Twilight, Chapter 7: Nightmare
I have a confession to make: There comes a point at which I find myself rapidly losing hold of the plot of this novel. And that point is here.
I spent a good portion of the week creating a Twilight entry for the blog deconstruction index. We're seven chapters into this book and -- had I not already seen the movies and lived through all the hype -- I would have no idea what this book is about. I'm going purely off of memory here, but I'm pretty sure this has been the outline of the book so far:
- Chapter 1, Bella moves to a rainy town she hates and meets a very handsome boy.
- Chapter 2, Bella has a conversation with the very handsome boy.
- Chapter 3, Bella is saved by the boy via supernatural means. The boy becomes hostile.
- Chapter 4, Bella is asked to the school dance by all boys except the handsome boy.
- Chapter 5, Bella nearly faints from blood typing and the handsome boy carries her.
- Chapter 6, Bella is told by a young boy that the handsome boy is a vampire.
- Chapter 7, Bella decides to research vampires online.
This seems like such a long, torturous drawing out of the narrative. Is it just me? Is it just because I've spent a year on these seven chapters? I just do not see any real tension here. Yes, the handsome boy acts changeable and capricious in dealings with Bella, but there's just not enough hook here for me -- they're not lost in love except insomuch as the text asserts that they are, and I frankly find the handsome boy painfully bland when he's not being an arrogant, abusive snot-head. WHERE IS MY TENSION?
I put it to you in the comments: Does Twilight break the Serial Monogamy rule?
Some authors cannot bear suspense. As soon as the protagonist has a problem, the author rushes in officiously to solve it. [...] These novels seem to be based on a to-do list of plot complications [...]
If a problem is worth creating, it’s worth hanging on to long enough to make the reader care. Most are worth hanging on to until the very end, when all loose ends are cunningly tied together in a rousing climax.
~ How Not to Write a Novel
I'm not sure, partly because I've never been entirely sure as to what Twilight is about. If the story is about girl meeting boy, then it's a story story with a long denouement, to say the least. If the story is about a human and a vampire making a relationship work, then it's a muddled message since Bella wants to be vampire'd from the get-go. If it's a story about boy and girl overcoming odds to be together, then the conflict is dull since the major obstacle is Edward's scruples about virginity and vampirism. Maybe this is why I desperately want the story to be about an Otherkin girl getting the body and future that she's always secretly wanted, since at least then we'd have a basic "Want --> Conflict --> Attain" progression to work with.
But then I'm stuck floundering in Chapter 7 with no idea what's going on or why I should care.
Why is Bella googling vampires? What is her motivation in this scene? Is she doing this because she thinks the Cullens might be vampires and she wants to check to see? Is she doing this because she believed the Cullens are vampires and she wants to research what more that might mean? Maybe it doesn't matter, but I'd like something to hang my hat on when approaching this scene: What motivates Bella?
Only three entries really caught my attention: the Romanian Varacolaci, a powerful undead being who could appear as a beautiful, pale-skinned human, the Slovak Nelapsi, a creature so strong and fast it could massacre an entire village in the single hour after midnight, and one other, the Stregoni benefici. [...]
Stregoni benefici: An Italian vampire, said to be on the side of goodness, and a mortal enemy of all evil vampires.
It was a relief, that one small entry, the one myth among hundreds that claimed the existence of good vampires.
I can see where that would be a relief since Bella thinks the guy she's crushing on is a vampire. It'd be nice to know that there's a Good Vampire option. And yet...
One of the things that bugs me so much about Bella is that she treats the condition of "vampire" as a flat stereotype. (Particularly frustrating because apparently she knows very little about vampires, so she's both ignorant of vampire mythology and well-versed in vampire stereotypes. Great combination!) One of the first things she will ask Edward on the subject of his diet will be: "Tell me why you hunt animals instead of people." I sort of want to shake her a little, to ask, "Well, Bella, why do you eat animals instead of people? Did you ever think about that? Did you ever think that maybe someone who is a person might not want to murder other people in order to survive?"
Bella is relieved here that there is a category of Good Vampires, and... I guess that kind of makes sense if we're going with the world-building rules where vampires are soulless minions of darkness who can't control their actions or their urges. But if we give vampires minds and free will and agency -- which Edward Cullen, vampire or not, has already amply demonstrated -- then Good/Bad categories no longer apply. Vampires become essentially no different than people, only with different dietary needs.
For the record, I cannot think that "Stregoni benefici" are actually relevant to the Cullens. All the Cullens are English or American, not Italian, and none of them fight evil vampires. This is a major point: the Cullens live quietly under the dominion of the evil vampires and generally do not make waves, but they are not active enemies against evil. More on that later.
Speed, strength, beauty, pale skin, eyes that shift color; and then Jacob's criteria: blood drinkers, enemies of the werewolf, cold-skinned, and immortal. There were very few myths that matched even one factor.
The Vampires A-Z site actually does exist, though whether S. Meyer ever consulted it is anyone's guess. However, I would like to posit that if an encyclopedia vampire site has vampire entries that do not contain speed nor strength nor allure nor blood drinking nor undeath nor immortality, then possibly the entry in question belongs on some other mythology site.
And then another problem, one that I'd remembered from the small number of scary movies that I'd seen and was backed up by today's reading -- vampires couldn't come out in the daytime, the sun would burn them to a cinder. They slept in coffins all day and came out only at night.
Vampires A-Z does not list Dracula. Bella, who loves old literature and enjoys re-reading Regency novels in her spare time, has never read "Dracula" nor seen a Dracula movie. I CANNOT GET PAST THIS. The rest of the deconstruction series, for the next ten years, will be me questioning how this can be. Did S. Meyer not know about Dracula when she wrote this book? Did she just write that knowledge out of Bella's head so as to heighten the tension and character consistency be damned? I need to know the answer to this.
