Twilight: The Unbearable Lightness of Being... Edward Cullen

Twilight Recap: Bella has caught sight of Edward Cullen in the cafeteria and now dreads attending Biology class with him in light of his strange and hostile behavior last week. 

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

   For the rest of the lunch hour I very carefully kept my eyes at my own table. I decided to honor the bargain I’d made with myself. Since he didn’t look angry, I would go to Biology. My stomach did frightened little flips at the thought of sitting next to him again.

You will recall from last week that Bella has spent the bulk of her lunch hour (a) not eating anything, (b) studiously sipping sugar soda, and (c) seriously considering faking an illness in order to hide in the nurse's office for the entirety of Biology class. While studying Edward, she decided that "If he was glaring at me, I would skip Biology, like the coward I was."

Edward has magical mind-reading powers that work on everyone except Bella, so he can't tell when she's looking at him, but his attention was peaked when Jessica noticed that Bella was staring at him. (Follow all that?) Edward and Bella have locked eyes -- briefly -- across the crowded cafeteria, and his expression has been merely curious, and not hostile.

Once again, I find the dynamic here very interesting, and possibly a little unrealistic. On the one hand, I respect Bella's right to trust her initial judgment of the Biology Incident as hostile and frightening. And I can't stress enough that her judgment was right -- Edward was actively considering murdering her. It doesn't get more real than that. So it makes perfect sense to me that Bella would be anxious about sitting next to her would-be murderer again.

On the other hand, however, several days have gone by without anything odd happening. Sure, Edward has been out of school, but he could have been out sick or have had an allergic reaction or something. Certainly, his siblings haven't gone to any effort to single Bella out for any violent behavior, and her father has vehemently praised the Cullen children for being paragons of good teenagers.

It's not that I think Bella should revise her initial judgment based on the opinions of her father and the other Forkians who seem to think the Cullens are peachy-if-odd, but I do somehow feel that most people would revise their opinion of Edward Cullen in this situation. Not because we don't trust our judgment or we're all pushovers, but rather just because Edward's behavior is so utterly unusual that it's natural to seek other, more likely explanations for the behavior.

I find Bella's decision here -- to "honor" her self-bargain in light of the fact that Edward isn't glaring at her -- rather touchingly poignant. It puts me in mind of an almost superstitious mentality, where life is governed by tiny self-promises and little blessings and jinxes: If the supermarket is out of Cherry Coke, I'll start my new caffeine-free regimen this week. If the Adopt-A-Pet people at Petsmart have a German Shepherd puppy this weekend, it's a sign that we're meant to get a dog. If Jim is in the office today, then I'm going to ask him for that raise... otherwise, it's not meant to be.

There's a part of me that sees this as further proof that perhaps Bella has low self-esteem: she's not relying so much on her own logic and reasoning skills as she is on little bargains, coin-tosses, and promises. And yet, I also can't help but feel that this is another aspect of infantilizing Bella and de-fanging Edward in the process -- we could have a detailed breakdown of "what are the pros and cons of me showing up in Biology and what are the statistical odds of my being murdered before class is out" that might really cause the reader to grapple with the danger Edward presents, but instead we just get a quick and almost childish bargain: heads Bella goes to class, tails she runs to the nurse.

   Once inside the classroom, I saw with relief that my table was still empty.

I can see Bella being relieved if she thinks there's still a chance that Edward will cut class, but that hasn't been his mode of operation thus far: on the days he's missed class, he's missed lunch as well.

If I were Bella, I think I would be a little more concerned about showing up to class before Edward. Were Edward already in his seat, she could repeat the "slow walk to her seat" routine from their last Biology class together and if Edward showed even the slightest sign of bad behavior again -- glaring, stiff body language, etc. -- then she could immediately bolt out of the room and go with the nurse's office Plan B.

As it is, though, she has very little time left before class starts, and it's going to be harder to bolt from the room once the teacher has started his lecture. Once again, I think Bella isn't taking the long view here.

   I heard very clearly when the chair next to me moved, but my eyes stayed carefully focused on the pattern I was drawing.
   “Hello,” said a quiet, musical voice.
   I looked up, stunned that he was speaking to me. He was sitting as far away from me as the desk allowed, but his chair was angled toward me. His hair was dripping wet, disheveled — even so, he looked like he’d just finished shooting a commercial for hair gel. His dazzling face was friendly, open, a slight smile on his flawless lips.

Hoo boy.

(I really had to restrain myself from posting whole sections of this chapter and just bolding all the Purple Prose adjectives. That wouldn't be a proper deconstruction, Ana, I told myself. But it would be darned funny, self replied.)

I'll confess that in the last however many weeks since I read the entire book, I'd forgotten just how... turgid the Edward descriptions are. Somehow, the FLAWLESS ANGELIC LIPS OF EDWARD irk me as much or more than any other criticism I could level at Twilight, and I'm not sure why.

Maybe part of the problem is that despite being a very visual-sounding description, I can't actually visualize Edward from this description -- it's a long description that doesn't really seem to say much. The only thing I can think of when I try to imagine "flawless lips" is Angelina Jolie, and if anyone around here is going to have plump Jolie lips handed to them on a silver platter, I'd probably appreciate them more on me than on, say, Husband.

Then there's the odd line about "shooting a commercial for hair gel". Hair gel? I imagine that "underwear model" wouldn't have flown past the censors, but why hair gel? What is that supposed to invoke in the reader's mind besides "generically handsome"? It certainly doesn't drive home a specific hair style to me, as there are about as many different ways to use hair gel as there is to style hair in general.

(Interestingly, all the "hair gel" male photos I can find have the men showing off the sensitive-pouty-lip technique, so maybe the "hair gel" line and the "flawless lips" line were linked in a way that initially went over my head.)

   “My name is Edward Cullen,” he continued. “I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself last week. You must be Bella Swan.”
   My mind was spinning with confusion. Had I made up the whole thing? He was perfectly polite now. I had to speak; he was waiting. But I couldn’t think of anything conventional to say.
   “H-how do you know my name?” I stammered.
   He laughed a soft, enchanting laugh.

(Ya'll don't mind if I keep purpling the prose, do you? It's the only way I can keep from ranting incoherently about it.)

It's interesting that on her first day of school, Bella pretty much expected everyone to be all over her business because Forks is a Small Town and gossip is the main export of all Small Towns everywhere. Now, here we are all of about a week later -- more than enough time for everyone in the school to have heard her name second- if not first-hand -- and she's shocked and stammery to have Edward know her name off the bat.

   “No,” I persisted stupidly. “I meant, why did you call me Bella?”
   He seemed confused. “Do you prefer Isabella?”
   “No, I like Bella,” I said. “But I think Charlie — I mean my dad — must call me Isabella behind my back — that’s what everyone here seems to know me as,” I tried to explain, feeling like an utter moron.

Of course, the real mystery isn't that Edward knows her name, it's that he known her nickname, 'Bella'. S.Meyer seems rather proud of this foreshadowing mystery and has set it up very painstakingly by having everyone Bella meets call her 'Isabella' so that they can be ritualistically corrected in every introductory conversation. By not falling into this pattern, Edward is therefore telegraphed as Special.

The problem with this is that it doesn't make sense.

It doesn't make sense for two reasons. The first reason is that Charlie doesn't call Bella 'Isabella'. He doesn't call her 'Bella', either; he calls her 'Bells'. It's a nice nickname and has a very fatherly feel about it -- it doesn't have the delicacy of 'Bella', the formality of 'Isabella', and the 'beauty' trappings of either. It's short, endearing, and vaguely androgynous -- the sort of nickname you might come up with if you didn't want to saddle your daughter with a lifetime of expectations that she be "as beautiful as your name" all the time.

Of course, Bella contends that Charlie uses the formal 'Isabella' around town, but this doesn't seem to fit with his personality. Charlie is a Small Town Police Chief who (apparently) eats at the local diner pretty much every night and goes fishing down at the reservation on the weekends. Despite not being terribly close to Bella emotionally, he's obviously proud of her and wants to show her off to his fellow Forkians, as we can see from his Wall O' School Portraits that he maintains in the house. I can imagine Bella being 'my daughter' or 'my little princess' or 'my Bells' or any number of potentially embarrassing terms for Bella, but why would Charlie revert to the uncomfortable and informal 'Isabella' around his closest friends and neighbors?

Secondly, Bella's (and S.Meyer's) astonishment that Edward knows her True Name doesn't work because Bella has been going around correcting everyone in town for a week at this point. Sure, it's possible that Edward has magical mind-reading abilities and he's picked up Bella's True Name from the minds of all her new friends at school, but it seems far more likely that he's overheard her being discussed at school, or that his siblings have mentioned her at the dinner table. ("Did you hear Chief Swan's daughter moved up here?" "Oh, yeah, Bella? Mike couldn't stop talking about her during gym practice.")

