October 28, 2012

Twilight: Crazy Talk

Twilight, pp. 136-139.

Bella, becoming enraged with herself for reading about vampires on the Internet, storms out of her house and plunges into the forest.

It was all so stupid. I was sitting in my room, researching vampires. What was wrong with me?

Well, your old friend Jake did say the Cullens were vampires, and they certainly are an odd family, and oh yeah, you did personally witness Edward stopping a van with his bare hands. I think Meyer got her characters mixed up. Shouldn't Bella be trying in vain to get other people to believe her? She watched him do something superhuman! I don't think it's unreasonable to do a little Googling.

The next couple of pages are a description of the forest, as Bella wanders in the woods until her frankly unwarranted anger and embarrassment subside. She takes shelter under a fallen tree when it begins to rain and regrets fleeing into the forest, considering she just had a nightmare about vampire Edward that took place in a forest. There's nothing particularly wrong with these passages, except that they're clumsy, again making it seem the book was never shown to a professional editor. Credit where it's due, though: There is one well-written paragraph on these pages. Just one, but hey, that's one more than we've had since Chapter 1:

Here in the trees, it was much easier to believe the absurdities that embarrassed me indoors. Nothing had changed in this forest for thousands of years, and all the myths and legends of a hundred different lands seemed much more likely in this green haze than they had in my clear-cut bedroom.

Not bad, particularly the "green haze" bit. Sure, Meyer misuses the phrase "clear-cut", but what, you expect a writer to be able to use words properly? Geez, you people are so demanding. If you think this writing stuff is easy, where's your bestselling novel, huh?

Of course, Meyer immediately ruins my goodwill with the very next sentence: "I forced myself to focus on the two most vital questions I had to answer, but I did so unwillingly." Um, if you're forcing yourself to do something, then by definition you're doing it willingly. In fact, you could replace "forced" with "willed" in the sentence and the meaning would be exactly the same! "I willed myself to do it unwillingly." Meyer really needs to get a handle on this whole "knowing what words mean" thing.

Bella finally, finally mentions Edward's "impossible strength" as a reason to think he might be a vampire, though I immediately put head to desk when it became obvious she puts "impossible strength" on the same level as "his eyes change colour".

I again listed in my head the things I'd observed myself: the impossible speed and strength, the eye colour shifting from black to gold and back again, the inhuman beauty, the pale, frigid skin.

You know, one of these things is not like the others. If you take out "impossible speed and strength", Meyer is telling me that if I see Winona Ryder wearing coloured contact lenses, I should assume she's a vampire.

I think this goes back to my old hobby-horse of Meyer not knowing her vampire lore, nor making effective use of what little she does know. Observe how Fright Night (the real, Colin Farrell-less one) slowly reveals to its protagonist that Jerry is a vampire. There are plenty of little things that suggest vampirism to one in the know, and with the power of the Internet at her fingertips (on her dial-up modem!), Bella has instant access to all that knowledge. Oh wait, I'm sorry, part of the way Jerry reveals his true nature is by killing people, and since Edward is a Good Vampire (I throw up in my mouth a little every time I have to put those two words together), that's off the table. So yeah, his skin is cold, so he's a vampire. That sure is an airtight case. No wonder Bella doesn't want to tell anyone about her suspicion. (Hilariously, it never occurs to her to talk to Jacob about this, even though he told her that his tribe believes the Cullens are vampires!)

And more--small things that registered slowly--how they never seemed to eat, the disturbing grace with which they moved. And the way he sometimes spoke, with unfamiliar cadences and phrases that better fit the style of a turn-of-the-century novel than that of a twenty-first century classroom.

Wait a minute, back this crazy train up! I've already mentioned that plenty of kids I went to high school with didn't eat, at least not at school. Once again, Bella went to high school in a major city, and she never knew of any girl with an eating disorder, or a guy who used the lunch period to smoke? And since when was the grace of the perfect Cullens "disturbing"? Bella never indicated anything disturbing about it! And speaking of no indication, what's this about Edward talking like he's from the 19th-century? When did this happen? When has he ever said anything that "better fit the style of a turn-of-the-century novel"? I think somebody just tried to sneak in a little ret-con. Wait, no, actually, he doesn't say any "unfamiliar phrase" from the 1800s from this point on, either. I believe we have ourselves a jin-yoo-wine example of an Informed Attribute.

