Twilight: In Defense of Boring Eyes

Twilight Recap: Bella has arrived at her next class to find an openly hostile and visibly distressed Edward Cullen straining away from her in what would appear to be acute disgust.

Twilight, Chapter 1: First Sight

   I’d noticed that his eyes were black — coal black.

I used to like eyes. I come from a family of blue-eyes and on shopping trips and family vacations, I and my father would frequently hear from polite strangers that one or both of us had "the bluest eyes I've ever seen!" This frequent exclamation left quite an impression in my young mind because my eyes do not look anything like my father's; my eyes are an extremely dark blue, whereas his are quite light in color - almost the color of a clear sky. As a child, I often wondered how we could both have "the bluest eyes I've ever seen!" when our blue eyes were obviously so very different.

Because I was so used to such superlative compliments from an early age, I wasn't particularly surprised or disconcerted when the characters in the books I read were described with eyes colored in intense blues, deep greens, or rich browns. After all, I had it on good authority that the two pairs of the bluest eyes ever were living in my very own household, so it seemed perfectly reasonable that similarly unique eyes would dot the pages of my favorite books.

As I grew older and became more aware that the compliments bestowed on us by kind strangers were really more of a courtesy than a scientific statement of fact ("I have completed the analysis of my memory banks and can now state with certainty that your eyes are most definitely the bluest eyes I've ever seen."), I extended this same understanding to the books I read: there wasn't any conflict between two characters in two different books having the brownest eyes ever, because all it really meant was that they both had very brown eyes, and that certainly fit with the world around me. Lots of people, after all, had very brown eyes.

Then sometime around the 1990's, a disturbing trend started creeping into my books: among the familiar blues and greens and browns, there started to be scattered new eye colors, as though the old standbys were somehow tired and boring to their authors. It started innocuously enough with hazel, which was okay because I knew a boy at church with hazel eyes and I understood that hazel was essentially a natural mix of green and brown and a little gold. I also knew that the colors in his eyes could shift a little at times, but the changes always seemed incredibly subtle to me and I rarely saw them at all unless they were pointed out to me directly, so I was a little confused when the hazel-eyed characters in books started having color-shifting eyes that served as a sort of biological mood ring readable by everyone in a 20-foot radius.

Then more eye colors started popping up: golds and grays and violets - colors I'd never even seen before in eyes. Where were all these rainbow colors coming from and why had I never seen them before? Why were they suddenly popping up in books that were set, ostensibly, in the same world I lived in - and why was no one else as startled by them in my books as I would be if I were suddenly confronted with them in real life?

At first, I rationalized these strange and odd eye colors as being a sort of hyperbole. Hadn't I heard my friend's hazel eyes described as "golden" on more than one occasion? Didn't my father's sky-blue eyes look faintly gray in the right lighting? Didn't my mother talk about Elizabeth Taylor's "violet" eyes, even though they always just looked deeply blue to me? It seemed likely that these gold and gray and violet eyes were just as normal as the eyes all around me, but just highlighted poetically by the author for dramatic effect - I could understand that. 

Then the year 2000 rolled around and the world failed to collapse into an apocalyptic wasteland roamed by distraught programmers, tormented by their own failure to correctly handle non-1900's-based dates in code, and suddenly it seemed like every author in the world realized that I wasn't taking their pretty eye colors literally. This ushered in the era of the Stone Eyes: suddenly my books were absolutely littered with emeralds, amethysts, topazes, onyxes, sapphires, and - inexplicably for anyone not an outright albino - rubies. Sometimes the eyes weren't stones, but something equally hard and evocative, like amber or coal or marble.

No longer could I restore some sense of rationality to my books by assuming that the eye descriptions were somehow figurative. Edward Cullen, for example, cannot possibly have eyes that merely look black because they are a very dark blue or brown with extremely large pupils in the low ambient lighting - no, they are coal black, without a hint of natural brown or blue to be found. The fact that I've yet to encounter a truly black eye in real life, the fact that Wikipedia doesn't deign to acknowledge the existence of such an eye color (outside of a rare genetic condition resulting in the absence of an iris), and the simple fact that I cannot even imagine what such an eye color would look like in real life is not enough to deter S. Meyer from inflicting these super special eyes on me.

In 2011, we are now firmly entrenched in the era of Technicolor Eyes - liquid gold, shimmering silver, milky white, twinkling gray, glowing red, and flashing violet eyes far outnumber the plain blues, greens, and browns on the pages of the new releases. On the rare occasions when a hero or heroine's eyes are a plain every-day color we might encounter in real life, the author hastens to reassure us that the depth and brightness of the color is special in some way - if a heroine must go and have blue eyes instead of the more exotic alternatives, they will at the very least be dark shimmering pools that draw the hero inextricably into their unending depths such that he feels he is drowning in their watery beauty until he longs passionately for a life jacket for his soul.

And may the gods of your choice help you if a main character has heterochromia - the character in question is going to have perfectly complete heterochromia and not, say, the more common sectoral heterochromia.

Whether the current popularity of this Technicolor Eyes phenomena has its roots in the success of Twilight or something more primal that prompts the ubiquitous rainbow-eyed Mary Sue, all I know is that I felt compelled to issue gentle cautions against Technicolor Eyes in at least seven of the forty ABNA 2011 excerpts I reviewed this year, to the point where I've started to fret that perhaps I'm the one curmudgeonly person on earth that doesn't like this phenomena - maybe I'm raining on every else's parade who would just as soon keep all the shiny DayGlo eyes in their fictional escapes? I just don't honestly know.

In the world of Twilight, the eye colors of vampires are very good indicators of their current hunger level and therefore of their overall mood. Human eyes may be the windows of the soul, but it would seem that vampire eyes are the dipsticks of the stomach. When the vampires are low on fuel and are starting to feel the pangs of a particularly strong case of the munchies, their eyes are "coal black" - like Edward's here - a description that makes me think of the deliberately-creepy black sclera contacts, but are presumably meant to be more "natural-looking" and retain the white sclera since the Cullens are apparently able to blend in as reasonably human-like.