The only way Edward's insight into Bella's True Name is interesting is if Bella is assuming that Edward doesn't exist when she's not around -- as though she's some kind of star in a fictional novel and that when someone isn't in the same scene with her, they cease to exist until the next moment they're needed. I'm not saying that mentality isn't in keeping with Bella's personality thus far, but I do find it laughable that as a reader that I'm supposed to consider Edward's inside knowledge as a meaningful piece of foreshadowing.

   Thankfully, Mr. Banner started class at that moment. I tried to concentrate as he explained the lab we would be doing today. The slides in the box were out of order. Working as lab partners, we had to separate the slides of onion root tip cells into the phases of mitosis they represented and label them accordingly.
   “Ladies first, partner?” Edward asked. I looked up to see him smiling a crooked smile so beautiful that I could only stare at him like an idiot.
   I was showing off, just a little. I’d already done this lab, and I knew what I was looking for. It should be easy. I snapped the first slide into place under the microscope and adjusted it quickly to the 40X objective. I studied the slide briefly.
   My assessment was confident. “Prophase.”
   “Do you mind if I look?” he asked as I began to remove the slide. His hand caught mine, to stop me, as he asked.
   I watched him, still staggered, as he examined the slide for an even shorter time than I had.
   “Prophase,” he agreed, writing it neatly in the first space on our worksheet.

I get that this scene is supposed to be cute, I do. Bella and Edward have both done this lab before -- Bella, because she was in the advanced class in Phoenix, and Edward because he's in high school for the dozenth time at this point -- and they're both trying to show off how quickly they can run through the lab.

This is kind of cute, and I think it could potentially be a foundation for a sweet scene where they both realize that they're trying to impress the other and everyone has a good laugh. Or they could both end up admitting that they aren't really biology wunderkinds and that they are going off of past experience with the lab, and that would be good for a nice ironic what-are-the-odds chuckle as well.

Instead, however, the scene almost builds to decrease romantic chemistry between the two: Bella seems increasingly annoyed that Edward isn't wrong about any of his guesses and therefore can't be given a proper comeuppance, whereas Edward seems increasingly surprised (because Girls Are Dumb) and then amused (because Smart Monkeys Girls Are Funny) that Bella knows her way around the microscope. Neither of these character traits are endearing -- Bella seems childish and petty; Edward seems misogynistic and arrogant.

   “Interphase.” I passed him the microscope before he could ask for it. He took a swift peek, and then wrote it down. I would have written it while he looked, but his clear, elegant script intimidated me. I didn’t want to spoil the page with my clumsy scrawl.
   We were finished before anyone else was close. I could see Mike and his partner comparing two slides again and again, and another group had their book open under the table.   [...]
   Mr. Banner came to our table then, to see why we weren’t working. He looked over our shoulders to glance at the completed lab, and then stared more intently to check the answers.
   “So, Edward, didn’t you think Isabella should get a chance with the microscope?” Mr. Banner asked.
   “Bella,” Edward corrected automatically. “Actually, she identified three of the five.”
   Mr. Banner looked at me now; his expression was skeptical.
   “Have you done this lab before?” he asked.

Let's talk about all the things I don't like about this passage.

First of all, I don't like that Mr. Banner outright assumes that Edward did the entire lab just because they're done early. Yes, he's had Edward all year, and yes he's had a chance to see that Edward is an "advanced" student who no doubt finishes his work early. (Because if you're an immortal vampire trying to blend into the high school scene, it makes sense to ace every class easily and without the slightest bit of effort.)

But he's had Bella for all of a couple of days: he's had zero chance to evaluate her as a student. Furthermore, he clearly wasn't watching them just now, so he must realize that his assumption is based on zero factual data. He should not, therefore, be snidely assuming that Edward did all the work and that Bella isn't just as advanced as Edward. Certainly, it's one thing for him to say "who did which slides?" but to just snip at how Isabella couldn't possibly have done anything during the lab is unacceptable.

Second of all, Mr. Banner digs himself even more deeply in when -- upon learning that Bella identified three slides to Edward's two -- he immediately turns suspicious and asks whether or not Bella has had the lab before. Because she couldn't possibly just be smart or good at Biology or have read ahead in the textbook over the weekend or any other option.

It doesn't matter that Mr. Banner's suspicions are right (Bella has had a similar lab class before in Phoenix); what matters is that he is only suspicious about Bella's apparently "unusual" intelligence. At no point does he ask Edward if he's done the lab before. Nor are we the readers expected to dwell on the fact that Edward is demonstrably no more intelligent than Bella -- the fact that Edward is only good at Biology because he's had this lab numerous times in the past is never explicitly called out in text in the same way that Bella's "fake proficiency" is called out over and over again with Biology, English Literature, and the rest of her classes.

Which brings me to my third complaint: Edward's elegant writing and Bella's clumsy scrawl.

Throughout the pages of this book, Edward is exalted time and again while Bella is humbled. Edward is good at Biology. Edward writes beautifully. Edward plays the piano. Edward can walk and chew gum at the same time. At each display of Edward's dazzling brilliance, Bella takes a moment to reflect on the fact that she is not nearly so smart, so elegant, so creative, so talented. All this is presented at face value: Edward is Special and Bella is Lucky to have him.

But the fact of the matter is, Edward isn't Special -- he's just had a head start on Bella. He's had a hundred years to practice his handwriting, learn to play the piano, and master his gum chewing technique -- she's had a decade or so, tops. Heck, Bella may be even more talented than Edward considering that school is laughably easy for them both, but she's had the course work only once before and he's had it dozens of times!

None of this is ever called out in text, in my opinion. The author seems to unconsciously fill the role of Mr. Banner -- Edward's accomplishments are good and strong and fine and praiseworthy, while Bella's accomplishments are borderline cheating and don't demonstrate any skill on her part. Why? Bella and Edward both excel at school through rote memorization -- the only difference is that he's a boy vampire and she's a girl human. Sexism or specism? You decide.


Cupcakedoll said...

Hoo boy.

Please do continue the purpling.  'tis hilarious.

And it clearly shows this scene is being written from a vantage point of "later."  Because nobody is dazzling on first meeting.  Just nobody.  I find Captain Mal dazzling and think his delivery of certain lines is flawless.  But this infatuation did not spring into being full formed; it took a few episodes, you know, having some information/experience of the guy and his personality.  Bella has nothing but a face to base all this melodramatic language on.

And all this description has the side effect of making me see Edward as an anime bishonen.  Real live Bella, real classroom, and animated Edward.  If there were any hint that the reader were supposed to see Bella and the rest of the world as animated, it would work, but one artist-drawn boy in the real world just doesn't work.  My disbelief does not suspend that high. x_x

Edward knows her True Name

It's Recognition! 

Actually the werewolves DO suffer from Recognition, which made me briefly wonder if SMeyer had read ElfQuest.    I doubt it, but I wonder which of the many stories with "soulmates at first sight" in it SMeyer did get the idea from.

Gil said...

"master his gun chewing technique" That sounds painful

Ana Mardoll said...

Ha, good catch there. Thank you. :)

Ana Mardoll said...

I like your anime idea - clearly the Twilight movie would have been better with a "Roger Rabbit" film technique!

Nathaniel said...

At thirty pages in, the purple starts. God help us all.
One of the things I hate about Bella is how she is simultaneously presented as both an incredible fuck up and way better than anyone else.
This only makes sense in light of this implicit hiearchy: Sparklies>Bella>Rabble.

Pthalo said...

A charitable interpretation for the teacher is that he noticed that it was entirely Edward's handwriting on the sheet. But your interpretation is prolly better.

Ana Mardoll said...

That's a good point -- I hadn't thought of that. If I recall correctly from my childhood, it seems to me that it was usually de riguer for one person (whoever had the "prettiest" writing) to fill in all the answers, but it's possible that it might be suspicious. I'm terribly off-put by his tone, though.

chris the cynic said...

   “My name is Edward Cullen,” he continued. “I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself last week. You must be Bella Swan.”   And for a moment all my fear and uncertainty disappeared.  I smiled and said, "It's finally working."
   He was naturally confused and asked, "What?"
   "Telling people to call me 'Bella' instead of Isabella'.  You're the first person I haven't had to correct.  Usually it takes at least three tries."
   That exchange didn't make it so I was suddenly at ease with him, but it did push my dread to the back of my mind and the lighter note it set carried me through my interactions with him that day.

