Twilight Recap: Bella has been told by Jacob Black that the Cullens are vampires and that Jacob's clan descended from werewolves. Subsequently, she has gone home, gone to bed, and has dreamed that Edward is a vampire and Jacob is a werewolf.
Twilight, Chapter 7: Nightmare
This is the chapter so many of you have been waiting for: the Google chapter. The chapter that thrills, chills, and leaves you wanting so much more. I know it did for me, anyway! Let's dive right into it. And let's also keep in mind that I'm writing this at 9 pm on Friday night having spent most of my day dealing with AT&T and trying to coax them to give me my phone line and internet back. So this one may not be as highly polished as all my posts, but I hope we have fun anyway. Wheeee!
My light was still on, and I was sitting fully dressed on the bed, with my shoes on. I glanced, disoriented, at the clock on my dresser. It was five-thirty in the morning.
I groaned, fell back, and rolled over onto my face, kicking off my boots. I was too uncomfortable to get anywhere near sleep, though. I rolled back over and unbuttoned my jeans, yanking them off awkwardly as I tried to stay horizontal. I could feel the braid in my hair, an uncomfortable ridge along the back of my skull.
I go back and forth on how to feel about this passage. On the one hand, it's a description of a main character that has been nicely inserted into the action, which is always difficult to do. On the other hand, it comes seven chapters in and has the effect of disorienting me entirely. Bella wears boots? As a Texan, I feel obligated to point out here that there are many different kinds of boots. This makes me want to grip the sides of my reader, pull it up to my face, and ask WHAT KIND OF BOOTS ARE YOU WEARING, BELLA? I don't know about Arizona and Washington, but this stuff matters in Texas.
This may also finally solve the mystery of why Bella falls over constantly. If you buy the really stiff boots that don't have any treads on the bottom, you can fall over from a standing position under the right conditions. I have done this.
And apparently she wears a braid! Which... must have been for the benefit of the hiking trip, because she's been doing the "hair curtain" with Edward in school. Except that -- as Chris the Cynic pointed out -- Bella doesn't strike me as the kind of person to change her hairstyle very often, so that's a bit disorienting. So it's nice that we're getting character description as part of the action, but they're utterly confusing character description.
It was all no use, of course. My subconscious had dredged up exactly the images I’d been trying so desperately to avoid. I was going to have to face them now.
I think this means that her subconscious had dredged up images of vampires and werewolves and she has to face them now, but this doesn't make a whole lot of immediate sense to me. For starters, Bella didn't really see a werewolf in the "walks on two legs" traditional sense; she saw a wolf standing where Jacob had once been. And she doesn't deal with that image at all -- werewolves will be forgotten until the next book, and by then Bella will have done a completely brain wipe on the subject, if I recall correctly.
For seconds, Bella didn't really see much in the way of a vampire, either. She saw Edward in the green hazy light of the forest, "faintly glowing" and with black eyes. The only thing sort of vampiric about him was the pointed teeth (all of them, or just the incisors? AND WHAT KIND OF BOOTS DOES HE WEAR?) that showed when he smiled. I guess that's enough and I'm just being terribly picky to even mention it, but it just doesn't seem like enough of an earth-shattering dream to leave Bella this shaky and reticent to face facts. I've had worse dreams, is what I think I'm saying.
Anyway, we wrestle my attention away from the above ramble to point out that Bella doesn't "face them now", she goes and has a shower and then tidies up her room in order to build up the suspense of her not facing the vampire issue. I want to blow past all that because it's dull, except to note that this:
I couldn’t tell if Charlie was still asleep, or if he had already left. I went to look out my window, and the cruiser was gone. Fishing again.
...made me laugh because I immediately thought of Bekabot's comment from last week. Have I told you all this week that I love ya'll? Because I totally do. *grins*
I couldn’t put it off any longer. I went to my desk and switched on my old computer.
I hated using the Internet here. My modem was sadly outdated, my free service substandard; just dialing up took so long that I decided to go get myself a bowl of cereal while I waited.
Having been on the phone with AT&T all week for over five total hours and counting even as I write this post on Friday night, I feel Bella's pain. I would like to take this opportunity to make a public service announcement: do not use AT&T if you can use anything else, including those little tin can phones connected to each other via strings. Because you'll get the same level of customer service with either, without the added migraine that AT&T throws in free of charge!
Back to Twilight.
Twilight was written in 2003 and published in 2005. I don't even remember 2005 clearly -- I'm pretty sure that was the year I went back to college for my engineering degree. I'm pretty sure computers were past the "expensive toy" stage and edging firmly into the "basic necessity" phase for a number of middle class Americans as jobs and services increasingly started to go online. (Thank you for calling AT&T. All representatives are currently busy. You can receive help online at AT&T.com...)
