Sunday, 7 June 2009

the Twilight Saga

On Tuesday, I went out and bought the Twilight series, a quartet of novels written by Stephenie Meyer. The first book in the set has 434 pages and they get longer: the last has 754. So possibly only my mother will be unsurprised to hear that I finished reading the entire series on Saturday, four and a half days later. You might have wondered why there was a complete dearth of posting on this blog between Monday and Saturday. Well, now you know! But why on earth would a 33 year old mother of four children, none of whom can yet read fluently alone, who has always professed to be a complete scaredy cat when it comes to the thriller genre, be interested in reading 2300+ pages of "young adult" vampire novels? The answer to that is a little complicated...

The Twilight saga was voted to the number one position of the Dymocks Readers’ Choice Top 101 Books this year. Each year when I peruse the list I consider which books I have already read, which I might be interested in reading, and which I know or assume I won’t like. I have to admit, there are usually a fair few that make the Top 101 that don’t interest me in the slightest, and when the list came out, despite its top ranking, Twilight was put into that category.

The saga has now been published in its entirety, with four books in the set. In order, they are Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.









Then a few days ago, I ran across a post by onlinesoph on the series, which led me to another series of posts by Tamie. I became curious. Onlinesoph was weighing up the pros and cons of reading the saga. Tamie argued against reading it because its core story of a romance between human Bella and vampire Edward seemed to her to be “p*rn for girls”. And yet she admitted that there wasn’t much more than a single kiss on the lips in the whole book. (It is hard to get steamy with a vampire without being bitten.) So what was it about the romance that was especially attractive to teen girls?

It seems the Twilight saga draws its most devoted fans from the teenage market who have grown up reading Harry Potter. They now feel comfortable with long books full of plot twists and turns, written in the fantasy/modern fairy tale genre. They also appreciate (or require) less demanding vocabulary than was used in, for example, Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. It seems to me that Twilight is an easy and perhaps natural step up from the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter deals with an inventive but simple adventure story with an escalating battle of good versus evil, and consequently appeals to tweens and early teens, particularly boys. In contrast, Twilight focuses on a relationship that is more closely aligned with the experiences of older teenage girls: that of a flowering romance beset by troubles at every turn. It also portrays the struggles of determining one’s own identity that have such immense importance to teenagers and young adults.

A while back Jeff talked about having a church movie night where we watch a movie and then critique it together from a Christian perspective. I thought, given the popularity of these books with the high-school teenage market, the DVD of Twilight might be a good choice for a Bring Your Parents youth group night, in a few months time when the release of the New Moon movie is imminent. (It is due out in November 2009 in the US, I'm not sure of the release date here.) That way parents will get a chance to see what is taking so much of their teenager's attention, and teenagers will have an opportunity to examine the characters, themes, and plot through "biblical glasses", so to speak.

I knew the books were long, and I didn't want to spend a lot of money if I couldn't abide the storyline, so I satisfied my curiosity the easy way: I hired the DVD of the Twilight movie, and Jeff and I sat down to watch it Saturday night.I have to admit it was a disappointment. The actors, Kristen Stewart (who plays Bella) and Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward, seemed overly tentative as they delivered their lines, yet their facial expressions were at times totally over the top. The make-up was apalling - I was startled every time I saw Edward's "father" - the man who turned him into a vampire - Carlisle (played by Peter Facinelli) on screen; his face was such a pale white it reminded me of a goth in full make-up. Jeff and I both struggled to work out why Bella had fallen in love with Edward and vice versa. Even watching it a second time the next afternoon I couldn't work this out to my complete satisfaction. In particular, Jeff found it odd that Bella should ignore her human schoolmates so completely despite their many overtures of friendship. From my perspective, this was understandable for a person who was shy and also attracted romantically to someone not accepted by the group. Yes, Bella's burgeoning obsession with Edward might seem unwarranted, but there can be no denying that many real-life girls and women have drifted away from their previously intimate friendships with peers for the illusive promise of the love of a lifetime. And a level of social awkwardness, where one’s perspective of oneself does not match well with how others see us, is a key characteristic of the teenage experience. It was nice to sit on the couch and watch a movie with my husband that lacked those embarrassing "that's way more than I ever want to see of anyone else's personal life" scenes. (Remember the third Matrix movie? I skipped a whole chapter of that on the DVD, and I still have no idea why the bedroom scene was in the movie. Uggh.) And the vampires weren't all that scary. Not in the same way the Joker was scary in the last Batman flick: that was really disturbing. The Twilight movie had some good action sequences, despite it's low budget. I was still unconvinced, but also still interested.