Of course, the very great problem here is that neither of these sets of black eyes look "natural" at all. This is partly because the ColorYourContacts site is a costume supplier and can't be bothered to take real pictures of all their stock, and is instead - in my non-expert opinion - slapping a flat black over the designated iris / sclera areas and calling it a day. But even the most "natural" picture of black eyes that I could find online don't look particularly natural at all because black eyes aren't particularly common.

This wouldn't be such a big deal, of course, except that all the Cullen clan members have black eyes, at least when they're not fresh from the hunt. Carlisle, Esme, Edward, Rosalie, Emmett, Alice, and Jasper - that's seven people with unusual and startlingly "coal black" eyes, and only three of those people (Rosalie, Jasper, and Esme) are supposedly related to each other in any way at all. The signature Cullen eye color, more than anything else, undermines this ridiculous "adoption" cover story they have concocted - it may be believable that a private adoption agency was perfectly happy to place a series of impossibly pale, inhumanely beautiful children with the Cullens, but the idea that they were also willing to select for a rare genetic condition that both Carlisle and Esme each just happen to have is patently ridiculous.

Better, at this point, to just drop the whole "adoption" story and tell everyone that they're all from the same extended family... from Alabama. (Or a number of other states, to be fair.)

Of course, the Cullens don't have aniridia - when a vampire is fresh from the hunt and fully sated, their eyes change from black to red or "topaz", depending on whether or not they've been feasting on human blood or animal blood. ColorYourEyes offers these two "vampire eyes" models for contrast -- Blood Vampire and Gold Vampire (and a Lestat Vampire! Collect them all!) -- but S. Meyer's frequent references to "liquid topaz" makes me think she means a more "overall" yellow tone. I would suppose that the image at the top of the post (fresh from RetroKatie5's flikr page) is probably what was intended, but I confess that every time I see a reference to Edward's topaz eyes, all I can think of is a gorram kitty cat.

Despite my last twenty-or-so paragraphs of warbling and whining, I don't actually have a problem with oddly-colored eyes in writing - at least, I should say I'm willing to keep an open mind. I'm perfectly content for sweet heroines to have warm chocolate-brownie eyes and for their smouldering love interests to have deep watery pools where their eyes should be. Vampires can have marble skin and liquid gold eyes and shimmering tears that drop like molten rubies, and their werewolf counterparts can have bronze burnished skin and eyes as green as the moss they run on and they can mark their territory with urine that sparkles in the sunlight like a thousand glittering diamonds. And I'll admit that I'm proud of S. Meyer for resiting the temptation to endow Bella with soft violet eyes that flash with hot passion and a thrill of fear every time she stumbles and falls flat on her face.

But, and here is the caveat to all this acceptance I'm trying to pour out, don't tell me that no one notices your character's Technicolor Eyes except their plucky, intrepid, and super-special love interest. If your character's eyes are unusual or abnormal in such a way that they immediately stand out to the narrator dutifully describing them to the reader, then the rest of your characters can't get away with being numbly incurious without instantly seeming like cardboard cut-outs populating your novel purely in order to take up space.

In other words: if, while growing up, I couldn't walk into a 7-11 without my plain blue eyes being exclaimed over as "the bluest eyes ever!" then the Cullens aren't allowed to alternate regularly between "coal black" and "liquid topaz" eyes without anyone except Bella ever noticing.


Ana Mardoll said...

Also note that my Twilight post today only covered one sentence from the novel. Epic fail or epic win?


I do apologize - I'm not trying to drag my feet, but I do feel very strongly about eyes lately.

Inquisitive Raven said...

Most of the time , when characters talk or think about eye color in superlative terms, one can imagine that it's a subjective impression of the POV character, i.e.  person A's eyes  are objectively color X, but because the POV character is In Lurve, POV char perceives it as the most intense X zie's ever seen or whatever.  That doesn't work here, but one could posit that the Cullens have some sort of SEP field on their eyes and Bella's immune to it for the same reason that Edward can't read her mind. That would need to be commented on in the text though, and I rather doubt that it is.

Sometime in the 70's or 80's, I read a fantasy novel in which the hero had amber colored eyes. The heroine wasn't the only one who noticed them; she was the only one who appreciated them. They were from different cultures, and where  the hero was from, the amber eyes were a marker of non-human ancestry and thus carried a stigma. That  they were also evidence of his out of wedlock conception  didn't help matters. The heroine didn't know any of the backstory  and just t thought they were pretty.

Marie Brennan said...

I don't mind it when the weird eyes are meant to signal non-human nature -- as they do here -- but yes, in that case people should notice.  It's just part and parcel of how the Twilight books are buffet-style vampire stories, where Meyer went through and grabbed all the tasty perks without any of the nutritious drawbacks.  (Sparkling in sunlight is the token dinner roll or whatever that she put on her plate to make it look like her meal doesn't consist entirely of dessert.  If I may be forgiven for running this metaphor into the ground.)

Amaryllis said...

Hee. At this rate you'll challenge the Slacktivist himself for One. Bit. At. A. Time. deconstruction.

And speaking of that other blog,  the Amazing Eyes thing came up over there once. I remember quoting from "Anne of Green Gables" when Anne described the heroines of a story she was writing: one had "duskily flashing" eyes and the other's eyes were "amethyst." Of course, Anne was twelve at the time. But the point is that L. M. Montgomery must have been parodying something that was a novelistic cliche even then, a hundred years ago.

Do you know the "Amelia Peabody" books, by Elizabeth Peters? Amelia is always referring to her husband's ("the greatest Egyptologist of this or any other age!") eyes as "sapphirine." And her son's eyes are, yes, black. Of course, those books are intended mostly as affectionate pastiche of the old-fashioned adventure novel, and realism is not intended to be their strong point!

