Twilight: Sparkly Vampires

[Content Note: Cabin in the Woods Spoiler (minor)]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 13, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.

Twilight, Chapter 13: Confessions

Here is my confession: I said we'd start with Chapter 13 today, but I'm going to slice in the last few sentences from Chapter 12 for context.

   I reached the edge of the pool of light and stepped through the last fringe of ferns into the loveliest place I had ever seen. The meadow was small, perfectly round, and filled with wildflowers — violet, yellow, and soft white. Somewhere nearby, I could hear the bubbling music of a stream. The sun was directly overhead, filling the circle with a haze of buttery sunshine. I walked slowly, awestruck, through the soft grass, swaying flowers, and warm, gilded air. I halfway turned, wanting to share this with him, but he wasn’t behind me where I thought he’d be. I spun around, searching for him with sudden alarm. Finally I spotted him, still under the dense shade of the canopy at the edge of the hollow, watching me with cautious eyes. Only then did I remember what the beauty of the meadow had driven from my mind — the enigma of Edward and the sun, which he’d promised to illustrate for me today.
   I took a step back toward him, my eyes alight with curiosity. His eyes were wary, reluctant. I smiled encouragingly and beckoned to him with my hand, taking another step back to him. He held up a hand in warning, and I hesitated, rocking back onto my heels.
   Edward seemed to take a deep breath, and then he stepped out into the bright glow of the midday sun.

I don't often take time to praise good writing -- I tend to feel like stuff that's good is Obviously Good and doesn't need me to point it out -- but I sort of grudgingly like the description of the meadow. It's a little over-the-top in the Loveliest Thing Evah vein that Twilight often rushes head-long into, but it nevertheless does sound like a genuinely pretty place to lounge around in (if you like that sort of thing), so kudos for that.

I'm less sure how I feel about Edward's reluctance and Bella's here, puppy, come here boy routine. I guess it's supposed to be humanizing? But instead I sort of find it confusing. I really liked the idea brought up last time, that were we not pre-spoiled to The Sparkles, it might be logical to conclude that Edward is about to burst into flames as proof of his burning self-sacrificial love or something. But once that was pointed out, I couldn't shake the belief that Bella should be seriously concerned about this. I mean, she loves Edward more than anything Evah, and she's noted that he's always sort of hedging around a final goodbye when he talks to her. Rather than beckoning him into the sunlight, it seems like she should be the one who is a little concerned about this whole trip. What, exactly, is Edward planning to do, and how is it going to affect her? The answer to that question has not historically been pleasing to Bella.

Anyway. Chapter 13 opens with this:

   EDWARD IN THE SUNLIGHT WAS SHOCKING. I COULDN’T get used to it, though I’d been staring at him all afternoon. His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn’t sleep. A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.

It's only halfway through that paragraph that we realize that there's been a time-skip and Edward is lying on the grass next to Bella. So we entirely missed her initial reaction to The Sparkles, which frankly I consider to be cheating a bit. Was she frightened? Aroused? Startled? Did she burst out laughing and tell Edward he looked like King Shit of Fuck Mountain? If so, was the laughter nervous-laughter or polite-laughter or hilarisome-laughter? Did she shield her eyes and uncover her feet, knowing that she was standing on hallowed ground in the presence of one more holy than she?


It's vaguely annoying to me that in a book that hinges so strongly on yearning and abstinence that a veil is drawn over a majorly intimate moment like this. Edward was nervous, Bella was encouraging. Was he nervous because he was afraid of rejection, or was he concerned that she might betray him? For a moment, he was vulnerable. And we didn't get to see if his concerns were justified nor whether Bella's response pleased him.

Anyway, drink that description in. Remember when I was highlighting the Purple Prose? There's a reason why I threw up my hands and gave up. The description of Edward will either work for you or it won't, and regardless of what underpins your reaction, the reaction shouldn't be shamed. I may not like Edward as a person, but finding him Hot Or Not based on this description isn't in my opinion some kind of moral quandary.

There's been a lot of ink on the internet over whether or not vampires should be allowed to sparkle, and I'm not sure how I feel about the whole thing. I do think that the sparkles effectively mark Edward as distinctly Other; so Other from us, in fact, that it's very difficult for me to envision the passage and try to decide whether I would or could find him attractive. It's an extremely visual paragraph and yet it's so outside my realm of experience that I have trouble imagining it.