I don't know, it needs work, but I think it's better than, "How do you know my name?!"

Ana Mardoll said...

I like it -- combines a touch of realism with a realistic "phew, he's being polite to me and not trying to kill me" feel that I think Bella would (based on her personality) be experiencing at the moment.

I mean, she just spent all lunch period working herself up into a frenzy -- that's not easy to sustain. At the slightest hint that everything is going to be okay, I have to think your body would flood with "False Alarm, People!" and you'd be warmer to the person in question than she actually is.

Well, that's how my body works anyway.

chris the cynic said...

My first thought was that he assumed they had each written down their own results.  It's a bad assumption (if I were partnered with someone with clear, elegant script  they would definitely get stuck with all the writing because my illegibility should not be inflicted on a lab report) but it does sort of flow from what he did.  He looked at their paper, he double checked their paper, and then he asked why Edward did all the work.

That good will, if it is good will to assume someone made bad assumptions*, is pretty much destroyed by his skepticism.  The first reaction to hearing she did her share of the work is skepticism?  Really?

And if it must be skepticism, why is it all on Bella?  If he really believes that no one other than Edward McSparkleHair could possibly have done the work that fast, why assume Bella is holding back instead of assuming Edward did something fishy?  But that concern is as nothing when compared to the skepticism itself.


*That's a strange phrase to write and It feels like it should be commented on somehow.  Hence this comment on it.

Ana Mardoll said...

Amarie, Thank you, I am hoping I can get to the doctor soon and see if he can't make some adjustments. :)I definitely see the appeal that you're talking about, and it's something of a dangerous one. I remember, way back when, seeing the Twilight movie and saying to Husband, "I can see the appeal", and his rather horrified "WHY?" There's something incredibly intoxicating about the idea of a mate that makes you the most important thing in their life. I don't mean in a "Whatever it takes to make Ana happy" sense, but in an ALL CONSUMING OBSESSION sense. Bella could literally decide at the end of the series that she never wants to walk or chew her food again, and Edward would cheerfully carry her around with a smoothie in one hand for the rest of eternity. Her wish is (within certain literary limits) LITERALLY his command. It's easy to see how that could be appealing for a few minutes, albeit utterly unhealthy, and terribly creepy in Real Life. I think it's one of those things that only really works as a fantasy.

Marie Brennan said...

Because nobody is dazzling on first meeting.  Just nobody.

Actually, I beg to differ.

I went to my husband's ten-year high school reunion with him, and there I met a guy who should be trotted out as an example to every gamer who wants to know what exactly the Charisma stat represents.  It wasn't just that he was good-looking (which he was) or had a great smile (which he did) -- when he shook my hand and said "It's a pleasure to meet you," he made me BELIEVE it.  The way that he paid attention to whomever he was speaking to radiated sincere interest in what they were saying, and somehow did so without crossing the border into creepiness.  He was, hands-down, the most magnetic person I've met in my entire life -- to the point where it's seven years later and I remember a half-hour conversation with this guy.

(Apparently he comes from a whole family of salespeople, though he himself is a firefighter.  Which last detail basically makes him eligible to be the hero of a romance novel.)

But -- and here's the catch -- his dazzling-ness hinged on a whole set of characteristics and behaviors that just are. not. there. with Edward.  If Mr. Marble Angel is dazzling, I see only two possible explanations why: first, it's the Cullen Celebrity Effect (people are frequently dazzled by celebrities who are not exerting themselves to be charismatic at all), or second, there's some stray bits of sunlight leaking in the windows and reflecting off his skin.  I suspect the former, and it doesn't make Bella look good.

Amarie said...

Oh, you’re welcome, Ana. I wish you luck at your doctor’s appointment! :D
And, EXACTLY. Also, it’s a bit of a power trip; it goes beyond Bella just being a fragile human controlling an insanely strong vampire. It’s all about how she THINKS. I believe that more than half of what Bella’s thought processes are along the lines of “What can I do/say to get what I want in this conversation/situation”? She’s puts an incredible amount of time, energy, and effort into manipulating her world and the people in it to suit her tastes and desires. And Edward, as you’ve said, has always allowed that.

Cupcakedoll said...

The whole "women dependent upon men" in this way was done far, far better in Anne Bishop's Black jewels novels.  They're set in a fantasy world and by culture and biology the men's lives really do center around protecting their women and making them happy.  It's the exact same appeal-- spelled out most by the fact that the men can sense when a lady is having "that time of the month" and they become even more caring then.  You can just see Ms. Bishop stuck at work while suffering the aches and pains of the monthlies daydreaming about how nice it would be if she could just stay home and read when feeling this bad instead of having to tough it out as current culture insists females should do.

But it works because it's a fantasy world and the characters aren't exactly human.  In Twilight which is supposed to be REAL... refer back to Amarie's excellent post above for why it's creepy.

Ana Mardoll said...

(Apparently he comes from a whole family of salespeople, though he
himself is a firefighter.  Which last detail basically makes him
eligible to be the hero of a romance novel.)


Speaking of romance/erotica, it may not be a coincidence that quite a few of them seem to revolve around actually-telepathic or essentially-telepathic partners who automatically know precisely what to do/say in order to please the protagonist/reader-insert-character. Communication may be the foundation of a healthy relationship, but why not go a step farther in fantasy and have a character who lives to please the protagonist because they acutely feel everything the protagonist feels?

So essentially, Twilight is looking to have something in common with the romance/erotica genres as a whole.

(Note: I'm not conflating those two genres because I think they're the same, I'm conflating them because I think they have enough similarities for this particular conversation to justify the backslash shorthand. :))

Abdul Jah said...

And it clearly shows this scene is being written from a vantage point of
"later."  Because nobody is dazzling on first meeting.  Just nobody.  I
find Captain Mal dazzling and think his delivery of certain lines is
flawless.  But this infatuation did not spring into being full formed;
it took a few episodes, you know, having some information/experience of
the guy and his personality.  Bella has nothing but a face to base all
this melodramatic language on.

I think that's one of the problems that lazy writers face. They want the reader to think that a person is charismatic, mesmerizing, enchanting, etc but they can't or don't want to put in the work to prove that. Instead, they just have the other characters or (worse, in my view), an intrusive omniscient narrator say it for them. Instead of actually taking the time to craft charismatic, mesmerizing dialogue, they just have a scene that looks like this:

"I just flew in from Houston, and boy are my arms tired!" said the hilarious and witty comedian humorously.


The brilliant scientist frowned as she intelligently looked at the complex scientific equation. "Gadzooks," she said in a smart and knowledgeable way, "with this device I will be able to smash more atoms than ever previously before!"

It's similar to what happens when you try to portray a character as being a brilliant poet or architect (or investigative reporter) or otherwise having a real-world ability that you don't really understand.

Ana Mardoll said...


I'm sorry we lost your dazzling post about kittens. :(  I've found that Disque can be twitchy depending on your browser -- ever so often with Internet Explorer it just doesn't like me. Firefox and Chrome work well though. I always try to copy my posts before I hit send -- a lesson learned from too many reviews getting lost on Amazon. Gah!

I like your points -- it an interesting bit of wish fulfillment that Bella doesn't THINK she's awesome but she actually obviously IS because otherwise all the boys wouldn't fall in love with her, school wouldn't be so easy for her, etc. There's got to be a TV Trope for that. (Well, besides just "Mary Sue".)

** I was
going to say that it was odd that, though I'm not a comic book person I
couldn't read this without thinking of the incredible hulk.  Then I
realized that if I were comic book person I wouldn't think his first
name was David.

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thought this. I've really only seen the Hulk movies and not the comics but I was all YOU ARE NO DAVID BANNER SIR! :P

chris the cynic said...

(Didn't know who DAVID Banner was though, until I googled it just now.)

I blame the radio.  One of Sirus/XM's stations does a thing where they'll do a take off on a bit of audio from the period and stick their name into it.  One of them is what must be the intro to the TV show.  So every so often I hear "Dr. David Banner was a research scientist trying to find a way to tap into the hidden strength that all humans possess. ... Now, whenever he becomes angered or distressed he listens to the 70s on 7."  Or something like that.

Amarie said...

Awww! Thank you VERY much Cupcake; that really means a lot, coming from you. :D

BrokenBell said...

I hate this scene. It completely ignores the fact that our perceptions - especially of people - are heavily influenced by our feelings. Bella doesn't describe Edward like she's just spent the last hour desperately thinking of ways to avoid him - she describes him like, as has been said, he's a celebrity, and she's a fan. For that matter, Edward's actions are completely incongruent with his past behaviour, as well as the fact that his hindbrain is still demanding that he crack open her bones and suck out the juicy filling for an afternoon snack. They're still strangers. Before this scene, they regarded each other with nothing but fear and suspicion. And now, Bella sits down, and suddenly they're having cutesy high school romance hand-touchy moments?