And what about hair, if we're talking about colors not seen in nature? Amelia's adopted daughter (her son's love interest in the later books-- speaking of not-quite-incestuous romance!) has "red-gold" hair. That's another phrase I've seen a lot, and I have no idea what red-gold hair would look like. I've seen hair that's reddish-brown, or brownish-red, or reddish-blonde, or (to be blunt) sorta orange...but what does "Red-gold" look like? Or "silvery blonde," for that matter?

Back on eyes, my daughter's are blue. And when she was little, we got a lot of the "look at the blue eyes on that baby!" comments. The thing is, she was otherwise pretty colorless as an infant, very pale skin and very fair hair, the eyes were the only colorful thing about her. Maybe the Cullens' eyes are so dramatically noticeable because of all that pale glowing skin surrounding them; but then, yes, people would notice.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

I can say that Wikipedia article isn't the be-all and end-all of eye color. My father and I have an unusual eye color condition - our eyes through the grey-blue-green spectrum (never towards brown), depending on lighting and who knows what else (I just checked, and right now they are a fairly dark green). This is rather different from the hazel spectrum, and doesn't match anything else well.

This leads to a funny story in when I was in Kindergarten, where we were supposed to draw self-portraits of ourselves in crayon to tape to our chairs for when the parents came by later that night. I knew my eyes changed color, and did know what they were at the time, so I did the sensible thing and asked a teacher what color my eyes were. She must have thought I was being a smartass, because she answered "orange". I wasn't yet familiar with the range of colors possible, and I took her seriously, and drew my portrait with orange eyes. :-)

jetso said...

I'm firmly in the camp of being deeply sceptical about wildly superlative and purple descriptions of eye colour (and physical description in general). It's the years of Loinfire Club coming back to bite me. I find it hard to take a character with violet eyes seriously. Amber I can accept as an exotic variant on brown, I suppose, and more superlative descriptions of "normal" colours I'm good with, but the non-real colours I really struggle with. 

I suspect there's some sort of collective escalation going on in the various genres of fiction as authors try to outdo one another in making their characters (and their circumstances) more distinctive and special. I think a similar situation can be observed with the number of mistresses and exes a hero in RomanceLandia has.

Incidentally, Phedre of the Kushiel series has Sectoral Heterochromia. And I do rather like her. Though she did have to earn her credibility back after the mention of her super special eyes (and her special self in general). 

Redwood Rhiadra said...

Red-gold hair... I knew a girl in High School with hair that could be described like this. I usually thought of her hair as "copper", because it was just a few shades darker than a brand-new shiny penny. When I saw her a few years later in college, her hair was more carrotty - I think it was because she had had her hair permed, and the chemicals had changed the color a little bit.

(btw, my Disqus picture over there doesn't look like the real me - that's my Second Life avatar: scarlet-red hair and rainbow eyes :-)

Susanna Fraser said...

I'll admit to using superlative eye color descriptions, but always when the POV character is in love and therefore thinks of the beloved as having, say, amber eyes, when an impartial observer would just call them light brown.

One of my current manuscripts has vampires with unusual eyes--but everyone notices HOW unusual, and one of the first things they do if someone has been in a place or situation where they might be at risk for turning is to check their eyes to be sure they're still an ordinary, found-in-nature color.

Therese Norén said...

 When I was a church volunteer, our "class" of roughly twenty people had two (unrelated) women with amber eyes. (So light brown or green they were amber.) It was definitely remarked upon.

Guy said...

I've always thought of "silvery blonde" as about the same as platinum blonde (which a girl in my high school did indeed have).As to eyes, do people really notice? I'm reminded of the studies done where they ask men what colour their wives' eyes are and some very large proportion can't say. The Cullens would attract more attention because they're beautiful, but even assuming someone did notice that they all had black or "topaz" eyes I would think they're likely to simply chalk it up to a weird coincidence and shrug it off. Unless someone actually wants to go after the Cullens for some reason there's not much incentive to make a fuss that will probably only result in the fussor looking nosy (I mean, it must just be some weird condition right, or maybe a habit of wearing strangely coloured contacts. What else could it be? Vampires don't exist...)I suspect that weak as the Cullens' adoption story is, it probably passes simply because who would be motivated to investigate? (It would be Charlie's job to notice, but he's gotten into his head that the Cullens have been treated a bit unfairly by the community and is thus prejudiced in their favour.) They don't cause trouble, they pass all their courses, they don't have any close friends in the community (and they all act unapproachable enough to discourage enquiries). Normal humans hassled by everyday existence have more pressing things to worry about.(The not eating thing, however, is weird enough and obvious enough that I can't see that passing by unnoticed. I mean, if they just didn't show up for lunch that'd be easy enough to ignore, but throwing out food every day is kind of obvious.)

keri said...

 Haha, yes, I double-checked the Wikipedia page because I have the same sort of eyes. They were a dark blue until I was eleven or twelve, then slowly started going green, and now they're usually a teal color - a mix of deep/rich green and dark blue. But depending on my clothing or the ambient lighting, they get more green, and I've even woken in the morning and seen them as a paler green with no blue at all (that always startles me, since it's rare). I don't know anyone in my blood-related family with brown eyes, but my grandmother had pale yellowish-green eyes (sometimes with a grey tint), and I figure I got it from her. Of her 6 grandchildren, two of us have green eyes, and both of us developed the color as we got older (his switched a few years earlier than mine). (we're also the only two to wear glasses in adulthood! and he started wearing glasses ten years before I did)

since I think green eyes are exotic and awesome (and I've always wanted to be just like my grandmother), I tend to ignore the fact that they're sometimes more blueish, and on mornings when they're tending that way, I purposely wear my glasses with the green inner-frames, to encourage the color :P (obv, you know what color I claim to have when prompted)

because of this, I've never found color-changing or even technicolor eyes to be strange at all. Mine do weird things, and are most often a color best described as "teal" or perhaps "turquoise", so violet? black? emerald? it's never bothered me, and the color-changing and the color words used to describe the Cullens' eyes was one thing about them that never made me pause and go "what the heck?" when reading Twilight. Now, the zillions of synonyms, I found it tedious, but that's not the color or the color-changing, just obnoxious writing.