Aggravated, I snapped off the computer's main power switch, not waiting to shut things down properly. Through my irritation, I felt overwhelming embarrassment. It was all so stupid. I was sitting in my room, researching vampires. What was wrong with me? I decided that most of the blame belonged on the doorstep of the town of Forks -- and the entire sodden Olympic Peninsula, for that matter.
Why not blame Edward?
I mean, he's the one who's been hot-and-cold on Bella so many times and with such quick shifts of mood that it's enough to make her head spin. He's the one who can run faster than a speeding bullet and block rampaging vans with his hands without sustaining even a scratch. He's the one who promised Bella a reasonable explanation and then refused to give it to her once her leverage -- causing a scene right there at the accident location -- was gone.
I know that this scene is meant to try to provide us with perspective: Bella has gotten way too wrapped up in this mystery, she's taking Jacob's stories and the oddities of Edward's behavior too far, the climate and the strangeness of the town are getting to her. If this tone were sustained for any length of time, I think it could make for an interesting novel. I know that I myself have had strange thoughts about the world around me; not so much "Is Bob a vampire?" but more "What if this were the Truman Show and how would I know?" or "If there were aliens kidnapping me nightly for study like in that one Star Trek episode, would it adequately explain why I feel so tired after a 9-hour night's sleep?"
So I think I would totally love "Twilight as told by a Bella feeling like she's spiraling into a ridiculous day-dream except that it would explain so much..." but YOU DO NOT GET THIS THING. No tension for you!
I had to get out of the house, but there was nowhere I wanted to go that didn't involve a three-day drive. I pulled on my boots anyway, unclear where I was headed, and went downstairs. I shrugged into my raincoat without checking the weather and stomped out the door. [...]
There was a thin ribbon of a trail that led through the forest here, or I wouldn't risk wandering on my own like this. My sense of direction was hopeless; I could get lost in much less helpful surroundings. [...] I only vaguely knew the names of the trees around me, and all I knew was due to Charlie pointing them out to me from the cruiser window in earlier days.
This is your weekly reminder that it's okay to write a character who doesn't know much of anything about sports, nature, computers, internet, cars, clothes, fashion, modern culture, or any other hobbies or interests you can think of. However, if you write a character who doesn't know much of anything about all of those things, they are going to be very, very bland. And if you write this character as a woman and have her say things like "I guess my brain will never work right. At least I'm pretty," then mean-spirited people like me are going to quote your writing out of context in order to point at it and leap up and down and TALK IN ALL CAPS about it.
Now having said that, and because I am desperately bored with this chapter, I would like to suggest that in comments we have a nice open thread about good character-building hobbies for Bella. I'll start: If Bella enjoyed classic literature, she might realize the Cullens are vampires because they can walk in sunlight! Okay, that was too easy. Here's another one: If Bella enjoyed knitting, she could make all manner of wraps and cover-ups to help keep her warm while snuggling with Edward Cullen. In addition, knitting takes forever (or at least it feels that way to me!) so Bella would be set with a hobby for eternity and the benefits of vampirism means never accidentally hurting yourself with a knitting needle as Bella might otherwise be wont to do.
I followed the trail as long as my anger at myself pushed me forward. [...] A recently fallen tree -- I knew it was recent because it wasn't entirely carpeted in moss -- rested against the trunk of one of her sisters, creating a sheltered little bench just a few safe feet off the trail. I stepped over the ferns and sat carefully, making sure my jacket was between the damp seat and my clothes wherever they touched, and leaned my hooded head back against the living tree. [...]
Here in the trees it was much easier to believe the absurdities that embarrassed me indoors. Nothing had changed in this forest for thousands of years, and all the myths and legends of a hundred different lands seemed much more likely in this green haze than they had in my clear-cut bedroom.
Aw, and now I'm sad we didn't bring the Linkin Park CD if we're going to have another spirit journey.
On the one hand, I like this scene. Bella Swan, distraught by the mystery of the Hot Guy, lost in her own forested world, sinking back into the deep forest setting until she's completely one with the scenery. It reminds me of some of my favorite parts of Tolkien -- the Old Forest in particular -- with the evocative use of the color, the scenery, the sounds, the weather. It's in passages like these that I have to shake my head a little at the reminder that S. Meyer can write and write well. Oh, sure, this isn't going to win any Newbery medals, but it's solid stuff that draws me in and puts me intimately in the scene.
On the other hand -- and here is where I remind you all again that I'm a bitter, mean-spirited person -- the loveliness of this scene just serves to highlight how wrong everything around it is. Bella can't simultaneously know nothing about nature and yet flippantly list off tree names. She shouldn't immediately deduce that a tree is newly fallen because No Moss if she has no concept of moss growth rates. She shouldn't be able to pick up on the status of the weather based on water drip rates and bird sound density. If she's going to be a City Girl who is aggressively uninterested in learning about her surroundings and who apparently takes a dim view of scholastic achievement, she should probably not then be able to pull out this stuff when the narrative depends on it.
TL;DR: If you want a first-person narrator with third-person omniscience, you have to set that up carefully or it's going to be jarring to the reader.
Furthermore, the poetry of this scene just doesn't quite gel for me. There's something off about describing a forest as unchanged for thousands of years whilst sitting on a newly fallen tree. Clearly, the forest is not in a state of unchanging stasis; it would be more accurate to say that the forest has endured for thousands of years. It's a little nitpick, but it's a nitpick in a series where the readers still can't agree if 90% of the protagonists -- the vampires -- are capable of any kind of change, and if they are, to what degree. Here is where precision could matter, a piece of foreshadowing dropped as Bella considers that that which is eternal can clearly still change and adapt... as the forest does. As the vampires do. As Bella may.
Subtlety! I wants it.