Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In the TWILIGHT Zone

Photo by S. Kuzma Photography
To be honest, I haven't read any of the Twilight books yet. I actually would like to try them, but they aren't high on my towering stack of books to be read; however, I have seen all of the films — in theaters, no less.

As far as vampire and werewolf stories go, I am not overly impressed but I do admire Stephenie Meyer for putting her own spin on established mythology. See, what interests me most about stories are their characters and how they respond to their situations, and sadly, the characters in the Twilight books are far less original than the world building. Putting aside the acting abilities of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, the characters of Bella and Edward don't do much for me, because they don't make me sympathize or care about them. At all. (Obviously, they work perfectly fine for a great number of people, so your mileage may vary.)

I can relate to Jacob, because of his unrequited feelings for Bella, his split loyalty between his people and the woman he loves, his humanity and his werewolfness, his good nature and ingrained prejudice. The characters I feel most for are Bella's dad, Charlie, who's trying hard to relate to his daughter. He wants to make a new life for her and seize his second chance to be a good father. I feel bad for Bella's high school friends, who don't seem to occupy much of her thoughts, and I do care about almost all the Cullens besides Edward. They all seem to have stories that unfortunately go largely untold, at least on screen. I think that's a good lesson for us in life, to keep in mind that everyone has their own story. And as writers: Make sure your protagonists are interesting and sympathetic, but also that their friendships, relationships, and all the people in their lives feel like complete, realistic people too.

What most people probably associate with Twilight is the love triangle, which seems like a requirement in most YA today. Love triangles have been in stories for as long as we've been telling them, but readers got really invested in who Bella would end up with. You have to admire anything that can inspire such strong feelings, right? Twilight fans launched the whole idea of "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob," a theme echoed in the next big YA franchise to hit screens, The Hunger Games, with Teams Peeta and Gale.

For all Twilight's supposed flaws, this is the notion that rankles the most: That Bella must end up with a guy. Without spoiling anyone, this also was my biggest disappointment with The Hunger Games, where I feel it ultimately betrays its own premise in the third book, Mockingjay. What about Team Bella and Team Katniss?

The prevalence of love triangles with a girl having to choose between two guys makes me yearn for different kinds of relationships in YA fiction, more challenging dynamics that break the mold, such as Julie Cross' Tempest books, which have a guy at the center of a very unusual triangle. (My books have their own variation on that rather unique setup.) And I'm always looking for stories where the protagonist chooses who she wants and doesn't change her mind, or is more casual in her interests, or — shockingly — ends up deciding she doesn't need any kind of relationship at all. But then, I'm a sucker for bittersweet endings.

What are some of your favorite love triangles in fiction? Also, should I go ahead and read the Twilight series, or do you think I've gotten all I'm going to from the films?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TWILIGHT BROKEN DOWN – vampires+sex = success?

Every month, members of teamTEENauthor write a blog post for teens on a specific topic. May’s topic is Twilight.

(Beware, Twilight spoilers throughout)

An extended recording of this article is here… sorry about the interference, I literally recorded it on my way back from watching the film :)

So this blog is a fun ‘writer’s analysis’ of Twilight and why it works. A lot of people, males especially, have asked why it has done so well… I have the answers.

The first cool thing about Twilight is the cover of the first book: pale hands holding red fruit, the cryptic, symbolic apple; the book was based originally on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which Stephenie Meyer used as a re-creative point for her first novel. Each of the Twilight books also play into great works of literature, from Merchant of Venice to Romeo and Juliet.

The second cool thing is that the whole reinvention of vampires in Twilight is fresh and new. The fact that Meyer’s vampires are able to walk around in the day means readers can relate to characters that can interact with vampires in everyday life.

The third cool factor is that it plays to the archetype to the normal, average teen who tries but always finds themselves lacking. Fantasy novels always deal with this idea; take for example ‘Harry Potter’, unloved by his aunt’s family. In the same way, it’s the clumsy girl, who attracts the attention of an attractive, enchanting man. This is the core of Twilight’s success. It isn’t the fact that Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off every ten minutes (though I have no objections to that either).

The last and most important key to Twilight’s success lies in the way that modern relationships seem to work. Pre 1970s feminism women generally married young and became an extension of their husbands. Only then would they have sex, and then those people for the most part would stay together. Even if men cheated on their wives, it was generally accepted that divorce was not really a viable option.

Now, however, due to the shift of social attitudes, sex has become a commodity. Love, emotions and sex in some ways could be argued to have been divided.  We have Skins, a British and now American television show which trivialises sex, particularly for teenagers and makes it seem like something everyone is doing, all to do with hedonism, and having a good time. I’m not against that idea but I’m thinking that the reason that Twilight is so successful is that many young girls are stuck between two eras.