Karen Nilsen said...

I cracked up reading this post, especially the diamonds in the sunlight!  I did know a girl in college with amber eyes, which was a bit startling.  Since then I've met a few other amber-eyed folks.  They do tend to stand out.  So, yeah, I don't know how the Cullens get through life with only Bella noticing their odd eyes--good point.

I do think in general that writers probably compare eye color to different stones, etc, in an attempt to provide a more specific description than the standard blue, green, brown, gray.  Sometimes their pens and imaginations may get a little wild or slapdash (I include myself here), which is what first drafts are for! 

Kit Whitfield said...

 Back on eyes, my daughter's are blue. And when she was little, we got a lot of the "look at the blue eyes on that baby!" comments. The thing is, she was otherwise pretty colorless as an infant, very pale skin and very fair hair, the eyes were the only colorful thing about her. Maybe the Cullens' eyes are so dramatically noticeable because of all that pale glowing skin surrounding them; but then, yes, people would notice.

Just to produce counter-evidence, my son's eyes also get a lot of 'Look at the blue eyes!' comments, and while he's fair-skinned, I wouldn't call him colourless - when the comments started his hair was dark, and he's fairly rosy. I think in his case it's not so much that his eyes are incredibly blue - I've seen 'bluer', so to speak, and his are more grey-blue; it's more just that they're striking. They're big with long dark lashes, and in terms of colour they're pale blue around the pupil with a dark blue band around the iris, and in daylight that produces a kind of highlight effect; they 'catch the light'. I think that eye colours usually get noticed more when the eyes themselves are noticeable; small or deep-set eyes could be an unusual colour without anyone really clocking it - though presumably that's not what the Cullens look like. 

One element of this is that it's more permissible to make personal remarks about children than it is about adults or peers. (Or do people still comment on your adult eyes, Ana?) I can imagine that if the Cullens are somewhat resented by their peers for being beautiful but standoffish, nobody would really feel like discussing their eye colour in detail just because it would look like you had a hopeless crush and were too gauche to hide it properly. 

For instance, I do know someone with different-coloured eyes. The difference is more subtle than the picture, but one's definitely greenish and the other's definitely blueish. Despite her having a pretty face - ie the kind of face that's pleasing to look at anyway - I'd met her several times before I noticed. I didn't bring it up with anyone else, though: I didn't have much to say about it beyond 'Her eyes are interesting!', that wasn't a very interesting thing to say, and I figured that other people would have noticed for themselves - or if they hadn't, saying 'Hey, why don't you go stare at so-and-so?' wasn't a very nice thing to say. I reckon it's possible for people to notice unusual eyes but have reasons not to bring the subject up in conversation. 

Kit Whitfield said...

 I think an element of Bella's noticing might be that she's presumed to have a special connection with Edward right from the beginning. When she cattily wonders when he'd turned Jessica down because Jessica doesn't seem to like him, we see Bella automatically sympathising with Edward, who she's never met, over Jessica, who's been nice to her - and having, apparently, so much connection to him that she immediately sees the true reason why somebody might sniff at his behaviour. She understands him, while Jessica is merely a reject in his wake. 

Being able to observe his changing eye colours while nobody else comments creates the impression that Bella observes him more closely than everybody else. Since everybody else considers him very handsome this is a little implausible - we tend to stare at faces we find beautiful - and since she's putting her noticing of his eyes in the past tense ('I'd noticed') it sounds as if she'd seen his eye colour from right across the cafeteria, all of which rather undermines the idea: if the boy everybody fancies has an eye colour that can be discerned at considerable distance, people would probably notice. 

But if we brush that aside - and Twilight is nothing if not willing to ignore things that don't interest it - its effect is to imply a connection between them even in the phase where Edward seems to be rejecting her. I'd say it's another of those moments of early intimacy that build up the romantic tension. 

Cupcakedoll said...

 Win or fail?  Well, the effect was to send me trawling back through the various characters I've had, checking for technicolor eyes.  Was that the intent?  =P  (the results: 1 wizard with silver eyes, 1 gal with eyes described as "two different shades of blue" and one beauty with "bluegreen" eyes-- and naturally magenta hair.  I suddenly feel the need to do literary penance.)

Another thought: people on TV tend to have interesting eye colors, just due to the non-real-world lighting, different angles with different cameras, postproduction photoshopping of the colorbalance, etc.  So if I were writing out of the part of my brain that assumes TV is real I wouldn't see it strange to write black irises, silver irises,* or eyes that change from blue to brown.

*In Sherlock the title character has light blue eyes that really do look “silver” except in the closest closeups.

KHDN said...

>> In other words: if, while growing up, I couldn't walk into a 7-11
without my plain blue eyes being exclaimed
>> over as "the bluest eyes
ever!" then the Cullens aren't allowed to alternate regularly between
"coal black" and
>> "liquid topaz" eyes without anyone except Bella ever noticing.

This. She could've at least given us a throwaway about vampires "subconsciously influencing mortals" so they don't notice anything unusual - you know, like the Superman writers did eventually - and have Bella be immune to it because she's Just That Special.

Kit Whitfield said...

 1 gal with eyes described as "two different shades of blue" and one beauty with "bluegreen" eyes-

Neither of those sound especially odd to me - you could say my son had two different shades of blue if you allow for concentric circles of colour, and I've got bluegreen eyes - technically I believe they're called 'hazel green', but 'bluey-green' is what most people have described them as. (Though my hair is just brown, not magenta - unless I dyed it, I guess...) 

Kit Whitfield said...

