So Bad, I Read It For You: Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight
As soon as I posted my first “So Bad, I Read It For You” review, I was asked to post on Twilight. Here ya go!
Remember: Full Spoilers Ahead
I re-read Twilight to better write this. I read it years ago because it became popular so quickly across a wide age range and I was curious. I was disturbed by the book then, and I’m disturbed now. Please tell me that fans of this book can acknowledge how effed-up Bella and Edward’s relationship is. Tell me that impressionable teens don’t see this as something to emulate.
At the outset, we learn that Bella has moved from Phoenix, AZ to Forks, WA. She’s pale, with long dark hair and that’s about all we know. (The Oatmeal informs us this lack of info allows any teen girl to imagine herself as Isabella Swan and I’m inclined to agree.) Bella is moving in with her father, whom she calls Charlie. She’s seventeen and has a lot of pent-up emotions about her relocation to Forks:
It was nice to be alone, not to have to smile and look pleased; a relief to stare dejectedly out the window at the sleeting rain and let just a few tears escape. I wasn’t in the mood to go on a real crying jag. I would save that for bedtime […] (9)
She goes to high school the next day and we learn why she was so stressed about school: despite being intelligent, able to make friends instantly, and a smash hit with the male population, Bella suffers from cripplingly low self-esteem. You see, Bella is clumsy. Super clumsy. And while she will happily play the damsel-in-distress card to keep Edward around later, she hasn’t pledged her life to him yet so it’s still something to be ashamed of.
Bella spots Edward in the lunchroom on her first day. He’s sitting at a table with his adopted siblings:
I stared because their faces, so different, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. They were faces you never expected to see except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine. Or painted by an old master as the face of an angel. It was hard to decide who was the most beautiful — maybe the perfect blond girl, or the bronze-haired boy. (19)
Lucky Bella gets to sit next to the hunky, bronze-haired boy in her Biology class. But he’s not keen on her:
I was watching him surreptitiously. Just as I passed, he suddenly went rigid in his seat. He stared at me again, meeting my eyes with the strangest expression on his face — it was hostile, furious. I looked away quickly, shocked, going red again. […] I’d noticed that his eyes were black — coal black. (23)
He spends the class period with clenched fists, leaning away from her as much as possible. Then he leaves school for a week. Bella spends her time thinking about him. She doesn’t “like” him of course — he seems too mean for that — but he’s under her skin. Just when she’s comfortable walking into the lunchroom and Biology, he returns. And he’s nice!
His hair was dripping wet, disheveled — even so, he looked like he’d just finished shooting a commercial for hair gel. His dazzling face was friendly, open, a slight smile on his flawless lips. But his eyes were careful.
“My name is Edward Cullen,” he continued. “I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself last week. You must be Bella Swan.”
My mind was spinning with confusion. Had I made up the whole thing? He was perfectly polite now. (43)
He needed to get a few things in order, which we will learn about later, but he’s still shady. As Bella noticed earlier, surly Edward had black eyes. Nice Edward has amber eyes. She asks him about the color-change and he straight-up denies it.
And I was suspicious of him; why should he lie about his eyes? I was still frightened of the hostility I sometimes felt emanating from him, and I was still tongue-tied whenever I pictured his perfect face. I was well aware that my league and his league were spheres that did not touch. (54)
Normal people would call these things “red flags”. He is volatile and he lies about small things. Obviously, Bella is going to cut him some slack since he’s “perfect” looking, but it should be hard for him to wriggle his way into trustworthiness. (Spoiler alert: It won’t be.) We’re treated to scenes like this:
We scowled at each other in silence. I was the first to speak, trying to keep myself focused. I was in danger of being distracted by his livid, glorious face. It was like trying to stare down a destroying angel. (65)
Of course he wasn’t interested in me, I thought angrily, […] I wasn’t interesting. And he was. Interesting…and brilliant…and mysterious…and perfect…and beautiful…and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand. (79)
The bit about the van is a reference to the way he saved her from getting crunched in the school parking lot. This is also something he lies about to her: he doesn’t want to be found out as supernatural. (This is actually reasonable.) But it warmed her to him a little more and it piqued his interest in her: why was he so motivated to save her? Now, they have conversations like this:
“Honestly, Edward.” I felt a thrill go through me as I said his name, and I hated it. “I can’t keep up with you. I thought you didn’t want to be my friend.”
“I said it would be better if we weren’t friends, not that I didn’t want to be.” (84)
“Friends…,” he mused, dubious.
“Or not,” I muttered.
He grinned. “Well, we can try, I suppose. But I’m warning you now that I’m not a good friend for you.” Behind his smile, the warning was real.
“You say that a lot,” I noted, trying to ignore the sudden trembling in my stomach and keep my voice even.