No. No. How did we get to this point? There was a scene where Edward falls in love with Bella, and Bella falls in love with Edward, and it helps us understand why they care about each other, why they'd continue to walk into hell for each other - and that scene doesn't exist, because Meyer has this bizarre and fantastical concept of "love", and can't understand why such a scene would be necessary. They were Fated to be with each other forever, therefore love exists between them. It's "love" as a force of nature, instead of a simple and complicated human emotion, and I hate it so much. This same idea comes up later, with the werewolves, and it's just as objectionable then as it is now - except that at least the wolves have an excuse.

And why, for the love of all that is purple, is his hair "dripping wet"?! I get that heavy use of hair gel gives your hair a slick kind of look, but "dripping"?! That's not a pretty image! It's not even a pretty word! What! Why? How?!

Kit Whitfield said...

Sorry you're not well, Ana. Hope things get better soon!


And why, for the love of all that is purple, is his hair "dripping wet"?! I get that heavy use of hair gel gives your hair a slick kind of look, but "dripping"?! That's not a pretty image! It's not even a pretty word! What! Why? How?!

I think that's kind of the point: his hair is in a state that should be unattractive, but instead of looking lank and limp it looks glossy and luscious. Hence, the hair gel ad comparison: it's a way of saying that nothing spoils his looks. And possibly evokes connotations of water droplets trickling down skin. 
--I think Amarie makes an excellent point: if we read Bella to be her rather than to hear her, then her lack of attractions is attractive to a reader because she provokes neither envy nor intimidation. But I think there's another element to it as well: very often when we meet an attractive person, we worry that they're out of our league, because they're so great and we're just plain old us. And in romances that work out, the other person is thinking the same thing in reverse, and it's all very lovely. Bella's meeting with Edward is kind of a writ-large version of that: she's having an exaggerated sense of that 'Oh, this person's probably too attractive for the likes of me...' feeling that everyone sometimes gets. It would help if her reasons for finding him attractive were based on more than just a few superlatives that don't convey anything very graphic, but I guess it works for a lot of readers. 

Kit Whitfield said...

I actually like the detail that his handwriting's elegant. Good handwriting is a genuine accomplishment, which is at least being attracted to something Edward's worked on rather than being born with. 

Bificommander said...

If we're being generous, we could assume Banner has asked Edward if he'd done the class before the first 20 times he pulled this kind of stunt. And the awesome Edward probably had a good excuse then.

Still weird though. If he's accepted that Edward can be that good, it is a bit weird to still assume anyone doing a good job must be cribbing notes, even if he is right. Not a good teacher.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you, Kit. :)

And in romances that work out, the other person is thinking the same thing in reverse, and it's all very lovely.

Riffing off this, this is probably why Edward will spend so much time gushing over Bella being so special and so important and the greatest gift in the world is her life. He can't just love her because it would look pale and weak in contrast to her all-consuming devotion.

The problem is that, as the reader, we haven't seen any evidence of Bella being THAT special. Sure, people fall in love with ordinary people every day, but the more Edward gushes over Bella's utterly, irreplaceable uniqueness, the more it starts to sound false.

I wish his immunity-to-mind-reading had been played up as the reason, a la Sookie Stackhouse, but then that would create the uncomfortable (to S. Meyer) impression that Edward likes Bella for that trait alone (since there isn't a whole world of also-immune-to-mind-reading people he can choose from). It might also indicate that Edward's gift isn't all that great sometimes, and we can't have THAT. :P

Ana Mardoll said...

I actually like the detail that his handwriting's elegant. Good
handwriting is a genuine accomplishment, which is at least being
attracted to something Edward's worked on rather than being born with.

As a doctor, though, Carlisle's handwriting had better be pretty crummy or their cover is blown.

Kit Whitfield said...

Sure, people fall in love with ordinary people every day, but the more Edward gushes over Bella's utterly, irreplaceable uniqueness, the more it starts to sound false. 

I think the main reason for that is that he doesn't go into details. In a happy relationship, you'd think he'd have things to say about her personality, her opinions, her habits, her qualities: things you love about someone can be very specific, and can vary from the endearingly tiny ('I love the way you chew your lip when you're following a difficult recipe') to the very serious ('You have tremendous moral courage and I really admire you.') That's pretty much the basic fabric of romance. But if I remember right, Edward's love-talk is mostly about the fact that he loves her, without going into what or why

You might argue there's an element of male-female dichotomy there: men are supposed to be less good at articulating their feelings. And in fact, sometimes my husband has said 'I love you,' and when asked to go into details, said happily, 'I just love you' or 'You're just great' and left it at that. But on other occasions, he's been more specific, because there's nothing in a Y chromosome that prevents you from explaining yourself. And it doesn't seem like Edward's inarticulate: it's more that Bella doesn't ask. She runs herself down and he contradicts her, she expresses doubt in his love and he reiterates it, but she never actually asks 'What do you love about me?' and he never volunteers it. 

I suspect the reason is that it's so much a book about physical attraction. She's overwhelmed by his good looks; he's overwhelmed by her good smell - and in a way, the way she relates to him is so ... well, you could call it superficial if you were being uncharitable or visceral if you were being sympathetic, but in either case, the way she relates to him is such that you might argue that his unexplained love for her is no odder than her unexplained love for him. They both feel a powerful attraction and assume this means they're in love. 

Kit Whitfield said...

I wish her immunity-to-mind-reading had been played up as the reason, a la Sookie Stackhouse, but then that would create the uncomfortable (to S. Meyer) impression that Edward likes Bella for that trait alone (since there isn't a whole world of also-immune-to-mind-reading people he can choose from).

Since it's a fairly conservative book, I fear that might have played up the sense that women should be 'mysterious' to attract men - ie, they should shut up. There's a very interesting series of three articles about the Evangelical 'embrace' of Twilight*, and in the second, the author quotes someone saying:

In our generation the notion of mystique has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Boys don’t wonder about feminine charms because those charms are no longer hidden. A boy doesn’t need to read a girl’s mind since most girls are all too eager to reveal every secret thought and overwhelm boys with a barrage of phone calls, text messages, and online chat sessions that drain away all sense of “mystery” from the relationship.

Upon which she comments with appropriate sharpness: According to Bruner, it’s better that Bella’s (and every female’s) mind is left a mystery so that men can experience “feminine charms” without interference from feminine voices.


Ana Mardoll said...

Since it's a fairly conservative book, I fear that might have played up
the sense that women should be 'mysterious' to attract men - ie, they
should shut up. There's a very interesting series of three articles
about the Evangelical 'embrace' of Twilight*, and in the second, the
author quotes someone saying:

That's a very good point, and though Harris handles it well, I'm not sure Meyer could.

There's a scene in the first book where Bill asks Sookie what she likes most about him and she says "Your silence." He's hurt and confused because (a) he isn't a particularly silent person and (b) it sounds like she doesn't care about his conversation.

She has to clarify that she DOES value his conversation immensely; she just really enjoys the feeling of "normalcy" that she doesn't know what he's going to say before he says it, and that he COULD keep secrets from her if he wanted to.

But, again, I think in order to make this very very clear that it's not OMG WOMEN TALK!! nonsense, the author would have to clarify that Edward's "gift" is tremendously awful. Douglas Adams calls telepathy the worst of all social ills (IIRC), and I have to agree -- I can't imagine how Edward gets along with his "family" except that they're all such happy pod people.

Inquisitive Raven said...

I dunno, my mom's a doctor (well, retired now, finally letting her license lapse), and her handwriting's quite nice. And she was the clinician in the family. My dad, also an MD, but a researcher, had the stereotypical lousy handwriting. That said, it was legible, barely.

By contrast, I used to work in a radiology department, and a couple of the radiologists couldn't read their own handwriting.  No exaggeration, I'd occasionally take a file back to them to see if they could decipher the scrawl on the front of the file, and get back "I dunno."

mmy said...

I had quite an argument (on Facebook) with an Edward fan who verbally swooned over his stunning intelligence and his mastery of all skills that need be mastered. This scene reminds of why I came away from the book with the opinion that Edward was in fact, not intelligent beyond the average. Someone who had been through school multiple times, who had had decades to read all the great books and decades to listen to all the great music should not sound like one of my emo students who used their thesaurus with abandon. 

redcrow said...