And so I find myself wondering just how much my privilege colors my understanding of the text. My first thought is to wonder why Charlie doesn't have a decent internet service provider. But that sounds awfully privileged! Is there not one physically available to his home in Forks? Is he just not interested in the internet? But... he's the chief of police. And I'd like to believe that the chief of police, even in a small town, would be interested enough in the news to get a decent internet connection. Can he maybe not afford one? Or does he just get the news from the television? But does Forks get anything besides the local channels? AND WHAT KIND OF BOOTS DO THE NEWSCASTERS WEAR?
With another sigh, I turned to my computer. Naturally, the screen was covered in pop-up ads. I sat in my hard folding chair and began closing all the little windows.
Bella Swan has just booted up her computer, and it's now immediately covered in pop-up windows. If her story is set in 2004, she should have the Windows service pack that first introduced a pop-up blocker to Internet Explorer (I doubt Bella is using Opera or Firefox), so I have to assume she has some kind of virus, which is just short of possible since she doesn't really seem to be much of a computer person. But to not even be able to see the screen behind all the pop-up ads sounds pretty virulent -- has she hit some kind of ad-storm somehow?
Is she using AOL? Is that the problem? I remember horror stories from friends in college who used AOL. Are there any AOL-users who can speak up on this?
Eventually I made it to my favorite search engine. I shot down a few more pop-ups and then typed in one word.
Wait, does her favorite search engine page also have pop-up ads? I'm putting my money on 'virus'.
Now, I can guess what some of you are thinking: Why is Ana spending so much time on these stupid pop-up ads? And if you're thinking that, I feel your pain! But the book spends a tremendous amount of time on pop-up ads, which means they must be important, right? Right??
They've got to be related in some way to the world-building, there to give us some kind of insight into the characters of Bella and Charlie. Or maybe they're some kind of metaphor for Bella's intensely-focused drive to be with Edward, regardless of all the transient distractions that throw themselves in her way: Jacob, Mike, Eric, Tyler, college, that sort of thing.
Because I'm starting to feel like the pop-up ads are the only here in order to provide some kind of action to the chapter. (She shot them down!) And surely that's too cynical to contemplate.
It took an infuriatingly long time, of course. When the results came up, there was a lot to sift through -- everything from movies and TV shows to role-playing games, underground metal, and gothic cosmetic companies.
Wikipedia was launched in 2001, but I can't rightly tell you if they were the top search-engine result for one-word queries like "vampire" in 2004. Nor can I tell you if Google was at that time tracking search queries and trying to optimize results to users. I am guessing they were not, but it would be amusing in Bella's case if they were, because that would mean that gothic cosmetics came back as a higher result for her than an online encyclopedia, which would mean we have two examples in this chapter of character descriptions coming in through the action. BUT WHAT KIND OF BOOTS DO YOU WEAR WITH YOUR GOTHIC MAKEUP? Well, actually, these kind.
And of course all this is moot if Twilight is actually set in the distant past. Carlisle has a cell phone, but those are older than some might think. Can anyone call up some technological aspects of Twilight to help carbon date this book? Or maybe via the car models?
WAIT. I just remembered I have the Twilight Official Illustrated Guide. Hang on.
NAME: Isabella Marie Swan Cullen; preferred name: Bella
DATE OF BIRTH: September 13, 1987
DATE OF TRANSFORMATION: September 11, 2006, at age 18
"Isabella Marie"? *digs further* Ah, Marie was her grandmother's name. No mention where "Isabella" came from. I've always wondered, but oh well. In a book where everyone and their dog is named after a grandmother, it's nice to have a name just appear out of nowhere like they so frequently do. The point is that we now have a date! Twilight takes place when Bella is 17, so Twilight takes place in 2005. I triumphantly retain everything said above about Wikipedia and Google and Windows XP service pack 2! (Assuming Bella is using Windows XP.)
Wait. Twilight takes place when Bella is 17, but she's starting the school year after the Christmas break in January. So that means it has to be 2006, not 2005. Are... are Twilight and New Moon and Eclipse and half of Breaking Dawn all covered from January 2006 to September 2006? Nine months? That can't possibly be correct! Hang on. This Twilight Timeline by a fan who I am going to assume is correct has Bella starting school in January 2005 and vampire'd in September 2006. Oh! I see the problem. She's vampire'd at age 18, three days before her birthday. Not three days after. I got the dates mixed up.
Alright, so new we have a date and a timeline! And thanks to this Twilight fan, we even have a date for today. It's March 6th! I hereby declare March 6th to be International Twilight Google Day.