“Yes, because you’re not listening to me. I’m still waiting for you to believe it. If you’re smart, you’ll avoid me.” (88)
In the real world, people who play these games are tiresome. The guys who smile, laugh, and mean it when they say: ‘I’m bad for you; we should stay apart; come a little closer…’ stay away from them. But Edward is different! He saves Bella again, this time from being raped. The fact that he was stalking her, hence his well-timed arrival, is glossed over. After all, it’s an unambiguously good thing that he was able to save her so we’ll overlook his creepiness for now.
They chat in the car when she’s safe and Edward confirms Bella’s suspicions that he’s really a vampire. Worried that he’ll take this to mean that their budding friendship won’t turn romantic, she quickly clarifies:
“It doesn’t matter to me what you are.”
A hard, mocking edge entered his voice. “You don’t care if I’m a monster? If I’m not human?” (184)
And she really means it:
About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him — and I didn’t know how potent that part might be — that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him. (195)
So now they’re together. They take turns quizzing the other about their life. Bella’s side of this conversation is pretty dry, but fortunately it’s only summarized for the reader (she goes so far as to “detail” her cluttered room at home). Edward has more interesting things to say. His family (the Cullens) hunt animals to slake their bloodlust, because they don’t kill humans. Edward’s initial aversion to Bella was caused by his intense attraction to her scent which is more appealing to him than that of anyone else. The week he disappeared from school allowed him to go hunting in the hope that if he weren’t thirsty, he wouldn’t find it so difficult to be around her. She is also unique in that Edward cannot hear her thoughts, which makes her particularly fascinating to him. Edward “died” when he was 17 during the 1918 Spanish Influenza. One wonders why someone so much older would hang around a high school, taking the same classes again and again in different locations:
“But the younger we pretend to be, the longer we can stay in any given place. Forks seemed perfect, so we all enrolled in high school.” He laughed. (289)
This would make sense if he and his siblings blended into the student body in any way. But they don’t; they eat alone at lunch and appear to have special dispensation from the staff to come and go as they please. Plus, have you seen how most students radically change between their freshman and senior years? Why would vampires expose themselves to a gossipy population of students and teachers who can’t help but notice that they barely eat and seem to have taken all the courses before? I don’t understand the school aspect of this book. It might make a more compelling story if Edward were relegated to an extracurricular activity.
Most of the pseudo-romantic moments between Bella and Edward come after Edward has swooped in to save her from being hit by cars, tripping, or being raped. Edward can’t leave her because it’s too hazardous for him to do so. They have this conversation:
“No one has tried to do away with me today,” I reminded him, grateful for the lighter subject. I didn’t want him to talk about goodbyes anymore. If I had to, I supposed I could purposefully put myself in danger to keep him close….I banished that thought before his quick eyes read it on my face. That idea would definitely get me in trouble.
“Yet,” he added.
“Yet,” I agreed; I would have argued, but now I wanted him to be expecting disasters. (211)
Wowza. Now she actually wants to be seen as a damsel-in-distress. She wants him to be “expecting disasters”. If she’s ever seen as strong and independent enough to stand on her own…well, that’s bad because he might have less incentive to stay. When you couple this with her self-esteem issues, and her growing tendency to define herself by her relationship with Edward — this mindset is troubling and unhealthy.
Besides, since I’d come to Forks, it really seemed like my life was about him. […] But a tiny voice in the back of my mind worried, wondering if it would hurt very much…if it ended badly.
I was relieved when it was late enough to be acceptable for bedtime. I knew I was far too stressed to sleep, so I did something I’d never done before. I deliberately took unnecessary cold medicine — the kind that knocked me out for a good eight hours. (251)
Minor substance abuse is a healthy, productive way to cope with stress. I’m thankful that 17-year old Bella was savvy enough to figure this out. Clearly, she should spend more time with the person/creature who inspires such anxiety. </sarcasm>
In case you haven’t cracked it yet, this isn’t your typical vampire story. If Edward could only come out at night, that might diminish the time he spent following Bella around. The Cullens live in rainy Forks because the sunlight makes them conspicuous:
Edward in the sunlight was shocking. I couldn’t get used to it, though I’d been staring at him all afternoon. His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. (260)
More relationship building:
He lifted his glorious, agonized eyes to mine. “You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever.”
“You already know I feel, of course,” I finally said. “I’m here…which, roughly translated, means I would rather die than stay away from you.” I frowned. “I’m an idiot.”
“You are an idiot,” he agreed with a laugh. Our eyes met, and I laughed, too. We laughed together at the idiocy and sheer impossibility of such a moment.
“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…,” he murmured. I looked away, hiding my eyes as I thrilled to the word.
“What a stupid lamb,” I sighed.
“What a sick, masochistic lion.” (274)
On why it’s easier for her, that she didn’t have to wait decades and decades to find true love:
“You only have to risk your life every second you spend with me, that’s surely not much. You only have to turn your back on nature, on humanity…what’s that worth?”