Amarie, I'm sorry, but it *is* a big stretch to claim something like that. For all we know, Meyer could experience plenty of PAIN-in-four-capital-letters in her  life, and that's exactly why her books are the way they are. Twilight might not be my brand of escapism, but it is an escapism nonetheless. We *can* speculate about what exactly she needed an escape from, but we don't *know*.
(I hope you're right, actually, about her life expiriences - enduring horrible pain doesn't turn mediocre-or-worse authors into great authors, and it also doesn't necessarily makes people stronger instead of breaking them irreparably, so, yes, I hope Meyer has a boring, eventless life, not a tragic one.)

Kit Whitfield said...

I'm with redcrow.  (I also think that any woman who's had three children has some pretty good experience of pain, frankly.) 

I'm also very uncomfortable about speculations on authors that are that personal. There's plenty to criticise in her books, but I think a degree of respect for her privacy and dignity should be maintained. Psychoanalysing someone on the Internet is always a doubtful business, and if someone who didn't like my books did it about me, I'd feel pretty fed up. As redcrow says, we just can't know. An escapist book might be the product of a life with nothing to escape, or a lot to escape, or something in between, and there's no way of knowing. People write the books they can write.Her books are naive art, but it seems patronising and insulting to assume that this is because she's a completely ignorant person with no life experience to speak of. 

Donalbain said...

Why oh why oh why is there only one worksheet between them? This is astonishingly bad practice, both educationally and scientifically. In the educational sense, they will both want a record of what they have learnt in this lesson for review purposes. Scientifically, it is just good practice to record your own observations and not rely on what someone else tells you.

Julezyme said...

What struck me when I read this scene (on a long plane trip*) was that it had more of an Anne and Gilbert vibe than a twoo wuv vibe. Bella seems annoyed because Sparklepants is being all grabby with the microscope - she's done this lab before, she knows she's right, why must he keep second-guessing her? This is consistent with her character so far, which is sullen, misanthropic, and so utterly self-absorbed that she can't realize that other humans are notaware of what is inside her head ... in other words, a garden-variety unhappy adolescent; an almost adult body and intellect coupled with the emotional miasma of a toddler. Ah, middle school! You could argue that at 17 Bella should be over the worst of that phase by now but clearly she isn't - and I know some ostensible grown-ups who are still there.
But I thought she seemed genuinely pissed that she couldn't outdo Edward at the lab, and vexed at his seeming condescension toward her. That is the emotional undertone I got from the whole book - series - and the simultaneous need/want/love provided the tension. There are way more scenes of open and fierce antagonism between these "lovers" than there are actual "love" scenes.
The parallel with Heathcliff and Cathy seems more and more fitting.
I can't believe I am defending this book.

*one SMeyer novel = one transAtlantic flight
Maybe I am projecting myself onto Bella though!

Ana Mardoll said...

It may be a stretch for me to say, but…I don’t believe that Mrs. Meyer has ever experienced PAIN.

Perhaps we can say that, whatever Meyer's private experiences, she does not seem to allow real pain to flow over into the writing. The biggest example of real pain in the series is, IIRC, the period where Edward leaves Bella in New Moon and she sinks into a depression.

For Meyer, this is clearly a visceral moment, but it doesn't work for the reader because we haven't felt like B/E have had an epic love story up to this moment; we don't feel Bella's pain because it doesn't seem to be justified in the text. Meyers may or may not feel and understand pain acutely, but in order to get the READER to feel it, it takes a lot of in-text justification to establish a stronger, more passionate relationship that B/E seem to have.

Perhaps that would be less likely to lead to speculation about Meyer's actual life which, as others have said, we really can only know so little about -- even interviews are a very carefully staged process.

I keep meaning to write an auto-biography entitled "This Is Mostly Lies". (They wouldn't be to ME, of course, but the other people in the biography might feel differently........ :))

Amarie said...

Hey, everyone!
Sorry about my speculation; I honestly didn’t mean to offend anyone. My apologies. I suppose that I felt that-knowing two rape victims in real life-I felt that Mrs. Meyer didn’t handle Rosalie’s experience with the respect that it deserved. From there, I couldn’t read Twilight as a fluff/escapist series because I was too disturbed with how little Rosalie changed, for one.
I suppose I jumped to conclusions about Mrs. Meyer personally. Again, my apologies. : )

Ana Mardoll said...

 Quite alright. :)

I do take your point that the Rosalie rape is handled very poorly. For me (although I admit to not having read officially further than the first book, and am basing this on the movies and internet knowledge), I am irked that it seems to be used to justify Rosalie's bitterness towards anyone and everyone, and especially the SPECIAL PROTAGONIST BELLA.

Rosalie's rape seems therefore less of a terrible tragedy that does happen to people and more like a quick and dirty justification for why she is a rather unlikable character. Instead of the rape humanizing Rosalie to the author, it seems to be a shortcut for "well, she's bitter for X reason" -- it seems to trivialize the event.

There is a TV Trope called "Rape is the new Dead Parents" and it basically refers to how rape is more and more commonly used in backstories to "justify" certain personalities and behaviors as well as to add Insta-Drama to a backstory. This is problematic for many reasons, but especially because it is extremely problematic to define people as "rape victim and therefore X" where X is some personality characteristic that is stamped on them by the fact of the rape. This means their rape changed them in a very real way against their will, which is a very far-reaching invasion of self, to say the least. Of course, rape DOES change a person, in as much as ANY life event changes a person, but the extent of those changes vary widely from person to person.

Incidentally, since we're on a Harry Potter kick this month, there has also been a lot of internet backlash over the implication that Voldemort is evil at least in part because his mother's love/rape spell cast on his father made him go horribly wrong from a very young age. I can't speak to the details on that one, though, having not read the canon where that was implied.

I also, speaking of backstories, seem to recall that Antichrist Nic from Left Behind was raised by two gay men? Which is obviously going to result in an evil baby from LaHaye's POV.

Izzy said...

You know, if it wasn't for Edward doing everything else better, I would think that his handwriting being way better makes perfect sense--he was born back when people gave two shits about it. Bella's a little younger than my generation, and I can't think of anyone in my peer group whose handwriting is "elegant" or "beautiful", or who actually cares whether or not it is. We have computers for stuff other people need to read; if you have to send out wedding invitations or something...there are people who do that. And most of them use computers too.

Actually, good handwriting in a seventeen-year-old boy would probably be something of a giveaway: the scholastic equivalent of wearing a cravat and waistcoat. Maybe I'll use that sometime. 

I partly get the appeal of the "he likes me and I don't have to do anything" plot--it's Sixteen Candles with vampires and gag-me family values, basically--but...I really don't. If I'm with a guy, I want him to admire specific things about me. I don't want a man who loves me when I'm being a dipshit, or who thinks I'm sexy when I have a head cold, or whatever: ugh, no. If he does that, then it means nothing when I get all dressed up or do awesome smart things. 

You can keep unconditional love, basically. 

Amarie said...

Thank you, Ana. : )
I agree with you. The way Rosalie’s rape was handled just…disturbed me. Again, I was screaming in my mind, “Stephenie Meyer, where in the world did you come from?!” I just couldn’t understand what was going through the author’s mind when she pretty much just casually threw in rape…
It was a complete contradiction to me, in regards to Rosalie’s character; she ‘saw the curse of her beauty’, yet she’s still incredibly vain/selfish after all these years. So, again, I agree with you that the rape was thrown in as a reason why Rosalie didn’t like Bella. I suppose that in the Twilight world, the only people who dislike the special protagonist are the people who have externalized their own problems. Heaven forbid that someone dislikes Bella because of who she is, how she acts, etc.
Hmm…I’ll have to look up that TV Trope. It sounds interesting.
Gah!! Don’t spoil Left Behind for me, haha!

Kit Whitfield said...

*makes friendly gestures at Amarie*

I haven't read that far, but it does sound like the issue of rape isn't handled at all well. 

I don't want a man who loves me when I'm being a dipshit
I do. Which isn't to say I don't want a man who never gets mad at me, even when I'm in the wrong, but I reckon the ability to piss someone off without losing their love is one of the foundations of a good relationship. (That, and having some civilised rules for how you conduct the ensuing quarrel. My personal ones are: no name-calling or insults - ie 'You're being horrible' rather than 'You're a horrible person' - listen if either party says 'You're actually intimidating me', and don't drag up past arguments unless they genuinely are relevant to what you're fighting about now.) 

Someone who never took exception to anything I did would be a bit disconcerting, because, while I think I'm always right, I'm probably wrong about that and a bit of sense and spine are good qualities in partners of any gender. But I think you can love the person without loving how they're acting right now and then have a good row about it. (Come to think of it, though, it always struck me that Bella and Edward's natural conversational style was that of a low-level argument. That strike anyone else?)

Ana Mardoll said...

