Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight
"Book Movies" - that is to say, movies that are based on a previously published novel - often get a lot of shtick for being inferior to the source material, and it is certainly true that a lot of book-to-movie crossover attempts fall severely short of capturing the beauty and originality of the source novel.
On the other hand, as Fred Clark has noted as part of his "Left Behind" deconstruction, sometimes Bad Books make Good Movies, or at the very least better movies than might have been expected given the source material. Part of this is due to the visual nature of movies - a lot of information can (and will) be conveyed on the screen that might have been lost in the original text. Take the issue we had last week with trying to figure out details as simple and fundamental as the current season - this will come across to the movie viewer immediately if only because the main characters on display will be wearing certain types of clothes: hats and shawls for a winter start date at school, short sleeves for a spring start date.
These visual cues and setting details are almost inevitable in the crossover from written page to silver screen, as is major editing and rewriting of the source material in order to boil the heart of the novel into an 2+ hour viewing experience. The editing and rewriting of the source material is crucial, and is one of the ways in which a good movie can really outshine the original novel - if the dialogue or character interactions felt a little flat or unrealistic in the novel, the screenwriters can take the opportunity to polish everything up into something more real and genuine-sounding, all in the name of brevity and film constraints.
Of course, the flip side to movie crossovers is that Hollywood casting being what it is, you're almost certain to end up with actors who may not be the spitting image of their character. So keep in mind that when we meet Eric Yorkie...
When the bell rang, a nasal buzzing sound, a gangly boy with skin problems and hair black as an oil slick leaned across the aisle to talk to me.
“You’re Isabella Swan, aren’t you?” He looked like the overly helpful, chess club type.
...his character is, in fact, portrayed in the Twilight crossover movies by Justin Chon.
I can only assume that thousands of high school girls joined their local chess clubs in the aftermath of Twilight, and I think we should remember that as we move forward: if nothing else, the Twilight movie franchise encourages chess playing across the fan base, and how can that be a bad thing? Moving back to the text:
“Bella,” I corrected. Everyone within a three-seat radius turned to look at me.
“Where’s your next class?” he asked.
I had to check in my bag. “Um, Government, with Jefferson, in building six.”
There was nowhere to look without meeting curious eyes.
“I’m headed toward building four, I could show you the way. . . .” Definitely over-helpful. “I’m Eric,” he added.
I smiled tentatively. “Thanks.”
We got our jackets and headed out into the rain, which had picked up. I could have sworn several people behind us were walking close enough to eavesdrop. I hoped I wasn’t getting paranoid.
One of the things that is fascinating about going through this Twilight deconstruction is how divided the readership is on how to view Bella as a character. On the one hand, her inner dialogue is almost constantly sarcastic and catty; the literature of Bronte and Chaucer are "basic" to her and classmate Eric is described in terms of stock stereotypes and ugly adjectives - he's a "chess club type" with "skin problems" and implicitly greasy hair. These particular adjectives, dispensed in this particular way, makes it seem as though Bella considers herself somewhat superior to everything around her - and yet, outside of her inner monologues, we haven't seen any of this superiority really bleed over into her spoken words and physical actions in the way I would expect it to.
It's possible to justify this disconnect as simply Bad Writing. In this case, Bella only means that Bronte and Chaucer are "basic" in the sense that they are "standard" in schools - and the author didn't fully realize the extra baggage the description would convey to the reader. In this case, we would be looking at a violation of Mark Twain's 13th rule of writing: "Use the right word, not its second cousin." In the same way, the description of Eric would not be intended to convey anything to the reader about Bella, but would rather just be a quick way of the author saying, Look, you know those guys at your school that were kind of greasy and nerdy-looking? He's one of those, ok? That's enough ancillary character development; let's move on to the sexy vampires!
I think this is what Mark of MarkReads.net means when he describes the Twilight series as some of the worst books ever (my interpretation of his posts - I don't have a direct quote to that effect handy), and I can't honestly say that he's wrong... and yet, for purposes of this deconstruction, I really feel that the Bad Writing explanation is anathema to the process. It's impossible to really deconstruct and draw conclusions from a text if you're always having to assume that the author meant something other than what was actually written.
So if we come back to the text and take it as is, we have to wonder what it says about the character of Bella that of all the ways in the world to describe Eric, she uses terms that deliberately put him in the worst light possible: "overly-helpful" makes him seem clingy and annoying, "skin problems" seems to single him out as being especially noteworthy and unattractive among the hordes of other acne-laden students, and "oil slick" immediately makes the reader think of greasy scalps. Of course, it's possible that this description fits Eric perfectly and we are merely meant to see Bella's description as factual and honest... but what throws a wrench into that is the mere fact that words have connotations in addition to their definitions, and it's possible to be "factual" several different ways with each way connoting a different meaning overall.
Basically, it's the difference between describing Edward Cullen's skin as 'cool as marble' versus 'cold as a corpse'. Both the descriptions may be factual, but one of them is going to give you the heeby-jeebies and the other one (S. Meyer hopes) won't.