Don't get me wrong, Edward does use unfamiliar cadences and phrases, but they're less "turn-of-the-century" and more "written by a hack writer".

Bella also notes that Edward "seemed to know what everyone around him was thinking...except me." Well if he can't read you, how do you know he can read anyone else? What if he just made it up? It's not like you talked to anyone he read to see if he was right. And do I really need to point out that not only is telepathy not a vampiric power, but it didn't even come up on the "academic-looking" web site Bella Googled up earlier?

For all her protestations of its absurdity (the lady doth protest too much, methinks), Bella pretty quickly decides Edward is a vampire, at long last catching up to the slow 8-year-old who figured this out 6 chapters ago.

And then the most important question of all. What was I going to do if it was true?

If Edward was a vampire--I could hardly make myself think the words--then what should I do? Involving someone else was definitely out. I couldn't even believe myself; anyone I told would have me committed.

There's an "if" there, but it doesn't matter. Bella is convinced she has three options, and none of them is "Find out if Edward is really a vampire." She doesn't consider this option because she already knows he is, because Meyer knows he is, and all this hand-wringing over how unbelievable it all is has been much ado about nothing. Bella doesn't have any more information about Edward than she had before, and her Google search militated against his being a vampire (because, of course, he's a Twilight vampire, so the traditional vampire legends are of little help in identifying him as a creature of the night). But she accepts it now because Meyer says she does.

Bella, being an amoral narcissist, immediately rejects the option any sane person with any modicum of concern for their fellow human beings would choose because of how it might reflect on her. Again, referencing Fright Night, when the protagonist (who, like Bella, is a high school student) discovers Jerry is a vampire, he tells everyone: his mother, the police, his girlfriend, the actor who played his favourite vampire hunter, everybody. They all think he's crazy, but that doesn't stop him from trying to get people to listen. Because vampires are dangerous. Vampires kill people. And trying to warn people they're in danger is the right thing to do. Even if it means people think you're crazy. Even if it might get you locked up.

Now, we readers know Edward is a Good Vampire (*ulp*), but Bella doesn't have any reason to believe that. She's heard Jacob's telling of the legend that the Cullens don't eat people (and even Jacob is sceptical that the Cullens are Good) but that isn't supported or backed up by anything else, not even by Edward himself. Bella was just thinking about how he'd told her he's "the villain, dangerous..." and now she knows this is more than just adolescent posturing. Edward really is a villain. He really is dangerous, because he really is a vampire, and so are all the other Cullens.

But Bella isn't concerned that the Cullens are eating people. She isn't worried that her father, as chief of police, would likely be the first to die if word of the Cullens' true nature got out and they decided to strike first. She's not troubled that the boy she likes is a walking corpse who, for all she knows, has killed thousands of people and will continue to kill thousands more.

Nope, all she's concerned about is what might happen to her. She might be committed if she tells anyone (as if "the Cullens are vampires!" would even warrant a mandatory visit from the school guidance counselor, much less institutionalisation), so telling anyone is right out, not even considered.

Now, some commentators have taken me to task for continually pointing out Bella's selfishness, saying it's unfair to single her out for behaviour that's typical of teen-age girls. That may be a fair criticism elsewhere in the novel, but not this time. After all, there's normal selfishness, there's extreme selfishness, and there's pathological narcissism, and that last one is the level Bella Swan is on. To ignore what appears to be a clear danger to the people around you--including your own father--due to fear of a wildly exaggerated negative outcome for oneself isn't just unusual, it's inhuman. Now I know why Bella, having discovered that her crush is a vampire, isn't afraid for her immortal soul.

She doesn't have one.

1 comment:

  1. Bella probably thinks that Edward speaks in the past because she speaks in the past. I mean, after all she "likes' the guy.... I agree with ya, most people shouldn't tell about others who might harm someone, where would be the gore in that? If you tell, even someone who already has said that the Cullen's are vampires, then he might go tell Bella's father and I'm sure he'd at least stop his daughter from seeing Edward and then she'd be stuck with only the people she doesn't like. You have to be looking at what's best for Bella, and then keeping the new found secret is the right thing. Sadly, I saw some of this movie on tv. maybe 3 minutes. I couldn't take it. I think that Jacob should be wondering if Bella is a vampire for her lips are as red as Edward's and her skin just as pale. Maybe it's because she has to wait inside on her dial up internet connection and that takes the entire sunny part of the day.