Wait, why does Bella even have a computer of her own? I thought she and Renee were scraping by. Well, let's just say it was their home computer and Renee didn't need it anymore when she went on the road with Phil. Ohmygod, could I be more off topic at this point? I'm sorry. This is the train inside my head and it has animatronic puppets and more stops than the elevator in Charlie's chocolate factory.
Then I found a promising site -- Vampires A-Z. I waited impatiently for it to load, quickly clicking closed each ad that flashed across the screen. Finally the screen was finished -- simple white background with black text, academic-looking. Two quotes greeted me on the home page:
More ads! We're closing them quickly! My heart is pounding! WHAT BOOTS DO THE ADS ADVERTISE? I really don't know if this Vampire A-Z site exists. It probably exists now, but back in 2005 is anyone's guess. I can almost guarantee that it would have had a black background with red text and possibly some menacing midi music in the background on a forty second loop. But let's get to the quotes!
Throughout the vast shadowy world of ghosts and demons there is no figure so terrible, no figure so dreaded and abhorred, yet dight with such fearful fascination, as the vampire, who is himself neither ghost nor demon, but yet who partakes the dark natures and possesses the mysterious and terrible qualities of both. -- Rev. Montague Summers
Do you want to know who Reverend Montague Summers is? I did! He sounds like a super-fun guy! He was an eccentric clergyman known for his interest in witches, and he was responsible for the first English translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, which I have a copy of and have in fact read! And just to be clear where his personal feelings were on the matter:
In the introduction to his book on The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926) he writes: In the following pages I have endeavoured to show the witch as she really was – an evil liver: a social pest and parasite: the devotee of a loathly and obscene creed: an adept at poisoning, blackmail, and other creeping crimes: a member of a powerful secret organisation inimical to Church and State: a blasphemer in word and deed, swaying the villagers by terror and superstition: a charlatan and a quack sometimes: a bawd: an abortionist: the dark counsellor of lewd court ladies and adulterous gallants: a minister to vice and inconceivable corruption, battening upon the filth and foulest passions of the age.
Doesn't he sound nice? That's a super-fun opinion to have, especially in light of modern studies that may indicate that many people targeted for charges of witchcraft were frequently either (a) marginalized people living off the welfare of others or (b) wealthy widows who attempted to maintain their independence in male-dominated societies. Whatever, he lived in the 1900s and isn't interesting anymore. Moving on to the even better quote!
If there is in this world a well-attested account, it is that of the vampires. Nothing is lacking: official reports, affidavits of well-known people, of surgeons, of priests, of magistrates; the judicial proof is most complete. And with all that, who is there who believes in vampires? -- Rousseau
OH MY GOD. Rousseau believed in vampires? Well that settles it! (WHAT KIND OF BOOTS DID ROUSSEAU WEAR?)
I actually looked this up, because my first thought on reading this was "no way". With a little sneery face. Only it turns out that Rousseau did write this -- he was just being delightfully satirical when he did. Context! (Not that I expect Bella Swan to know this. But it would have been kind of nice if S. Meyer hadn't included this quote which let-me-tell-you made it really freaking tricky to find the actual context because this baby is slathered on every vampire site in existence at this point.)
Here is what Rousseau actually said, courtesy of a swiffy article by John Morley that is now preserved by Project Gutenberg. Rousseau was apparently mouthing off to an archbishop about the whole doctrine of being damned-for-eternity-for-doing-Pascal's-wager-wrong thing because Rousseau was awesome like that. (Actual French quote appears to be here, but I don't read French. Some of ya'll do, though, so have at it!)
"But is there not then an infinity of facts, even earlier than those of the Christian revelation, which it would be absurd to doubt? By what way other than that of human testimony has our author himself known the Sparta, the Athens, the Rome, whose laws, manners, and heroes he extols with such assurance? How many generations of men between him and the historians who have preserved the memory of these events?"
First, says Rousseau in answer, "it is in the order of things that human circumstances should be attested by human evidence, and they can be attested in no other way. I can only know that Rome and Sparta existed, because contemporaries assure me that they existed. In such a case this intermediate communication is indispensable.
But why is it necessary between God and me? Is it simple or natural that God should have gone in search of Moses to speak to Jean Jacques Rousseau? Second, nobody is obliged to believe that Sparta once existed, and nobody will be devoured by eternal flames for doubting it. Every fact of which we are not witnesses is only established by moral proofs, and moral proofs have various degrees of strength. Will the divine justice hurl me into hell for missing the exact point at which a proof becomes irresistible?
If there is in the world an attested story, it is that of vampires; nothing is wanting for judicial proof -- reports and certificates from notables, surgeons, clergy, magistrates. But who believes in vampires, and shall we all be damned for not believing? Third, my constant experience and that of all men is stronger in reference to prodigies than the testimony of some men."
