella with it instead. Torching Nikelodeon might help, but then again, it might not.

Ms. Nic said...

Well, this doesn't surprise me. I feel like I would have heard about Twilight through the usual genre nerd channels if it was really any good.

BUT, speaking of YA, but more specifically YA fantasy involving females; how about Alanna, Tamora Pierce's series about a girl who wants to be a knight? It's pretty good and she's active. Alanna just does it, cross dressing and all, which is pretty cool considering most females in fantasy are described by boob size and hair color...or in YA as being some how special if only anyone would notice (gag).

Carolyn Raship said...

Lots and lots women read Agatha Christie if my discussions on Jezebel and facebook are any indication. I really need examples of books where women make witty remarks while everything happens around them. Because in classic, crappy (i.e. popular) literature for women (Queenie, Lace, Gone With the Wind, A Woman of Independent Means, most mysteries- Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Anita Blake) the women are active heroes. And I'm about six months away from being over 40, so the "over 40" thing doesn't mean much to me. Part of my shock at all this might be that I'm old and cranky and grew up in the 70's dammit. The princess model so often was what women are like in fiction aimed at men and boys, which causes another whole array of problems. Fiction for girls and women always seemed (to me) an oasis where the stupid princess model didn't have much truck.

If what you are saying is the case, it means things are getting worse. That there has been an erosion of how women are being portrayed in mass media that is very, very upsetting.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Well, my point about Christie was just that she couldn't be considered YA, and when one gets a little older, one (hopefully) gets over the need for role models in fiction.

As regards boys fiction: I'd actually say the princess archetype has been in a precipitous decline there! One of the more interesting developments in crappy sci-fi/fantasy movies (which I think of as sort of occupying the psychic space for boys that YA novels occupy for girls) has been producers' discovery that if they make one of the ass-kickers a hot chick, then they'll both secure the boys who want to see a girl in a leather bikini, *and* bring in a few girls who want to see a fellow girl shooting flaming arrows and doing kung-fu. Hence even bottom-of-the-barrel crap with no conceivable ideological agenda, like Dungeon Siege or Wanted, features fightin' babes, and sometimes, as in Wanted, even gets off on the Buffy-esque presentation of a world where the girls are the warriors, and the boys have to take karate lessons from them (the girls obviously don't have the complex subjectivity and flaws of Buffy, but then, in these movies, no one has much subjectivity).

Back on Twilight: One thing I am struck by is how many of Twlight's fans take a line of "I know it's crap but I love it." Unlike Potter or Tolkein fans, Twilight fans don't seem to particularly esteem the book or its writer, they just find it fun and compelling. And that may have something to do with its wilting flower of a heroine, and the difference you note from 70s fiction.

Back in the 70s, whether women would be allowed to work was a big question. But today, while there's still a lot of challenge for women trying to rise to the top of companies, just getting to the workplace is no longer the issue. In fact, the more pressing debate now is whether women will be allowed to take adequate maternity leave (the way they are in every other civilized country, sigh). And so, women are discovering what men have known for a long time: work occasionally offers opportunities for self-fulfillment, but mostly, it's really sucky and boring and soul-crushing.
So I can certainly understand a renewed interest in a fantasy world where some man comes along and solves all your problems (there was a lengthy discussion of this just recently at the XX Factor blog).

Fantasy stories can serve as a mirror to reality, or an escape from it, and while the former is more noble, the latter is certainly more popular, and so the less a book resembles its readers' reality, the more popular it can be.
As for whether it's Good For the, I mean, Girls... I'm not sure it's as bad as it seems. The man who takes care of everything is a fantasy, and a rather insidious one, but then, kids, including YA readers, are often a lot better at knowing the difference between reality and fantasy than adults give them credit for. I suspect a lot of the Twilight fan base is well aware that the books are offering a dopey fantasy, love the dopey fantasy, and wish mom would get off their back about how boys like Edward aren't real 'cause, like, duh, right, gawd mom, stop bugging me about take your stupid daughter to stupid work day and don't come into my room.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

Hm---on reflection, I should have said "bottom-of-the-barrel crap with no conceivable progressive agenda". An *ideological* agenda is always present.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

And if you're not completely sick of it---a lengthy post by another Mormon housewife (though a considerably better writer) with a number of Mormon takes on the books here

Mimi said...

This totally jives with my so far experience (about ten pages in, natch).

Thank you! I'm loving your blog.