... I remember Mark of markreads commenting that the bulk of their conversations are tinged with aggression, I think...

Sue White said...

From the bits I've seen of these books, it does seem that Bella spends an awful lot of time wanking on about how gorgeous and perfect Edward is in every way imaginable.  Now, maybe an infatuated teenager can be forgiven for thinking about a Lust Object this way.  But somehow it makes it sound like she's describing an objective fact about him whenever she describes his various bits as "flawless" or "dazzling"  or whatever.  Which makes me wonder - when Bella becomes a vampire later on, will she become flawless and gorgeous too? 

Ana Mardoll said...

This is very fascinating. I'm not very familiar with the tether concept (must research it) but this is the most plausible reason I've heard so far for the New Moon depression. I love it.

I would also enjoy that movie immensely. Especially the crossbows part.

chris the cynic said...

It might be hard to research the idea of tethers since I don't know what the technical term for them is, assuming there is one.  The term "tether" comes from the depression 101 thread at The Slacktiverse and if you read it you'll see that everyone who talks about one has a different experience of what it's like.  Some of them are more  internal, some more external.  For one person it was a role playing character who actually talked them through things.

The thing that ties it all together is really just that the idea resonated enough for people to read the original statement and realize that they had a name for this hithertofore unnamed thing they had experienced.I would say that Will's statement that I quoted was closest to my own experience, but then I immediately think of a character from one of my stories who managed to keep me going for a while when nothing else could.  That's obviously a lot more on the internal side of things and somewhat closely resembles someone else's description of a tether in that thread.  So it's worth noting that even within a single person you can have a range of experience of kinds of tethers.

It suddenly occurs to me that if you had a bunch at the same time that would be ... normal.  The difference might not be that depressed people have tethers as coping mechanisms, it might be that non-depressed people have so many tethers that it doesn't usually make sense to think of them as tethers anymore.

The Dread Pirate Matt said...

I like to refer to this as "The Dan Brown Effect". Essentially it's the old rule that an author cannot write a character smarter than him/herself, so makes up for it by describing the character's inherent awesomeness without ever actually providing an example of it. L&J do exactly the same thing with Cameron 'Buck' Williams, Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time, in 'Left Behind'.

It frustrated me to the point of tears in 'Digital Fortress' that the protagonist (who is supposed to be some amazingly-awesome-beautiful-witty-athletic-and-smart-everywoman head cryptographer at the NSA) takes three-quarters of the book to realise that the name used for a fake email address is an -- gasp! -- anagram of the guy's *actual* name. It takes a reader of reasonable intelligence about 30 seconds tops, so the characters come across as willfully ignorant instead of even reasonably intelligent.

Of course, the solution is good research. Compare and contrast the portrayal of cryptographers (both in terms of work done and overall intelligence) in Dan Brown's 'Digital Fortress' and Neal Stephenson's 'Cryptonomicon'.

I'm rather convinced that Dan Brown's '100% fact' research comes entirely from those emails with all those amazing 'facts'.

Amaryllis said...

Oh my God, Digital Fortress.

That book was stupider than "Left Behind."

there has also been a lot of internet backlash over the implication that
Voldemort is evil at least in part because his mother's love/rape spell
cast on his father made him go horribly wrong from a very young age.

Hmmm.  I don't know the context of the discussion, but I didn't get the impression that Voldemort/Tom Riddle  went bad because of some kind of magical backlash or curse. What he was, was an abandoned, unloved child; what damaged him was not so much the circumstance of his conception but his abandonment by both his parents. I'm too lazy to go upstairs and get the book, but I remember the story going something like this:

His mother, Merope, was the daughter of a family formerly numbered among the magical aristocracy, but fallen on hard times. When we first meet her she's a household drudge, emotionally abused by her father and brother, a depressed Cinderella without beauty or charm or intelligence or a fairy godmother. She falls in love/becomes obsessed with the son of the local Muggle squire, who won't look at her twice, so she resorts to love potions and magical rape. The spell wears off when she's pregnant, and her husband immediately dumps her and doesn't want to know about the child.

And like Bella when Edward leaves her, she's lost her "tether" (even though it was a tether she grabbed onto by force) and sinks back into a depression worse than ever. She dies in childbirth, apparently willing herself to do so, and the infant Tom is sent to an orphanage where it seems that no one was particularly concerned with his emotional welfare.

And the unloved child grows up unloving; the descendant of two aristocracies who feels denied his rightful place in either of them seeks to dominate a hierarchy based on bloodlines; the boy whose mother chose death over life with him becomes obsessed with claiming power over death.

This backstory is presented in contrast to Harry's. Harry was a year old when his parent were killed; that year of love, even though he had no conscious memory of it, gave him the emotional resilience to survive the Dursleys with his spirit mostly intact.

Plenty of children have overcome a difficult start in life and grown up to be decent human beings. But it's really, really hard for the ones who weren't loved at all during those early years when they needed it most.

Silver Adept said...

There are a lot of things wrong with that scene. Banner's suspicion might be that Bella's the new kid, and he, like all the other teachers, knows about the prodigy Cullen. So when he sees only Edward appearing to do work (because he's a remarkably unobservant teacher by continuing to pair Bella and Edward after The Biology Incident), he assumes Bella is riding the coattails, and has struck some sort of bargain with him so that he will say she's been doing the work. Because it's totally not possible that frail, oft-absent Edward Cullen is stronger than even the klutz Swan. She must be clearly bullying him into doing all the work, the big-city girl.

Also, Bella's sudden shift from scared for her life to mesmerized by his beauty is unbelievable, especially since she's been trying to psych herself up to go to Biology. Are we sure that there isn't a low-level Adoration Field being generated here? Perhaps Jasper is always just off-camera, ensuring that everyone has a proper level of awe and lack of suspicion?

Ana Mardoll said...

I managed to dig up the live chat interview. It's one of those things where probably nothing wrong was said, but it does raise some unfortunate implications for me nonetheless:

Ravleen: How much does the fact that
voldemort was conceived under a love potion have to do with his
nonability to understand love is it more symbolic

J.K. Rowling: It was a symbolic way of
showing that he came from a loveless union - but of course, everything
would have changed if Merope had survived and raised him herself and
loved him.

J.K. Rowling: The enchantment under which
Tom Riddle fathered Voldemort is important because it shows coercion,
and there can't be many more prejudicial ways to enter the world than as
the result of such a union.

This may fall squarely in the Don't Make Blanket Statements About Very Complex And Emotionally Charged Issues That You May Or May Not Have Experienced First-Hand But Which Other People Will No Doubt Experience Differently.

Even if Voldemort isn't directly stated to be evil because of his coercive birth circumstances, it seems heavily implied. If Voldemort is radiating evil even as a child when Dumbledore finds him, he's either been damaged by birth or damaged by the orphanage. Since we don't hear that the other non-coercively-conceived babies in the same orphanage also went on to be also consumed with hate and anger from epic fail raising on the part of the orphanage personnel (and just lacked the magically skills necessary to range beyond the "petty criminal" level), then the implication is that the problem stems from the birth circumstances.

Harry was a year old when his parent were killed; that year of love,
even though he had no conscious memory of it, gave him the emotional
resilience to survive the Dursleys with his spirit mostly intact.

I get the contrast on a literary level, but I'm just not sure how comfortable I am with it. There's an implication here that if Harry's first year hadn't had love, then he would have been emotionally less resilient. I'm sure that's all meant very kindly, but the unfortunate implication is that children whose parents don't love each other are permanently damaged by that situation. One of the biggest issues children of divorced parents have to face is the fear that they are "broken" irreparably by their parents' actions, and this fear often carries into later life because it is so ingrained in our society that Perfect People Come From Perfect Families. I'm sure that divorce or being a child of rape can be VERY emotionally distressing in individual cases, but for me it's one of those "don't talk about this in a clinical manner when it's someone's life we're ultimately discussing". Others may feel differently or that I'm being too sensitive -- it's possible, and wouldn't be the first time. :)
---Incidentally, as part of Googling this up, I found a delightfully strange article that argues that Tom Riddle is Jesus and therefore Rowling hates God. Or something:'s Law? You decide! ( )

Ana Mardoll said...

Bella's sudden shift from scared for her life to mesmerized by his
beauty is unbelievable, especially since she's been trying to psych
herself up to go to Biology. Are we sure that there isn't a low-level
Adoration Field being generated here? Perhaps Jasper is always just
off-camera, ensuring that everyone has a proper level of awe and lack of

This makes sense, and it would account for why the Cullens don't need to pretend they're eating and so forth. I recently re-read The Stepford Wives, and the women fear that there is lithium in the water and mention the "low crime rates" that follow lithium leakage. It'd be amusing if Bella noticed that with her Google-Fu later.