“Very little — I don’t feel deprived of anything.”
“Not yet.” And his voice was abruptly full of ancient grief. (305)
Edward should be stepping up here — he sees the way she’s completely romanticized the whole vampire thang and he’s not smacking it down or trying to convey a more realistic view. He asks her to stay away from him (when she’s seventeen and smitten!) so everyone knows that ain’t gonna happen. He pulls her in, acting like some long-suffering victim that only she can fix.
Further, there are more subtle dangers to chilling with vampires than the obvious risk of blood loss. Edward explains:
“If I was too hasty…if for one second I wasn’t paying enough attention, I could reach out, meaning to touch your face, and crush your skull by mistake” (310)
Being smart, Bella knows that they could be together no problem if she was a vampire too, so she sets out to learn how she can make this happen. This next quotation is excruciating:
“I know love and lust don’t always keep the same company.”
“They do for me. Now, anyway, that they exist for me at all,” I sighed.
“That’s nice. We have that one thing in common, at least.” He sounded satisfied. (311)
Their mutual attraction is built on their senses (Bella’s smell, Edward’s looks) and novelty (Bella’s mind isn’t an open book, Edward is hot and interested) — But it’s impossible for it to be base lust (according to them). Lust can be a lot of fun, but when you’re talking about dying so you can spend Forever with someone, you want to stop and make sure you’ve got something lasting. When I read Dante’s Inferno in college, someone complained that the lustful aren’t being punished enough as they’re with their lover in the cyclone. My brilliant professor answered: ‘The next time you wake up after a lust-fueled fling, think about spending an eternity with that person.’ Everyone (including the professor) shuddered.
You may have noticed that this lengthy summary has been about their relationship and had little to say about plot. Well, that’s because there is no plot for the first 70% of the book. It’s Bella and Edward’s slow, downward spiral. Their first glances, first touches, first kisses… Bella’s delightfully conflicted reaction to learning that Edward spends his sleepless nights watching her sleep… these things make up the entire book.
Then one day, Bella is hanging with her new family of vampires when a small group of three vampires happens upon them. These vampires don’t abstain from killing people and when one (James) learns that Bella is off-limits… well, he just has to have her all the more. The Cullens rally around Bella to protect her and this part is actually a bit intense and delightfully unpredictable. It seems like Bella might actually get bitten by James and saved by Edward at the right time for her to become a vampire… after all, the book is written to make it seem like that’s a good thing. So, why not?
James tricks Bella into thinking he’s got her mother as a hostage. She gives her protectors the slip and meets him alone. James breaks her leg and throws her into the glass mirror of her old ballet studio. As she lies there, bleeding, she begins to fade away but can hear the Cullens break into the room to save her. There’s a fight that happens through the veil of her muddled senses until she begins screaming that there’s a fire in her hand. James bit her, and now vampiric venom is coursing into her body. It takes three days-ish for the venom, unchecked, to transform the individual into a vampire. That’s the trick: it seems that if the vampire sucks the victim dry, the person dies. If the vampire leaves the victim partially alive, resisting the urge drain them, they’re transformed (and beautified, apparently).
The only way Edward can save Bella is by sucking the venom out through her wound, tasting her blood in the process. Of course, because he loves her, he is able to stop at the appropriate time and she is taken to the hospital. When she’s healed up, Edward takes her (and her cast) to prom. His sister gets Bella all dolled up and Bella is a bit crushed to find herself at a dance instead of the secret place she thought Edward might take her so he could bite her. There’s some set-up at the dance with Jacob (a future werewolf) for the sequel, even though he was a pretty minor character (friend from Bella’s childhood) in this one. But really, he won’t be relevant to the plot until he grows up a bit more and rips his shirt off. Again, see book 2.
Edward, in a fit of selflessness (and self-pity), says:
“I don’t want my presence to take anything away from you, if I can help it. I want you to be human. I want your life to continue as it would have if I’d died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have.” (495)
She objects and he pretends like he’s going to transform her, but doesn’t. He believes she can’t really want it for herself since she doesn’t know what it means. Well done, Edward! But Bella still doesn’t get it:
“A girl can dream.”
His eyebrows rose. “Is that what you dream about? Being a monster?”
“Not exactly,” I said, frowning at his word choice. Monster, indeed. “Mostly I dream about being with you forever.” (498)
I want to shake her and say: “Look, you nit, since he’s a vampire you’re not talking about a cheap ring and Vegas quickie– you’d have to die. And then if/when you wanted to split, you’d have to contend with the fact that you’d given up your life, your family, everything recognizable, for a nomadic, unending existence. So, maybe you should know the guy more than nine months first?”
On the other hand…if she gets too old before he bites her, they could get stuck in a configuration that makes her look like a cougar. This appears to be Bella’s main concern. Fun times.
Ok, that’s it. Really, that’s the whole book.