 I reckon the issue may not be about eye colours per se and more about them being described at length or to a degree of detail that just isn't appropriate to the plot. I've written more stories than not where the protagonist's eye colour just didn't come up as a subject because it wasn't relevant to anything; if you describe the heroine's unusual eye colour and it doesn't add anything to the plot, there's no structural reason for the eye colour to exist. The only reason can be that the colour is there to be vicariously enjoyed - and many readers resist that. 

In a romance, describing the hero's eye colour in detail is actually appropriate: you notice the colouring of people you're attracted to. If it stands out here it's more because Bella describes the colour of his eyes lyrically without acknowledging the reason for doing so. It really doesn't matter to their current situation what colour his eyes are because she's talking about how he's acting, not about how he looks; it's perfectly plausible that she might notice his beauty while worrying about his behaviour, but if that's why she's throwing in the similes, you'd normally expect her to say something about her own feelings towards him to explain the detailed observation. 

Since she doesn't, she strays into her infallible-narrator voice again: we're not sure whether she's saying 'coal black'  because she's getting wistful or because the narrative wants us to have a vivid picture of Edward. Which is a little confusing unless we accept that Bella is factually correct about everything. In a way, I think confusing moments like this serve to bolster Bella's infallibility: they're a kind of shibboleth. We can either accept them or we can't. If we can, that means we agree to take whatever Bella says at face value - and if we can't, we either have to put the book down or change our minds and start accepting, because the alternative is an uncomfortable read. I think it's one of the ways Twilight presses the reader to read it on its own terms and scotch over the difficulties with their own imaginings - which I suspect is part of its success. 

Redcrow said...

My eyes are gray. Never thought of them as "rare" or "odd" - just boring.
I don't have problems with Weird Eyes (or Weird Hair for that matter) in fiction as long as their, um, owner either lives in some fantasy/animesque universe, isn't human or wears lenses. So most Sues get a free pass from me. Weird Eyes that no-one but Designated Love Interest seem to notice? That's harder to handwave, but still possible... if the character doesn't generally draw much attention to themselves. If he or she doesn't stand out in any way, most people around might not care enough to notice her/his eyecolour. (Though if it (eyecolour) really is that striking, someone *must* notice...) But the Cullens are noticed by pretty much everyone. Mind control, maybe? I don't remember exactly how "dazzling" works - can others' indifferent reaction to black-red-topaz eye changes be explained by it?
(Or maybe everyone in Forks wears different colour lenses every day, but Bella ignores others' eyes and only notice Edward's? That's why everyone pays so much attention to her - her eyes are always the same, it's so unusual!)

Ana Mardoll said...

(Or maybe everyone in Forks wears different colour lenses every day, but
Bella ignores others' eyes and only notice Edward's? That's why
everyone pays so much attention to her - her eyes are always the same,
it's so unusual!)

This makes so much sense that it's almost uncanny. It explains:

1. Why no one else notices the odd black-topaz shifts in the Cullens' eyes.
2. Why no one points out that the Cullens' odd eye colors can't be natural or a coincidence.
3. Why every boy is drawn to Bella despite her obvious and utter disdain for them all.

The fact that Bella doesn't notice the other Forkians changing their eyes just reinforces her characterization thus far as being largely introspective and really only noticing Edward and his family.

New personal canon!

Brin Bellway said...

She could've at least given us a throwaway about vampires
"subconsciously influencing mortals" so they don't notice anything
unusual - you know, like the Superman writers did eventually

Why did they do that? If we've already accepted Superman's world has superheros, why not also make it a world populated entirely by prosopagnosics? (Plus, it would get prosopagnosia into the cultural zeitgeist and make explanations that much easier for me and everyone else.)

I don't usually pay attention to eye colour. I tend to assume peoples' eyes are brown, so when they really are brown I don't notice not noticing. However, it took me about seven years and dozens of times watching various Harry Potter movies to notice that Daniel Radcliffe's eyes are the wrong colour for the job, and he's the protagonist.


Pthalo said...

well, I'm chiming in as another special snowflake with special colour changing eyes. Sometimes my eyes are blue, usually they are green, sometimes they are grey or rarely brown. Sometimes they are a very light green, often they are a blue-green or teal. Sometimes my iris is perfectly clear and uniformly one colour, other times it's more of a mixture. does kind of work like a mood ring.

Most people don't really notice, because they don't see me that often. But my close friends do because they see me regularly and remember what my eyes looked like before. My partner, who pays particularly close attention to me, notices when they shift colour and tells me. I just checked, and they're so reflective right now I can't even figure out what colour they are, but I think they're dark green underneath the reflections.

Kit Whitfield said... does kind of work like a mood ring.

That sounds interesting. Is it that they look a different colour depending on how expanded or contracted your pupil is, or something else? 

Kit Whitfield said...

 Oh, and on the subject of gemlike eyes ... this may be a sort of confession, but my husband and I both tend to say that our son's eyes glow like gemstones in the daylight, and his gran tends to call him a 'gem', which may be partly influenced by that.

We are, of course, all looking through the eyes of love (though strangers do comment on his eyes quite a lot), so it may be a degree of familial license. In a way, though, I think that comes back to what I was saying about how it can be inappropriate: if a heroine describes her own eyes as gem-coloured she sounds vain; if an omniscient narrator describes them as gem-coloured, readers frequently resent it because it feels like a demand to look through the eyes of love when (usually, if we're getting a physical description) we've only just met the heroine and don't love her yet. When Bella describes Edward's eyes as 'coal black', it would seem pretty natural if she were already in love with him; we do tend to get lyrical about the eyes of those we love. She is, at least, already in a state of considerable attraction. 

Bickazer said...

I always find it fascinating to read discussions on eye and hair colors, because it sounds so damned foreign to me - I'm Asian, and so like my entire family and most of the people I know, I have plain black hair and dark brown eyes.  I've never considered hair or eye color to be particularly flexible or mutable because in my experience, it never was.  When I was a kid I was pretty jealous when my classmates would talk about their hair changing color depending on this season; I wondered why I couldn't do anything special like that.  And when I started to write my own stories, I really enjoyed giving characters weird eye/hair colors (then again most of my settings were fantastical or in futuristic settings where body-modification is common, so I could get away with it).  A lot of it was less inspired by real life than anime, I'll admit.