Kit Whitfield said...

I get the impression that Rowling's position on nature versus nurture goes something like this: 

We can't help the circumstances into which we're born, and some of us are born into bad circumstances that give us very little chance. However, we all have a moral duty to try to be as good a person as we can no matter where we started from, and must try to make the best of what chances we get.  The environment into which we're placed makes a big difference, and if we have a bad home life, friends can be the saving of us*. But we have to commit to working on our own mental health. If we don't, and succumb to our darker impulses, we're still responsible for that decision. We may deserve compassion, depending on exactly how badly we act once we've succumbed: if we're just low-level nasty or unreasonable, we're kind of pitiable, but if we kill lots of people, a bad past isn't an excuse. We're entitled to be angry and disturbed if we've had a bad life, but we aren't entitled to take it out on people with murderous violence. 

I don't know Rowling, so I can't comment on her intentions, but the Harry Potter books themselves have a certain depressive vibe that, having had PND and seen people I love suffer major depression, rings a loud bell. In my experience, if you're really under it, you do have to make a commitment to get better - whether that means working your Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program, or persevering till you get the right prescription, or talking to a therapist - and you do have to make a resolution not to take it out on the people around you. Not just because it's the right thing to do, but because if you don't, the depression is winning: it's getting you to sever the links that keep you in this life, and in so doing, it's killing you slowly but surely. Voldemort himself seems to function both as depressive and depression: he occupies Harry in a destructive way that needs to be purged and will destroy the whole world to stay alive, and that's basically how depression works. (In my experience.) 

This is all just my perspective, but I think that emotional/mental health is as much part of Rowling's aesthetic as good-versus-evil morality, and that complicates the question of moral judgement considerably. 

*It's notable that Harry and Snape have similar problems in childhood, and in fact seem quite similar in temperament - bright, depressive, extremely committed once their loyalty is engaged, good at Potions when well taught, sharp-tongued and quick with a barb when they feel under pressure, and suicidally brave. The main difference seems to be that Harry is lucky enough to fall in with good friends as soon as he gets to school: his classes are all with his best friends, the Weasleys semi-adopt him and give him at least some experiences of being in a healthy family, his friends are capable of calling him out when he's in the wrong without giving up on him, and he has a lot of less-close friends who treat him with respect and kindness. Snape doesn't get any of that, so he seems to give up and give in to his worst traits. In a way, you could say a major theme in the story is two young men tragically failing to make a connection that could heal them both because the older of the two can't let go of damage from his past and insists on seeing Harry as a red-headed stepchild rather than a boy very much like himself. 

Amarie said...

*gives friendly gestures back to Kit* :)

Ana Mardoll said...

*makes special rambling 'Ramblite' gesture*

That was the secret Ramblite handshake there, folks. Remember it. ;)

Izzy said...

That's a good point. I certainly think love is compatible with disagreements and fighting: frankly, if my family didn't bicker (affectionately), they'd never talk. 

It's more that admiration is an essential part of love for me--I'd rather be admired than loved, if I had to choose--and admiration has to be for things I've actually done rather than just because. And love can't be in spite of wide-ranging personality traits, or the lack thereof. "You're pissing me off right now, but I love you," is cool; "You're self-absorbed and have no goals outside of high school or interests beyond boys but I love you," is...bizarre. And I wouldn't want that. 

Amarie said...

Personally, I think I want balance when it comes to love/admiration in a relationship. I want someone to love me because I’m intelligent, kind, diligent, etc. I want someone to love me because I’m a good companion that listens, and I can be kind of funny sometimes. Then, even though I stay up all night reading and don’t come to bed, I still want them to love me. When I vacuum while they’re watching TV, I expect that love to (grudgingly, haha) persist.
I do NOT want someone to love me because, well…they honestly can’t say ‘why’ anymore than I can. I do NOT want someone to love me even when I take the engine out of their car. I do NOT want someone to still love me when I abandon them for months at a time. I do NOT want someone to love me when I kiss another person while they’re barely a few feet away. I agree with a lot of what other people have said; that kind of love would be…creepy. And, in real life, it would feel highly fabricated and melodramatic in some places.
Again, I believe that balance in the key…and it’s this key factor that’s missing in Edward and Bella’s relationship. A lot of the things that Edward says/does…it makes me look at Bella and wonder, “Where is your line? Where is your stopping point? At what point does Edward cease to ‘dazzle’ you?” But, our protagonists never seems to meet that line…though a lot of us in real life certainly would’ve by the time the first book had ended. That, and Bella simply seems like one who would eagerly throw herself at any situation that gives her a chance to sacrifice/put herself in danger for others (idolizing Third Wife, for example). Because neither Edward nor Bella have a boundary that says, “If you cross this line…I’m done and gone. Period.”
 So, you get to that point where, eventually, the ‘love’ doesn’t really mean anything…she’d degrade and sacrifice herself simply for the sake of degrading and sacrificing herself. And it seems that’s justified in the series by Bella’s continued and unchanging self esteem…not the fact that this is simply an unhealthy relationship.
Again, I advocate for balance. ;)

Kit Whitfield said...

 I agree with a lot of what other people have said; that kind of love would be…creepy.

I think many people would still love someone who did something pretty bad - but it would generally be someone they'd been in a relationship with for a long time. Fifteen years of marriage weighted against a single infidelity is much harder to call than two months of dating, for instance. But Bella and Edward seem to be in that state from the get-go: once they're in love, they're in love, and the amount of time they spend together doesn't seem to have much affect on that. 

When I read the book and saw the movie, I actually felt a bit let down: having heard it was a big love story, the scene where they actually fell in love seemed to be missing. One moment they're not in love, the next moment they are, and it wasn't very clear why. I think seeming like they're as committed as if they'd been together for years after only a few days is part of that. 

Izzy said...

Agreeing with both Kit and Amarie.

Balance and context are where it's at. I come in a little toward one side of the spectrum--what I want from men is basically friends who think I'm really really cool and sometimes have mindblowing sex with me; I explicitly don't want to be taken care of, or to share more than about 75% of my life with someone--but yeah. Everyone takes minor irritations in stride, but you really do need to be able to articulate reasons why you like someone.

And yeah. Outside of a romantic relationship--if someone I've been friends with for fifteen years flips out at me one time, I'm going to be concerned. Maybe she's worried about her job; maybe her grandmother's dying; maybe she's sick herself; maybe her SO's being an ass. There's something going on there. If someone I've met five times flips out at me, I'm going to assume she's a douchebag and edge away. 

Will Wildman said...

Good lord, I've been quoted.

For what it may be worth, chris, your suggested Bella monologue (Bellalogue!) sounded deeply plausible to me.  In fact, reading through all of that gave me some new perspective on semi-recent events in my own life and may prove to be very beneficial.  So thanks.

I still think the 'empty months flip past' thing in New Moon is overwrought and way disturbing, but it no longer seems completely implausible.  So you've also made the Twilight series better.  I'm not sure how anyone should feel about that.

Ana Mardoll said...

All very good points.

Perhaps, for me, the biggest problem with the HP universe is the houses. It seems unthinkable that Dumbledore would find this hurt, damaged, troubled-and-troublesome young orphan and NOT say, "Hey, Sorting Hat? I've got a boy coming in who needs some tender love and care, what's say we put him in Hufflepuff?" No, no, let's just put him in a house that traditionally treasures ambition and race purity and hope for the best.

And worse, each house has built in authority figures in the form of teachers and prefects! You're putting a child in a strong cultural environment and just sort of hoping that his nature will somehow be good enough to outweigh this dreadful nurture environment. Gah! And the handwave is that the houses are traditional. *sigh*

In a sane world, you'd do an exchange-student change-up every few years. Harry would spend a year in Slytherin to work on his ambition and he'd learn that ambition isn't 100% evil. Hermione would spend a semester in Hufflepuff and learn that being smart and being a know-it-all are not mutually required attributes. Ron and Draco would bunk in Ravenclaw and bond over being low-performers in a high-performing environment or something. Their grades would improve and they'd learn that their houses (Purity House Draco and Fertility House Weasley) aren't all so different after all -- they both have strong mothers and inattentive fathers. Or whatever. I'm reaching, but you see my point.

After awhile, "bad childhood" seems contrived and possibly a source of concern. Edmund doesn't need damnation; he needs stability. Tom Riddle doesn't need to join an ambitious house, he needs a hug and maybe a kind house ghost.

