In a comment on my previous post, Jennifer Neri asked how Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight surprised me. Here’s my answer.
Well before I read the novel, several people had given me bitter rundown of the saga. During one night of filming for a short student film, while waiting for the director and cinematographer to work through intensive changes to a scene, a few members of the crew gave me a long synopsis of each of the four novels. None of the crew members were fans.
So, I’d expected a miserable trudge through Twilight.
Read quickly and learn what you can, I told myself. And try not to let other people’s biases color my reading.
However, I started reading with the expectations of immature writing and a clingy, weak heroine.
Was the writing immature? Yes, yes, it was. Inconsistent, too. It looks as if Meyer figured out after the first few chapters how to write stronger (more bearable) dialogue and to show conflicted thoughts without an overuse of em-dashes.
Was Bella Swan (oh, what a name) as clingy and weak as reviewers describe her? Yes, yes, she was.
However, from the very beginning, I noticed aspects of her personality that I was surprised no one had mentioned.
Bella’s Forgotten Trauma
Bella Swan, from the graphic novel
Meyer didn’t explain why, but Bella shows signs of emotional trauma before she meets the vampire hero.
She’s a loaner, distancing herself from people with the intention of causing herself emotional distress. She moves away from her ditzy but supposedly loving mother to live with her busy father in a place she knows she loathes. Although she had no friends from Arizona, she shows little desire to develop the friendships offered to her in Washington. Frequently, she categorizes the people around her as either those who will ignore her or those she can use.
While most readers wouldn’t recognize the effects of trauma when they see them, those traits in my mind contributed to Bella’s motivations.
Bella would be more inclined to attach to someone likely to hurt her if painful relationships were already normal for her.
Of course, if Bella never in the saga thinks back to the causes of her initial low self-esteem and tendency toward anti-social behaviors, then she becomes in retrospect nothing more than a shallow Juliet character–as gullible and weak as Shakespeare’s original but without the excuse for ignorance.
For now, I’ll give Meyer the benefit of doubt.
Edward, the vampire hero, also surprised me, but certainly not in a good way.
Robert Patterson as Edward Cullen
I’d expected a backstory for him that would draw readers to his side, yet he barely had a history.
His human life was sadly typical, he became a vampire for no unique reason of his own, then he refused to develop relationships with anyone outside of his family for about a hundred years.
In the novel’s present, he fixates on Bella because she’s tasty (as if we’ve never seen that in a vampire story) and swings between moods faster than a crazed money could fling himself between walls of a cage.
Why are his moods so mercurial? Because he’s had no experience with desiring someone? In a hundred years of hanging around human teenagers, he never developed a crush or hunger for another girl? That’s hard to believe.
Lacking backstory, he comes across as shallow. Edward exists in Twilight simply to be Bella’s love interest. That makes him a filler character rather than a believable love interest, doesn’t it?
Poor guy. His vampire father is more memorable. I think the reason so many fans fell for Edward was because of Robert Patterson, not because of the Edward in the novels.
At least the sparkling which annoyed so many readers/viewers was more tolerable than I’d expected. A clip I’d seen from the Twilight movie made Edwards skin look like it was mysteriously implanted with sizable crystals that could blind the eyes when reflecting sunlight.
Descriptions in the novel made for a less unnerving effect.
This wasn’t the biggest surprise regarding the sparkling. What surprised me most was that I appreciated that the Twilight vampires sparkled.
Maybe in self-defense while I read, I pretended that Meyer might have done research on vampires and demon myths (although she admitted she hadn’t).
Under the delusion that Meyer wanted to avoid clichés, her explanation that vampires don’t go out in sunlight unless they want to draw attention from prey seems to twist the “vampires burn in sunlight” and “attract with hypnosis” tropes. Such an explanation makes the vampires more realistic, to me, than those who burn to ash.
Rural Washington Has Personality
One other good surprise, and and one in which Meyer could probably be honestly credited for, was the accuracy and depth of the initial setting description. This was much appreciated by this gal who was raised in the States’ Pacific Northwest.
Your turn: Have you read Twilight? What did you think?