It does make me wonder if the prevalence of odd eye and hair colors in anime comes from the same place that my fondness for odd coloration comes from - wanting to be distinct ,wanting to stand out in a country where almost everyone has the same eye and hair colors.  Or it could just be a cheap visual shorthand when every character has the same face. *shrug*

J.D. Montague said...

While I'm well aware that my eyes are very dark brown, when participating in a class project in which we had to buddy up and tell the class what color each others' eyes were, my buddy said, "Black." This was not the first nor last time someone mistook my eye color for black. Apparently, that's how dark of a brown my eyes are...and if you aren't standing super close to me and studying them, they probably could pass for black. (I'll even admit that I'm envious of people with light or even moderate brown eyes because I'd love for people to not think I had demon eyes all the time.)

So, maybe those people who didn't notice the Cullen's eye color just assumed they were really dark brown. Of course, I have no explanation for why no one noticed the vastly different shades after they returned from their "camping trips". As for eye color not advancing the plot, well, not actually addressing something as patently out there as the Cullen-eye-color-change thing, it makes the story feel disingenuous...because reason would dictate that at least *one* person (aside from Bella who is only after Edward's body) would have become suspicious of them and said, "I could be wrong, but I don't think they're human." It doesn't have to take up too much time, maybe have it go toward why people think they're "weird" and shunned and would do more for the story than learning what flavor oatmeal Bella had for breakfast.

Random True Fact: In the sixth grade, I met a kid named Justin. He had one eye brown and one eye blue, sometimes green (yes, the color changed based on how the light hit it). It was the most freaky-amazing thing I'd ever witnessed in my life and I began following him around and talking to him about it. He told me that people teased him. Can you believe that? I still can't fathom why anyone would tease him about it (except maybe jealousy) because it made him so special to me.

Another Random True Fact: My friend Jules has central heterochromia and sectoral heterochromia. I remember asking her one day if she were wearing contact lenses because I love her eyes (she truly does have a set of the the prettiest eyes I've ever seen) and she yelled, "Why does everyone keep asking me that?" She being my friend and all, I had to explain that toward the center of her eyes, near her irises, the color was different...usually a giveaway that someone's wearing contacts. Plus, in one of her eyes, there's this just drop of pure brown (in otherwise hazel eyes...the centers were blue hazel), like someone poked a hole in a contact before applying it.

Kit Whitfield said...

 Central heterochromia's quite common, I think. I've got a bit of it - a little brown around the pupil, though not so you'd notice unless you were looking closely. And my sister-in-law has some sectoral heterochromia, though again, I didn't notice it until it was pointed out. 

In a way, eyes that look black one day and red the next might not be as noticeable as all that. It's easy to think, 'Oh well, I guess I remembered wrong,' and it's also easy to think, 'I guess they look different in different lights,' because a lot of eyes do. 

If it really was an issue, you might make some fictional hay out of it by having the characters try to hide it in various ways. Sunglasses indoors might be too obvious, and tinted lenses would spoil the fun unless you wanted The Scene Where Bella Sees Edward With His Lense Fallen Out (you could put it where he saves her from the car easily enough) ... but what you might have is kids who always sit at the front of the class so nobody can look back at them, who position themselves with the light behind them as often as possible, and who have a habit of keeping their eyes downcast, especially either side of their away-days. That would give a sense of collective personality - though they'd probably all come across as shy and studious, which wouldn't really fit the Cullen image Meyer creates. 

hapax said...

My son actually does have heterochromia, AND bronze colored hair (kind of a browny orange with gold  streaks)  -- I've never heard anybody comment on either, except immediate family members.

"Silvery blonde" I've always thought of as a nice way of saying "ash blonde". 

Me, I have boring grayish green eyes, although if I were a Romance Heroine, they'd probably be described as "sea-mist" or some such.  My hair (in its natural state) -- well, Madeleine L'Engle put it best when she described a character as having "hair-colored hair."

It does take dye very nicely, and I haven't seen it's natural color for lo, these many decades.

Gordon said...

I remember that description. "hair-colored hair" makes me think brown.  Not dark brown. Not light brown. Not chestnut, walnut, caramel, honey, coffee or chocolate. Not copper or bronze. Just brown.

It's like...the vanilla of hair colors.(And no, not "Natural Vanilla Bean" or "Homestyle." Just plain vanilla.)

Though, now I want ice cream. With toppings.

Anyway, I have hazel eyes. The only epeople that have mentioned it is my grandmother. I have the same eyes as the uncle I was named after, who died two years before I was born. No one else has ever mentioned my eyes, unless it was to remark on the fact that I wasn't wearing my glasses. As far as most people are concerned, it seems, I have eyes. That's all the thought that is required.

Charlotte Griffin said...

I'm a teacher, and over the years I have had a kid or two with unusual eyes. One girl had two different colors of brown--one eye was a pale goldeny brown, and the other quite dark. Very pretty.

The student whose eyes I will remember forever had big baby blue eyes--pretty but not exceptional, except that he was African-American, so you had this young man with Hershey-bar chocolate skin and pale blue eyes. But believe me, people noticed. (The first time I saw him I did an actual doubletake. He laughed and said, 'Yeah, they're real.') The girls thought he was ADORABLE.

Charlotte Griffin said...

And it's interesting just what people think is exotic, based on their own experience. I have eye-colored eyes--a basic very dark brown that is the default eye color of, I don't know, eighty or ninety percent of the human race. When I did a study-abroad semester in Ireland, I had to get a pair of glasses made, and the woman who did the eye exam exclaimed a bit over how very dark and unusual my eyes were. Only in the very Northwestern fringe of Europe would anyone ever call my eyes 'unusual'.