Oh, Rousseau. I am going to have a philosopher crush on you until someone reminds me that you inevitably did or said something annoyingly privileged at some point in your life, at which point I can go back to simply admiring you for the good and trying not to whitewash away the bad. (At least you didn't try to make your point with pop-up windows!)
Anyway. Those are the two quotes that we get: something from a guy who believed that there was a conspiracy of witches to bring down God's church and a deist who used the ludicrous example of vampires as something that people obviously shouldn't believe in despite the fact that a good many people claim to do precisely that. This is the foundation on which we will rest the existence of the Cullens and yet it seems sort of fitting that the world-building in a book about lying liars who lie be based on a blatant misquote.
The rest of the site was an alphabetized listing of all the different myths of vampires held throughout the world. The first I clicked on, the Danag, was a Filipino vampire supposedly responsible for planting taro on the islands long ago. The myth continued that the Danag worked with humans for many years, but the partnership ended one day when a woman cut her finger and a Danag sucked her wound, enjoying the taste so much that it drained her body completely of blood.
This passage makes me sad because I wanted to look up the story of the Danag and make a snarky point about more cultures being appropriated for this book, but I can't even find a single reference to "Danag" online that isn't an almost word for word repetition of the above. My GoogleFu has failed me. Can anyone here provide linkage to the Danag and/or comment on how accurate this summary is? I'm genuinely interested.
I read carefully through the descriptions, looking for anything that sounded familiar, let alone plausible. It seemed that most vampire myths centered around beautiful women as demons and children as victims; they also seemed like constructs created to explain away the high mortality rates for young children, and to give men an excuse for infidelity. Many of the stories involved bodiless spirits and warnings against improper burials. There wasn’t much that sounded like the movies I’d seen, and only a very few, like the Hebrew Estrie and the Polish Upier, who were even preoccupied with drinking blood.
And here is where I'm going to try to rope myself back onto topic and wrap up for the night.
This book makes me so sad sometimes. It really does.
I mean there's the sexism and the ableism and the racism and the cultural appropriation and the unfortunate implications of someone doing everything they can to avoid college, get married, have a baby, and cut off all ties with their family before they reach the dreaded age of nineteen and are suddenly and irrevocably old. All of that is well worth talking about, and I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of that.
But this book makes me sad sometimes simply and merely because of the lost opportunities. Bella has been established as liking literature and not really being familiar with popular culture. I would expect her research to be more along the lines of digging through the musty Forks library, pulling out classic vampire works, comparing and contrasting what she remembers from Dracula against what she's observed about Edward.
It seems like such a small point, but... it would show her leaving the house! making an effort! being internally consistent as a character! Instead we get this quick Google search after an even quicker info-dump dream which itself followed an info-dump conversation. I know I shouldn't be one to argue with books that are more popular than chocolate, but a series of hasty and immediate info-dumps just seems anti-climatic to me. Bella hasn't had to work for any of this, outside of having to navigate all the pop-up windows.
And then you get this bland telling of Bella's interpretation of these legends, which is filtered through her pseudo-feminism (more on that in a later post!) and marks a complete tonal shift from every other portrayal of her in the novel. "Vampire myths were created to explain away infant mortality rates and also to excuse male infidelity" sounds like a droning book report from a high school student who had the same level of enthusiasm for his assignment as he does for scraping dried gum from the bottom-sides of the desks.
Bella? Should care about this stuff. She's just been told that her life obsession -- her word, not mine -- is a vampire. Then she dreamed it to be true. This stuff matters. Maybe she can't openly take it seriously right now, maybe this is a "ha, ha, let's pretend, you know, just for laughs, just to... um... be thorough!" but for any of the past few pages and all her dire I-just-can't-put-this-off-any-longer build-up to make sense, this should be leaving an impression on her.
And what are we getting? A summary of yet another cultural myth, a vague mention of "movies" with no reference to classic literature whatsoever, a few utterly random quotes, and a pseudo-feminist attempt to thrown out big concepts like male privilege without actually understanding the underlying concept.
And that? Makes me so very sad. Because this? Could have been a lot better, could have packed a lot more action and character development, and could have actually fleshed out some of the ways in which privilege has protected the Cullens and their kind. This whole section could have been a way to show more about Bella, to show more about the world she lives in, to show more about the vampires she interacts with, and to show more about the creature she is destined to become.
But it's not. Because it's just a Google'd info-dump tossed in our lap like a lukewarm soda offered to the thirsty reader. And no amount of pop-ups can make everything I just quoted above interesting or compelling or tense. It's just another book report.