On some level, many young women want their partner to be kind to them: respect them, wait for them, love them unconditionally, take care of them and stay true them, to put that girl beyond and before every other girl in their life, to try at every turn to make that girl as happy as possible. That’s what I believe Edward represents.

Furthermore, Edward’s affection for Bella is not something that waxes and wanes, peaking at times and dipping at others. At no point in the narrative do we doubt the level of Edward’s love for Bella. It’s a love that lasts. The book is characterised at the end by a love that lasts forever.

This is the real reason that Edward being a vampire is so important. His eternal life is synonymous with his eternal love. This is ultimately why ‘Twilight’ is so successful, because Edward represents the possibility that you might have a relationship that lasts until you die, which is in effect, your forever.

Now for the flipside.

I really like ‘Twilight’. However, I think there are some pretty negative themes which run through the series. I love Stephenie Meyer’s characterisation, her use of allegory. However, when enjoyed on a worldwide scale I think it can be very negative and this is why.

Many young girls see Bella and her relentless pursuit of Edward as a model for their own lives. Because she doesn’t take ownership of her life, it is continually defined in relation to Edward: his existence in her life makes it worth living, what Edward wants is often what she wants, what he is is what she wants to become.When she meets him she can think of nothing else, which I think many young women (and many young men too) have experienced. 

When you fall head over heels it can be obsessive. However, when Edward leaves (New Moon) Bella starts to pull her life back together with the help of Jacob, who she leaves when Edward returns. This can be seen as returning to an “abusive” relationship. Her boyfriend of choice is controlling, one-hundred years older than her and from an incredibly dangerous family. It could be interpreted as saying that dangerous guys who control you will love you in the end.

We also have this whole idea that Bella is deprived of sex from Edward which only makes her want him more. When they eventually do go 'all the way' (Breaking Dawn) she is seen very much as a temptress. He doesn't want to but she coerces him. This positions her as a temptress, as forbidden fruit, as Eve tempting Adam.

Bearing in mind that that they get married because it is something HE wants, Edward then accidentally impregnates Bella almost instantly. This also seems to send a message that pregnancy is inevitable. The child she becomes pregnant with goes on to kill her. I know it’s a fantasy and I know it’s all make believe, however, the images are so interlinked in Twilight, that they become quite dark.
Ultimately, Bella becomes Edward. She becomes part of him as his wife. She becomes the mother of his child. She becomes, finally, a vampire as he is. This is the only moment that she starts to take control. She effectively only becomes herself when she is part of a man in every way she can be.

This is a sharp contrast to what we see in The Hunger Games for example, where Katniss, an independent, strong-willed, courageous, young adult has to draw reserves of courage to fight, who never loses a sense of self. She fights in the Hunger Games, she is completely fierce and knows herself. When Katniss loves, she chooses to love, she is not coerced into it, she realises her feelings over time, giving them long enough to settle, whereas Bella lurches from one emotion to another.

Now I’m not trying to say I don’t like Twilight. I love it. I think it’s beautiful that a love story can be so popular in a modern, cynical age. I think it shows that underneath it all people still want fairytales, they still want loves that last. But I think it’s important to look at all the levels of the narratives which make up popular culture, while we enjoy them. Let me know what you think!

An extended recording of this article is here… sorry about the interference, I literally recorded it on my way back from watching the film :)

Elizabeth Amisu is a writer, reviewer of film and fiction, and lecturer in Film and English. She is the author of The Sacerdos Mysteries. Her novels are available on Amazon Kindle. Sign up for a free short at www.elizabethamisu.com

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Twilight: On Love

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about love.  Specifically about what makes me fall in love with a character, and what makes characters fall in love with each other.  As I’ve been puzzling over this, I’ve been surprised to discover how similar the two processes are.

People who care about other people are easy to love, because the qualities that make us love each other are elicited when we are being kind and thoughtful to other people. 

When one person worries about another’s well-being, they are demonstrating that they care.  When one person sacrifices something for another’s happiness, they are demonstrating that they care.  When one person is anxious over another’s safety or affection, they are demonstrating that they care.  When a person divulges their own thoughts and feelings to another, they are demonstrating not only caring, but trust.

And when a character does these things, they let the reader in on an intimate relationship.  As characters care about each other, so the reader begins to care about them.

I have to admit, Twilight is not my personal favorite novel.  I’m not much into romance novels, so that’s not much of a surprise.  My teenage self would absolutely have loved it, there is no doubt, but as an adult, it’s not my thing.

But when I read it, the pages flew by.  I’ve heard many people puzzle over why it is so popular, but there’s no mystery there for me.  Twilight is compelling because Bella loves Edward, and Edward loves Bella, and watching two people love each other (even badly; especially badly!) is compelling, and elicits love from the reader.  They love, so we love. 

There is no more pure connection between novel and reader than that.