Jenny Islander said...

I never thought of truly black eyes as unusual, but I live in a community with a large Alaska Native population.  Good to know for future fics set elsewhere.

A pet peeve for readers of Harry Potter fanfic: Snape having "onyx" eyes.  Onyx is a streaky green and black semiprecious stone.  They mean "obsidian" or possibly the dyed onyx sold in off-price jewelry catalogs.  Also Harry Potter having "emerald" or "jade-green" eyes, both such unusual shades of green that you'd think Rowling would have mentioned them. 

Jeannette Ng said...

 On the sidenote, being Asian and growing up here. We have brown eyes, brown eyes, more brown eyes and sometimes almost black eyes. Fiction around here doesn't tend to talk about eyecolour. Funny that.

Another thought: people on TV tend to have interesting eye colors, just due to the non-real-world lighting, different angles with different cameras, postproduction photoshopping of the colorbalance, etc.

In Lord of the Rings, they had a whole cluster of fairylights which they had to position just so to reflect in Galadrial's eyes. It was pretty awesome.

Silver Adept said...

Eye color theories abound!

Actually, I'm going to make a comparison here with another work - Kristin Cashore's Graceling, where complete heterochromia is considered a sign that one has special abilities. This usually results in a "Kill it! Kill it NOW!" reaction from the people around, unless the skill is such that the person with the heterochromic eyes can survive past their many attempted murders.

Seriously, though, even in passing, anyone who looks at Edward should by his eyes if they're as weird as Isabella makes them out to be. When talking face-to-face with someone, if there's a part of the anatomy that's off, it registers in our brain and nags at us until we acknowledge it and move on. Coal-black eyes, especially if they don't reflect a lot of light, would make people nervous and suspect that Edward is demon-possessed or otherwise suspicious.

That is, unless he's wearing the appropriate trappings, of say, Goth culture, at which point, his eyes fit in with the rest of him, and all is normal. If the Cullens really wanted to blend in, everyone, not just Alice, should be adopting some variety of Goth dress. It can be perky or broody, but it would make them fit in much better (and give their SEP field a boost - Goths are weird from the perspective of the squares, anyway, so them not eating would just be chalked up to that.

JarredH said...

Umm, picking this nit here, how are those not stones?  I suppose two of them aren't gemstones, or precious stones, but still....

I don't know what Anna meant by her statement, but I'll note that amber is actually petrified tree resin.

OrionJA said...

Suburban Vampires Look Down On Goths, Or, The Fanged Closet

Silver Adept asks: Why can't the vampires deflect attention by dressing as goths?  I suspect that the Cullens can't do that because they desperately want to be thought of as "normal," and even sincerely value their normalcy.  I realized this when your questions lead me to another question: Why do the Cullens go to high school at all?

It's already been pointed out here that the Cullens are probably smart and learned enough to get into college, either by increasing their stated age or, if they can't convincingly pass for young adults, finding a college that admits 16-year-olds.  (They exist.)  That they don't can only be attributed to a plot hole, their unusual weather requirement, or a lack of desire to face real academic challenges.  

However, not all teenagers are in school--and many that aren't are *not* in college.  If the Cullens were willing to move around a lot, they could certainly dodge the truant agencies.  They'd have to deal with more sunlight, but that's easier when they don't have to go to class.  Or they could move to a neighborhood that the police have given up on.  Or they could live openly in one of the states where 16-year-olds can legally drop out of school. (Come to think of it, homeschooling was also mentioned in the comments).  Why don't they?

The only answer that occurs to me is that all of the Cullens have internalized a particular version of upper-middle-class suburban American mores.  Despite their special circumstances, they can't shake the feeling that dropping out is low-class, homeschooling is freaky, and goths are embarassing or worrisome.  They're not just trying to pass for human.  They're trying to pass for the nice, normal family down the street.  That this goal is ridiculously inappropriate for a family of vampires is the reason Edward is so bitterly unhappy.  

I haven't read the books, so I'm reaching here, but I've always been puzzled by Edward's idea that vampires don't have souls.  It confuses me because I would think he would be able to tell whether he did or didn't, especially given all the weird psychic powers around.  And it especially confuses me because he's willing to get married, and I would think that a marriage wouldn't "take" if it was conducted on a soulless creature.  

Now I'm beginning to wonder if he isn't using "soul" as a shorthand for "quiet upper class prosperity."  His vampirism is a stain on the perfection of the picturesque life of white American luxury he could otherwise enjoy, and it's that feeling of shame he wants to spare Bella from.  


OrionJA said...

Part 2: The Fanged Closet

We've asked a lot of questions of the form, "why don't the Cullens do X, which would make their pretended humanity so much more convincing?"  And I'm sure a great many more such question will occur to us as we move on.  I'm wondering if we can't resolve them by assuming that *everyone in Forks already knows the Cullens are vampires*.  

Presumably they don't tell Bella because they're pranking the new kid, and they don't talk about it much out of respect for the Cullen kids.  But Edward doesn't hide his nature effectively both because it is his *nature* and because there is no need.  Basically, I'm suggesting that we should think of the one closeted gay kid whom everyone knows is gay, but who persists in a halfhearted pretendse to the contrary.

Basically, Edward thinks as long as he doesn't *say* he's a vampire, he won't have to have any awkward conversations about it, he won't have to explain it to the teachers, or face trouble from the school board.  He won't have to own up to his shameful secret.  And as long as he doesn't say it, he can delude himself that everyone doesn't already know.  

Ana Mardoll said...

 @cd0530057279e9a2c64d1ba16e7443a8:disqus   JarredH already covered this, but yeah, amber is tree resin and coal is (to me) organic matter that has been manipulated in a very specific way, and marble was an afterthought I threw in without thinking because I was thinking *gem*stones at that point. But I see where that would be confusing - especially since I'm not a geologist and maybe coal IS classified as a stone, for all I know.