So on the one hand, it's easy to see Bella as a completely unlikable character who goes through her first day of school mentally meting out judgment upon the other students and building a paranoia complex around everyone's understandable interest in her. And yet, on the other hand, I do sympathize with Bella a little here: it's not easy being the new kid in a small school halfway through the school year when all the social groups are already pretty firmly established, and I would imagine it would be even harder in a small town where everyone knows each other reasonably well and the only thing that you know that they know about you is that your mom took off from your dad when you were an infant.
So I'm actually very much inclined to give Bella a pass for being somewhat paranoid about everyone staring at her, and I can even sort of understand her mental aggression towards Eric and her other classmates - she's already demonstrated so much angst about fitting in and being accepted that it's possible that she's either (a) trying to prevent being absorbed into any specific cliques until she's had a chance to make her own choice or (b) trying to convince herself that she is so much better than everyone else that she doesn't need friends or acceptance, just in case they aren't ever offered to her.
Neither of those coping strategies are automatically bad or unhealthy - it's actually fairly wise to choose your associations carefully, and it's very healthy to maintain a strong sense of self-affirmation and to not let your feelings of self-worth be driven entirely by the other people around you. However, both of these strategies can very easily turn unhealthy if religiously adhered to or taken to an extreme. Which is to say: it's wise to choose your friends and associations judiciously based on your values, but it's important that your "values" don't start and stop at "prettiest person in the room".
After two classes, I started to recognize several of the faces in each class. There was always someone braver than the others who would introduce themselves and ask me questions about how I was liking Forks. I tried to be diplomatic, but mostly I just lied a lot. At least I never needed the map.
One girl sat next to me in both Trig and Spanish, and she walked with me to the cafeteria for lunch. She was tiny, several inches shorter than my five feet four inches, but her wildly curly dark hair made up a lot of the difference between our heights. I couldn’t remember her name, so I smiled and nodded as she prattled about teachers and classes. I didn’t try to keep up.
We sat at the end of a full table with several of her friends, who she introduced to me. I forgot all their names as soon as she spoke them. They seemed impressed by her bravery in speaking to me. The boy from English, Eric, waved at me from across the room.
I think S. Meyer is going for a sort of "small town people are shy" thing here, but I have to laugh a little at two mentions of 'bravery' in three paragraphs - as if Bella is such a stunning, impressive personality that merely approaching her is some kind of litmus test for self-confidence and bravado. This is another area where the movie crossover has the upper hand - Hollywood screenwriters hold as an article of truth that all high schools are ruled by a queen bee who is quick to challenge any perceived threat to her authority, hence we are given a strong contrast between this unnatural acceptance on the pages of Twilight and the more natural opening salvo in the movie:
"I'm Jessica, by the way. Hey, you're from Arizona, right?"
"Aren't people from Arizona supposed to be, like, really tan?"
"Yeah. Maybe that's why they kicked me out."
Pure poetry. In four short lines, we get the full gist of all this unnecessary angst about skin coloring, wrapped up in a clear explanation for Bella's relatively painless integration into the school: the alpha queen has issued a challenge, and the interloper immediately capitulates through submissive body language and with a self-deprecating joke. Having shown that she doesn't intend to be a threat, Bella is ushered grudgingly to the cool girls' table so that the attention being shown to the "shiny new toy" can also fall on her new best friend. It's high school politics at its best, and much more realistic than this sweet, nonthreatening, curly-haired, as-of-yet-nameless girl adopting Bella as her newest friend despite Bella's open and stubborn refusal to either remember her name or listen to anything she says.
And yet here we come to another puzzlement brought to us by either Bad Writing or incredibly complex characterization: Why does Bella remember the name of the overly-helpful boy from two or three classes ago, but she can't remember the name of the overly-helpful girl who has been by her side for two classes straight? Is it merely a fluke that we get treated to three mentions of "Eric" in as many pages, but we won't hear a "Jessica" until a few pages later when Bella remembers the girl's name just in time to grill her about the pretty vampires in the lunch room? Is "Eric" more noteworthy to Bella just because he's a boy? Or is it rather that his character is more noteworthy to the author because he's a boy?
The problem isn't just that Bella can't remember her newest friend's name - it's that she's openly uninterested in anything her new friend wants to say to her. When you contrast Bella's narrative disinterest ("I smiled and nodded as she prattled about teachers and classes. I didn’t try to keep up.") with the fact that she was more than willing to provide us with the full transcript of her utterly boring and completely unnecessary conversation with Eric, the difference is disconcerting to the reader.
Is this difference in focus within the narrative due to Bad Writing, where the reader hears more about Eric because he's a more important character in terms of plot propulsion? (His bad driving will provide the first clue to the Cullens' paranormal natures.) Or are we meant to take this as some kind of reflection on the character of Bella Swan - perhaps that she pays more attention to Eric's introduction and conversation because he's a boy who is romantically interested in her, and as such he contributes to her feelings of self-worth more than a nice curly-haired girl looking to be genuinely helpful and friendly? Or does the narrative instead reflect on the character of the author - perhaps that she pays more attention to Eric's introduction and conversation because he's a boy who is romantically interested in the protagonist self-insert character, and as such he contributes to her (and the readers?) feelings of self-worth more than a nice curly-haired girl who is merely there for vampire exposition?
The hardest thing about analyzing Twilight is that there's just so many layers.