A villain I would find compelling would be someone like James Potter Turned To Voldemort (rather than Tom Riddle Turned to Voldemort) -- someone with a good family, "good" school house, but then went on to be a well-intentioned extremist who wrought death and destruction out of a misguided sense of being right and noble and good, when he really wasn't. Tom Riddle doesn't read that way, though -- he reads like a cross between Freudian Excuse and For The Evulz.

Maybe I'm just being picky, though. How many stories have a really well-characterized villain?

Will Wildman said...

The main thing that this discussion of villains and unhappy childhoods reminds me of is the counter-thread running through Freakonomics.  The books occasionally pauses to describe another aspect of life for two boys in the USA.  One is white and one is black; the white kid has an attentive family, is comfortably upper-middle-class, and generally rolling in the things that 95% of the rest of the book points out are very closely correlated with a healthy and stable life.  The black kid faces the worst prototypical, stereotypical case of bad childhood ever, including a rendingly awful home life run through with violence and poverty.  The end of the book reveals that he grows up to be a respected high-ranking judge, whereas the wonderbread-approved boy becomes a terrorist.
A fictionalised story based on that template could be amazing, if it avoided falling into the obvious opposing cliches and was really dedicated to character.  (In Harry Potter terms, it would indeed be the story of Severus growing up to become the hero of the Order of the Phoenix to oppose the Dark Lord James.)
Maybe I'm just being picky, though. How many stories have a really well-characterized villain?
That probably depends on whether you want the villain to be the antagonist, or if a 'villain protagonist' would also serve.  (Doctor Impossible, one of the POV characters of the superhero decon/recon Soon I Will Be Invincible, is basically evil, but substantially more sympathetic than many of his heroic opponents.  Other people would probably be able to think of examples that don't involve in-depth discussions of combat spandex.)

Ana Mardoll said...

To be clear, I'm not arguing for more Sympathetic villains, but rather more Well-Characterized villains.

Indeed, I find Tom Riddle more sympathetic than my proposed James Potter the Dark Lord villain, because James would "know better".

I dislike "for the evulz" motivations because they strike me as unrealistic. I find, say, Darth Vader a more interesting villain when I imagine him as a Lawful extremist than as someone angsting about Lost Love.

This may be a personal preference.

Brin Bellway said...

Happy birthday!

Ana Mardoll said...

Can we sing?

Dav said...

Happy birthday, Chris.  I enjoy your tangents no matter when they happen.

I was thinking about the moral event horizon and Edward last night while rewatching an ostensible romance.  In it, the male lead is on a scuba trip with the female lead; they're still in antagonist mode.  She's still in the water, and the male lead actually tells the boat people that everyone is on board, and so they leave.

It's like Open Water, except romantic!

She survives, barely, after hours of swimming, and the male lead does feel sort of bad - but not bad enough to tell the search and rescue team what he did. 

And that was the moment where I knew that no amount of puppy petting was ever going redeem this guy, and I was embarrassed for the female lead to end up with him.  Because falling in love and marrying the guy who deliberately left you in the middle of the ocean is a serious character flaw.  Even if I could sort of follow the train of thought that led him to make those choices.  (It's probably the same part of my brain that suggests occasionally that I just step into traffic to see if people will stop.)

chris the cynic said...

I think that more realistic villains tend to be more sympathetic, if for no other reason than you can see where they're coming from.  Most people, as you say, are not in it for the evulz (though exceptions, unfortunately, abound), and thus at the root of their particular brand of evil there is often something that could, uncorrupted, be good.

Yet even as I write that, I'm not sure that that's what I want to say.  I think that realistic characterization tends to create more sympathetic characters.That said, Admiral Cain from the new Battlestar Galatica was, I think, I pretty realistic character and she was pretty unsympathetically evil.  So perhaps the above is completely wrong.I certainly agree about Darth Vader.

chris the cynic said...

And thanks for the happy birthdays from Brin, Ana, and Dav.

Amaryllis said...

chris the cynic : Happy Birthday! Wishing you a happy year, and hoping to read many more of your "tangents" in it.

@59a6293eec366f5d5855ec22787e895b : He left her in the open ocean? And she married him anyway? How did she ever trust him enough to fall asleep next to him?

Ana Mardoll : you raise a good point about the house system. It makes sense as a literary device, I suppose, the external illustration of "It is our choices that make us what we are." But in any real world, and even in the Potterverse, it's not only our own choices--as we were just discussing!

Nor are real people defined by one one primary trait. So I quite like your idea of a House Exchange program. It'd do a lot of good.

Dumbledore may have been a great and good wizard, but if you consider Hogwarts purely as an educational institution, as a Headmaster he had his failings.

A villain I would find compelling would be someone like James Potter
Turned To Voldemort (rather than Tom Riddle Turned to Voldemort) --
someone with a good family, "good" school house, but then went on to be a
well-intentioned extremist who wrought death and destruction out of a
misguided sense of being right and noble and good, when he really

That's not James, that's Dumbledore, in that whole Dumbledore-and-Grindelwold backstory.  The Dark Lord that could have been.

@55230220304cae6fb842dea8e5e1274d : yes, you can't help sympathizing with Doctor Impossible. "Every day, you get up and try to take over the world." Isn't that the way it goes...

As for non-spandex villains, I've been raving lately about Master of the Crossroads, by Madison Smartt Bell. It's set during the Haitian revolution, when a brutal regime was overthrown with commensurate brutality, and it's hard to tell the villains from the heroes--sometimes they're the same people. There are atrocities on all sides...and yet, you find yourself, if not exactly sympathizing, beginning to understand the combination of horror and heroism that went into the only successful slave revolt in history, and the forming of a nation.

Cupcakedoll said...

Don't mean to derail these lovely tangents but I had a rather obvious Twilight thought: Bella never wonders if her sudden change of heart might be vampire-mind-powers-induced.  Once she learns Edward's species she should remember that vamps can traditionally hypnotize their victims and wonder if he did that to her, and when she learns Jasper really does have mind-altering properties she should wonder again!

I like the idea that a jealous Jasper DID get Bella all infatuated, in hopes of tempting golden-boy Edward into a fatal fall...

Kit Whitfield said...

Is it still your birthday, Chris? Happy birthday!

Scylla Kat said...

I still maintain that these were actually written by a 14- or 15-year old girl. In the 80s when the wet look was in.  Who else would remember those damned onion slides?

Makabit said...

Not to quibble, but I expect that Edward's lovely handwriting could be a product of the era in which he learned to write. A school at the turn of the century would have emphasized the importance of beautiful penmanship, while my generation, frankly, scrawls.

I expect Edward would write rather like my grandmother, who has beautiful copperplate, and is probably about fifteen years his junior.

Phil_Malthus said...

? really? piqued, perhaps?

Amaryllis said...

@Ana Mardoll thanks for digging up the quote, and yes, I can see how it can be read problematically. Plenty of good people come from bad circumstances; plenty of not-so-good types come from loving homes; and certainly you don't want children of rape or divorce thinking that they're inherently second-class goods.

The point, though, is not so much that Tom Riddle's parents didn't love each other, as that neither of them loved him. Even Harry has a fleeting moment of sympathy for his enemy,:
"She wouldn't even stay alive for her son?"

Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?"

"No,"  said Harry quickly, "but she had a choice, didn't she, not like my mother--"

"Your mother had a choice too," said Dumbledore gently. "Yes, Merope Riddle chose death in spite of of a son who needed her, but do not judge her too harshly, Harry. She was greatly weakened by long suffering and she never had your mother's courage."

As for why no one at the orphanage apparently cared much for him or why none of the other children grew up to be mass murderers, well, it's as Kit says, I think. We can't help the circumstances into which we're born, and some of us are born into bad circumstances that give us very little chance. However, we all have a moral duty to try to be as good a person as we can no matter where we started from, and must try to make the best of what chances we get. 

Paging William Blake...
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight

And moral judgment surely  has to recognize that simple reality.

 For Rowling, both good-and-evil and mental health-and-illness can be thought of in similar ways, as a combination of inborn capability (whether magic or genetics), life circumstances, and individual choices. Children are individuals-- the same upbringing can have widely different results for different children. Was Tom Riddle an unlovable sociopath from birth, as some unfortunate souls seem to be? Might he have been different, as Rowling says, if his mother had survived to love him with a more "normal" family type of care, rather than the institutional care with which the other children did well enough? And yet, no amount of unhappiness can justify murder and torture (duh).  Voldemort had his chances and made his choices, and in the end the responsibility is his.

Has anyone read Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin? Was Kevin the way he was because his mother never loved him? Or did his mother never love him because he was truly unlovable? 

Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to endless night.

And all we can do is try to lighten the darkness where we can, I guess...And I'm rambling, and late for work. Such is life.

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