@d6b10ec23cff70130610f61ef0660fca:disqus   Did not know that about onyx - thanks! I've ALWAYS heard it used in the "pitch black" sense. (Heck, I think *I've* used it that way in the past! Eek!)

@google-250f432f64b51dd6ecd54bbdfedc8673:disqus   Your LOTR factoid is all kinds of awesome. Fairy lights? Really? The things they think of for special effects, I swear. How creative.

@OrionJA:disqus   This is another fan explanation that makes so much sense that it almost seems like it should be canon. (And not just because the RiffTrax line after the Cullen info-dump is, "Oh, also they're vampires. I always forget that part. Tee-hee!") It seems more likely, from a human nature standpoint, that everyone is pointedly NOT commenting on the Cullens' obvious vampireness than the alternative theory that they Just. Don't. Notice. Humans, in my experience, do not work that way - there's too much "off" about the Cullens to NOT notice.

Well, except for Charlie. I can believe that he's oblivious. :P

JK said...

I'm still giggling at the captions on the last three pictures!  

Beau Guest said...

Redhead popping in to clarify redhead biology. 

Most redheads' hair changes shade/color as we get older. Usually, it becomes less vibrantly red. It's a phenomenon that's referenced in Anne of Green Gables. ("I knew a girl with hair like yours that later darkened into a really handsome auburn" or something to that effect.) Over the course of my 20s, my hair went from coppery to a sort of dingy blond with some ginger highlights. 

A perm could alter the hair that was permed. But your hair is constantly growing, so a perm couldn't really permanently change your hair color. It wouldn't have any power to alter what grew in after the perm. 

Carrie said...

 Oh, eye color. Once upon a time, I was a fourteen-year-old girl writing the MOST AWESOMEST ROMANCE EVER about a character whose eye color changed from fetching to fetching to fetching, ranging from blue, to black, to red, to green, to etc. I think that, at a point, there was a significant plot point during which said heroine's eyes became permanently shot with silver. As a result, I cannot really blame Ms. Meyer for black to "liquid topaz." Neither are especially natural, but she's doing a heck of a lot better than I did. 

Having said that, eyes are cool. Everybody's eyes are just a little bit remarkable and I think that we care about eyes. Windows to the soul, etc. It's very tempting to make somebody you think it special have obviously special eyes. Especially since eyes can be striking, startling, enchanting, and unique. There do exist people with really remarkable eyes, so why shouldn't you be writing about one!? 

For the record, I am a brown-eyed person, but they go green when I cry and to this day I am writing a story about somebody with lavender eyes. But it's for a *purpose,* goddammit. That makes it okay, right?


Ana Mardoll said...

@JK  Thank you - I thought they were apropos. I really think someone should write a book about vampire kitties...

@Carrie  Ha, of course it's alright if there's a REASON. ;)  I myself have some "Old Shame" fan fic that I wrote way back in the day where a character of mine had silver eyes. But it was a Star Wars setting and that race all had silver eyes, and well, I'm not going to justify it further because I'm pretty sure I had them "flash" with emotion on more than one occasion. Haha, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but it's true. :D

Pthalo said...

My internet died, so it took forever to reply to this. But I did some experiments with a camera (was too lazy to upload them anywhere) and it might be related to pupil size, but it also seems to have a lot to do with whether I'm looking up or down, the way the light hits, what kind of light it is (i played around with different flashes and different lightings and looking in different directions and also trying to look sad or happy or whatever). It varies from blue to green to brown and I think most of it is lighting and what I'm looking at. When I'm sad, I'm looking down, so they're a completely different colour than when I'm looking up.

Ana Mardoll said...

That's very interesting - it makes sense that the directionality of the eye might be a factor. How cool.

BaseDeltaZero said...

"Umm, picking this nit here, how are those not stones?  I suppose two of them aren't gemstones, or precious stones, but still..."Marble is a stone (although not a gemstone), and coal could be argued (being vitrified hydrocarbon), but amber definently isn't a stone - it's just hardened tree sap.

"...Or it could just be a cheap visual shorthand when every character has the same face. *shrug*"Argh, that's one of my big pet peeves, how every anime character has the same face and body type.  It makes it really hard to describe them - eventually I just gave up, and made up whatever I felt seemed appropriate.

Anyways, yeah, in my favorite series, there are lots of different weird eye colors, although there's a reason for most of them: Red (a side effect of flash-indoctrination), Gold (glowing circuitry), and red/green heterochromia (absurd amounts of genetic engineering combined with a taste for flashyness).  However the main character still has violet eyes, which are never explained. 

Guest said...

Sectoral Heterchromia is the rarer of the conditions. Know your facts

Reader of Books said...

I was all set to whine, "What, I can't describe my eyes as blue-grey?" until I read the entire comment thread and started smiling at all the people who admit to writing about odd eye colors, or who have interesting variants themselves. I think my boyfriend often doesn't know what color eyes I have; only remember his are blue because the previous bf (had the same first name and general physique) had brown--and he was the first brown-eye I'd dated.

Also, I'm reading this series by a guy named Tom Lloyd where magically empowered people who kill their mothers in birth are called "white-eyes," which is disturbing on so many levels. Do they have a form of aniridia? So unsettling.

Also, human eyes kind of scare me. I can't even stare at my eyes in a mirror for long without getting creeped out.

Plus a cat with yellow eyes that shade to green nearer his pupils. Such pretty eyes he has.

Zoosmell Pooplord said...

"On the rare occasions when a hero or heroine's eyes are a plain every-day color we might encounter in real life, the author hastens to reassure us that the depth and brightness of the color is special in some way - if a heroine must go and have blue eyes instead of the more exotic alternatives, they will at the very least be dark shimmering pools that draw the hero inextricably into their unending depths such that he feels he is drowning in their watery beauty until he longs passionately for a life jacket for his soul."

I just have to say that that cracks me up! You're really funny!

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