So I did the typical sticky wwweb thing, and googled the author’s name. Stephenie Meyer has her own website, www.stepheniemeyer.com, dedicated to promoting the Twilight saga books and her other published work, The Host, “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction” written for an adult audience. Meyer’s website also provides basic Q&A for fans of her work along with some outtakes from the original drafts that didn’t make it into the published works. There is also a partial unedited rough draft of Midnight Sun, the events of Twilight told from Edward’s point of view, in a 264-page pdf file. Apparently, this draft was “illegally posted on the Internet and has since been virally distributed without [Meyer’s] knowledge or permission or the knowledge or permission of [Meyer’s] publisher.” Having read Meyer’s description of Midnight Sun, “an exercise in character development that got wildly out of hand”, I read her description for its genesis:
“While I was procrastinating some real editing work (I'm always at my most creative when procrastinating), I started to wonder how the first chapter of Twilight would read if it were written from Edward's perspective. There is so much more to his side of the story than there is to Bella's in that first chapter. After all, Bella only knows that an incredibly gorgeous boy is looking at her funny. Meanwhile, Edward is suffering through one of the most momentous days of his very long life! First there's the shock and frustration of not being able to hear Bella's thoughts, then the wild, monstrous reaction to her scent, followed by the incredible expenditure of self-control that it takes to not kill her... His side of Bella's first day at Forks High School is a hundred times more exciting than her own.”
I was intrigued.

I downloaded the Midnight Sun partial draft and spent Sunday evening reading through it. Despite the ferocity of the first chapter, I found myself drawn into the story. Reading the 12 chapters of the draft provided explanations to those instances of the movie that we had found confusing. For example, Midnight Sun makes it clear that the school boys were overwhelming in their attention and the school girls were largely driven by their jealousy – not an easy peer group for Bella to associate with comfortably.

So, having read Midnight Sun, and satisfied myself that I wouldn't be driven insane by paltry writing, I decided to buy the books. I was inordinately pleased when I found out that Myers was having a 40% off books sale for one day only, so I spent my Christmas gift voucher on the first two books there. Then I spent a birthday gift voucher buying the third book full price from Dymocks, and was able to find the fourth book for 20% off from Target, although unfortunately I had run out of gift vouchers by then. These books are seriously pricey: the paperback of Breaking Dawn is retailing for $32.99 at the moment RRP, so you can understand why I was pleased to find sales.

And then I went home and spent much of the next four days reading... but my response to the books will have to wait for another post, because this is already way too long!

7 comments:

argsmommy said...

I just commented on another blog yesterday that I think I'm one of the few women left who has not read the series, so I guess my group is getting even smaller. : ) When I go to the library the shelf with all the reserved books has at least 50 copies of the different Twilight books, so they really are quite popular. It will be interesting to read what you thought of the them. I just have never liked anything to do with vampires, and even with everyone's comments that these books are not really about vampires I just can't really get excited about the whole Twilight thing. But my Anna is getting toward that age, so I should probably look into some of the links you posted. She never was interested in the Harry Potter books or movies, but loves the Lord of the Rings books.

Aimee said...

Hey, small world - I'm a 'real life' friend (ie. not just a blogger/virtual friend) of onlinesophs...in fact, we used to have the same surname (before she married). This whole Christian blogging world is quite small isn't it.

Mrs. Edwards said...

It seems I ought to work like crazy on my summer projects so I can block out a few days to read. I think I'm more compelled to read the series by the fact that you read them than I am by your account of reading them (although I enjoyed reading that!). If you liked them then I suppose that is its own recommendation!

Sharon said...

Aimee, I found her blog through a comment she left on yours. So it isn't such a small world after all!

I was wondering from a comment someone left on another blog I found following from onlinesoph's original post if you had read the series? Or was that another "Aimee" that they were referring to?

~ Sharon

Sharon said...

Amy,

Wait until I write about them... with all the plot spoilers I am completely unafraid to include, you probably won't need to read them for yourself! Can you really afford to down tools completely for a week?

~ Sharon

Mrs Adept said...

I won't be reading them - probably ever - I just figure it's one more piece of the world that I can do without.

Sharon said...

Deborah,

That sounds like a great idea for you and your family, because your girls are all young enough (I think?) that they won't be pestering you to be allowed to read it, so you don't need to read it to be informed. And of course there is the advantage of homeschooling in that they will not be exposed to so much of the peer pressure to read what everyone else is reading.

Having read the series, I think they provide a great opportunity to talk about theology with teen girls who may not otherwise be interested, so I am going to write a few reviews with this in mind. Hope you won't get bored!

~ Sharon