What would an entire man-shaped statue of embedded diamonds look like in full sunlight? Would he strain the eyes like sunlight on snow or would it be a more muted effect like moonlight on a lake? In that respect, I think The Sparkles work in making Edward undeniably non-human. I may personally prefer that he was an ambiguous species of fae, with blood-drinking habits and perhaps the source of vampire-esque myths without self-identifying as such, but at that point we're probably close to splitting hairs.

I've heard people say that vampires with The Sparkles aren't scary, and possibly there's something to that. I say possibly, because I'm not entirely sure how we judge if things are Objectively Scary. Since you all know me so well, and my relativist ways, I kind of doubt that things are Objectively Scary. I like the idea of Cthulhu and creatures that go bump in the night and which are scary because scary is simply what they are, but it seems more likely to me that scary is subjective: that the things we find scary are a combination of individual differences and socialization.

In either case, I think it's possible to make a case that The Sparkles maybe aren't very scary. If there is an objective meter of scariness, it's simply a matter of locating sparkles and noting where they fall on the scale. If scariness is subjective, then we have to concede that sparkles could be scary to individuals (Because Subjective), but we could still point out that society at large hasn't really embraced sparkles as scary, as evidenced by how few glitter-monsters there are in mainstream horror movies.

Most of us probably haven't been culturally conditioned to fear body glitter. If one is hired to make a horror movie stocked with Standard Scary Creatures, one usually glops on blood or unidentifiable gunk (oil-black and swamp-green are popular colors), because covering "scary" things with blood and gore is a member of shared cultural horror traditions (at least in the society that I'm familiar with and which Bella ostensibly shares) that are easily available for reference. Don't believe me? How many of the things on this board are sparkly?

@ badassdigest

Maybe, maybe the Unicorn and the Sugarplum Fairy are sparkly-ish. But even the sugarplum fairy has a rather biologically visceral appearance and the unicorn gets covered with gore pretty quickly. (Note: Stylization, not a screen cap.) So possibly sparkly vampires are "not scary" because, in general, we don't condition people to think and repeatedly reinforce the idea that sparkles are scary.

Conversely, we have a cultural tradition that says that certain things are cute. For example, if you want to make something cute, a quick and easy way to convey cuteness is to slap big eyes on it. Isn't this a cute widdle bunny?

@ awebpark

But that was actually a trick question, because the longer I look at that picture, the less I'm convinced that it's Cute and the more I wonder if it's flat-out Creepy. Ye gods, look at that thing. Seriously, I now understand why "fake big eyes" on butterfly wings work to scare off predators because that thing is scary. If that bunny was photoshopped into a standard Blood-Spattered Derelict Spacecraft scene, I would have no problem whatsoever believing that it was responsible for the hinted-at acts of terrible carnage.

Which perhaps would be a good movie, that someone should make. It worked for Monty Python, after all.

All of which is a long way of saying that maybe even if we haven't been culturally conditioned to fear sparkles, and even if sparkles may fall low on the hypothetical Objectively Scary Scale of Cthulhu Terror, maybe despite all of that, there's a potential for scariness there that edges into the fact that sparkles are so inhuman and seem (in other contexts) so deceptively innocuous. It's the same theory, perhaps, by the horror tropes that involve Adorable Little Children because ye gods they can't be as innocent as they seem and when are they going to start killing people please hide me. Maybe adding sparkles into the vampire mythos is a good thing, a bold experiment in integrating something Too Good To Be True with a monster capable of wiping out an entire town without breaking a sweat.

Of course, the problem here (I think) is that none of that is really explored with any gusto. Edward isn't frightening because he's so Other that he's genuinely terrifying. If anything, I find Edward frightening because his forays into domestic violence strike me as all too horribly common. So while I maintain that Sparkly Vampires could be frightening, I don't really think that Twilight tried very hard or convincingly to make it so.

None of this gets into the fact that at least some of the criticism of Sparkly Vampires sounds a lot to me like misogyny in the Sparkly = Girly = Bad math beloved by misogynists everywhere, but maybe we'll get to that next time when I'm feeling less cough-y. 


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