Apparently, I Have a Complicated Relationship with “Twilight”

This morning I read a piece of news about something I would have never guessed there would be news about: Twilight. So of course I dug out some old posts I wrote about my thoughts on the book and reposted them, just for fun.

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October 31, 2010–Twilightbook “Upon Re-reading Twilight

Two years ago, I wrote this. [Ed. Scroll down to read the older post.] If you don’t want to follow the link, don’t worry. I’ll explain–no, wait, there’s too much–I’ll sum up. The link was to a previous post on this blog in which I expressed my thoughts on first reading Twilight, including a fun anecdote in which the moment I read the last word on the last page, I immediately sprang up, grabbed my car keys, and booked it to the nearest store to buy a copy of New Moon, the sequel to Twilight. In the post I also express a half-awareness of the book’s “guilty pleasure” status, yet I remain shameless (mostly).

And now, two years later, I’ve had time to read the book a couple more times, to see the movie (could have been better, could have been worse), and to distance myself for awhile from the entire phenomenon (as long as I wasn’t within 50 feet of a preteen girl, or the mother of a preteen girl). And I would have to say that my opinion of the novel has not altered fundamentally, though time has given it cultivation and nuance.

You know how there are some books that could be page-turners because they’re such great stories, but you don’t want to read them that fast? They’re so good that you just want to take your time, to soak in the prose and study every detail of the characters. For me, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is such a novel (so far), but Twilight was not.

Stephenie Meyer has stated on several occasions something to the effect of, she does not consider herself a writer, but a storyteller. I wholeheartedly agree with her. Keeping in mind that Twilight was her first novel (and I would imagine speedily written, having rather famously appeared to her in a dream a la Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), her prose and her characterization do leave something to be desired. But where she is not lacking is in her ability to tell a compelling story–just try to not stay up far later than your intended bed time while reading this book–and to set a mood.

Twilight is probably one of the moodiest books I’ve ever read. I was entirely captivated by the setting, a gloomy, romantic, fairy-tale-enchanted-forest kind of setting. Every tree in the town of Forks is dripping with angst and mystery. (Forks is a real town, by the way, to which I’ve been, both before and after it became a mecca for Twilight fans–I live about four hours away by car. The real Forks isn’t nearly as interesting as the fictional one.)

Meyer could not have picked a better location to set her tale, though. Forks is right in the middle of Washington state’s Olympic National Forest, one of the only remaining old-growth forests in North America. It’s the kind of forest where you would expect to find a cottage full of dwarves, or maybe a vampire.

There was an article in the March 2010 issue of Discover Magazine that was actually about Dutch scientist Frans Vera’s concept called “rewilding,” but there was a lot about old-growth forests in it: “Today thick, dense forests are considered synonymous with unspoiled nature,” but old-growth is “a human artifact: an unnatural, unbalanced outcome created when people…corralled wild horses and cattle. Without free-roaming herds of grazing animals to hold them back, closed-canopy forests took over the land wherever humans did not intervene.”

It’s an intriguing concept, though one that takes away a little of the romance of all those Grimm tales, and maybe some of the enchanting mystery of Twilight. In the Grimms’ tales and in Meyer’s tale, the woods are dangerous, haunted by wolves or witches or other unknown terrors. But, if Vera’s theory is to be believed, the dark and dangerous woods were created by human activity; we gave the monsters a place to hide.

What a poignant metaphor that is! Twilight doesn’t spend a lot of time delving into any kind of psychological exploration, and it barely scratches the surface of the primordial roots of vampire tales throughout human history, but who wants that kind of boring stuff in a fantasy novel?

And Twilight is that: pure fantasy. It’s the kind of novel that’s a lot of fun if you don’t think about it very much, and maybe even more fun if you do.

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August 18, 2008– “Paging Bram Stoker”

“Dang it!” I muttered as the light turned red and I screeched to a halt. I turned down the volume so that The Killers’ Hot Fuss came through my mom’s car stereo a little softer. I had to get to Target. I had just finished reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. It was a paperback copy, so it had the first chapter of its sequel, New Moon, at the back. I had read that, too, right to its cliffhanger ending, so now I had to go buy the book at Target for $8.79.

I still had several hours before the store closed, yet there was a sense of urgency pushing me, compelling me, even as I sat at an intersection literally two minutes away. After an eternity the light turned green and literally two minutes later I was in the Target parking lot.

I almost ran to the back of the store, for once not even glancing at purses, clothes or shoes, even bypassing a rack of DVD’s with a sign displaying their price, a tempting $7.50. I was relieved to find a copy of New Moon in stock in paperback. For a minute I entertained the idea of buying the third and fourth books in the series, too, to avoid repeating the agony I had just been through. But when I looked, I saw that the third book, Eclipse, was completely out of stock and the fourth, Breaking Dawn, its debut being only a couple of weeks old, was only available in hardcover. So, I picked up just the one volume and wandered around for a bit, trying to look casual, trying to convince myself more than the preoccupied shoppers around me.

Finally I meandered to the check-out lanes, grabbing a 20-ounce Coke and a package of Iced Tea Icebreakers on my way. There, standing in line, a morsel of guilt sneaked its way into my mind as I thought of my new copy of I Capture the Castle sitting at home on the coffee table, only the first two chapters having made it to the other side of my Post-it bookmark from the rest of its pages. “I didn’t used to be like this,” I thought. “I didn’t used to abandon classic literature for teen vampire novels. What’s wrong with me?”

~
That was almost a week ago, and I’m doing much better now. Even though I finished New Moon less than 48 hours after I bought it and then ordered the third and fourth books from Amazon (you save 5% by buying them together), I’m still waiting for them to come in. I’ve managed to pass the time, though.

I Capture the Castle is a lovely and delightful book, I’ve found, unlike anything I’ve ever read yet somehow deeply familiar. (If I had an older sister and a younger brother and a retired-author father and a twenty-nine-year-old stepmother who used to be an artists’ model and we all lived together in a rundown Norman castle in England in 1948, this very blog might be remarkably similar to the first-person narrative of Dodie Smith’s novel.)

Also in this time of waiting, I’ve had a chance to think about the dilemma I discovered in the check-out line at Target of reconciling vampires and classic literature. The solution is ridiculously obvious, as I’m sure most of my readers (meaning three out of the four of you) have already thought of and are now furiously shouting at your computer screens: “DRACULA!!!!”

Yes, Count Dracula, the infamous, ever ubiquitous title character of Bram Stoker’s classic novel is perhaps the prototype, or at least a reference point, for the multitude of vampires in current pop culture. I first (and last) read Dracula as a high school senior determined to become well-read in classics beyond my Austen-Bronte-Alcott safety net, years before I discovered Buffy. (I was born half a decade too late to be in its initial target audience, so I’ve been borrowing the DVD’s from a friend.) Vampires were completely off my radar, so I came to the novel with only a vague idea that vampire stories were weird and maybe a little creepy. I didn’t like Dracula.

Fast forward three (gulp!- almost four) years and I’m hooked on a series of teen novels about vampires that are certainly a little weird (in a good way) but that I wouldn’t really call creepy. They are fantasy, suspense, romance, but not horror. I find my Target check-out line guilt unfounded, for they are to me what I’ve discovered I Capture the Castle to be, though in a vastly different, rather darker package: escapism.

Image: “Twilightbook” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Twilightbook.jpg#/media/File:Twilightbook.jpg

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