The Twilight Review, Part 6

And now for the post you’ve all been waiting for.

Bella

There is a term in literature for a character who has a perfect life and is a perfect person. When that character is female, the character is called a “Mary Sue”. Consider this description of Bella: she has loving parents who stereotypically don’t understand her, she’s incredibly smart and intelligent, everyone at school loves her, and she’s dating the boy of her dreams. There’s only one drawback: she’s clumsy (but only in gym and when she thinks about it). Despite all this, Bella hates her life, hates her school, and cries in her car after what I would have considered a rather successful (albeit awkward) first day of school. Her life is fine, but she seems to have some pent-up hate against it for some reason.

Compounding on this, though, is Steph’s poor skills at characterization. As I stated in part four of this review, traits must be shown, not told. We are told rather consistently that she’s smart, and shown once or twice, but her character seems to contradict that completely. I would expect an intelligent person to be less controlled by her emotions, and act more logically, or at least think things out. Instead, we get pages and pages on how beautiful Edward is, and how much he “dazzles” her.

I suppose, though, that one could argue that how quickly she figures out Edward’s not human points to her intelligence. And to some degree, it does. But only his demonstration of his super speed when he saves her from Tyler’s car. I know I would be questioning him about it as much as she would.

However, I wouldn’t come to the same conclusions as she does. Almost immediately, she guesses he’s some kind of Marvel superhero. It’s almost as if she wants him to be supernatural.

A word on urban fantasy. In this genre, the main character is thrust into some underground society of mythological figures. However, it usually takes a bit for the character to accept that what he/she has seen as fiction for most of his/her life really exists. For example Neo, from The Matrix, even after waking up in the real world and then being introduced to the Matrix, still has trouble handling reality. Percy, from Percy Jackson and the Olympians, doesn’t accept the existence of Greek myths until it’s all explained to him by Chiron and Dionysus – after he’s discovered his best friend has goat legs, his teacher turns into a fury, his other teacher gives him a ballpoint pen sword, and he kills a minotaur. In Harry Potter, Harry doesn’t accept that his parents are wizards and that he is too, until Hagrid zaps a pig tail on Dudley and explains Harry’s family history. I like to compare it to converting to a different religion, often because the worlds of urban fantasy so contrasts with the general understanding of how the world operates.

What about Bella, though? How much does it take her to accept that vampires exist? What does she encounter with the supernatural?

Well, just a super-fast movement from Edward (not very convincing), a ghost story involving the Cullens (mildly convincing), and some comments that might be stretched into creating a theory that Edward can read minds (not convincing). Hardly anything compared to Percy or Neo, or even Harry. At least these three see hard evidence for the supernatural world. It’s almost as if Bella wants there to be a supernatural world, since she’s so insistent on her “superpowers” theory after Edward saves her from the car wreck. Plus, I don’t know how she gets “vampire” from all this. The only thing pointing to a classic vampire is Jacob’s story. And, of course, I don’t know how she even theorizes that Edward can read minds.

A word on character flaws. Clumsiness is a poor excuse for a character flaw. First of all, it’s rather cliché. Second, it has absolutely no relevance to the plot. Consider Harry Potter: he’s rather mediocre, but this allows his strengths – his friends and his unique talents – to shine. Percy Jackson is impulsive and not very scholarly, and this gets him in trouble. Or, since Twilight is a romance novel, think about Lizzy Bennet. Her prejudice is what keeps her from finding love in Mr. Darcy. Emma’s folly as a matchmaker causes most of the conflict in her story. And that’s really the difference between these memorable characters and Bella. Their flaws help define them, and affect the movement of the plot. That’s just not true with Bella.

What I think her real character flaw is, is the control her emotions have over her behavior, even more than Edward. At least his love for Bella makes him try to be a better person. Bella goes from hating cloudy days because she prefers the sunlight reminiscent of Forks, to loving cloudy days because it means she can be with Edward. And then her favorite color becomes dependent on the color of his eyes.

Speaking of eye color, Bella keeps track for weeks and weeks on Edward’s. Now, I understand that it would be natural to be suspicious of someone because they have an odd eye color (as in this case), but I once tried to keep track of my friend’s eye color, and I only succeeded for three or four days. Perhaps I had too much else on my mind, unlike Bella, who seems only to have Edward on hers.

Sometimes, Bella’s emotions make her downright dangerous. Especially to herself. As I mentioned in part two of this review, she takes off a neck brace after the car accident. Later, when she’s tired, she takes cold medicine in order to fall asleep. Yes – instead of doing what she did last time (heavy metal slamming into her ears), or trying something safer, she takes unnecessary drugs to make her fall asleep. I’m surprised the overdose didn’t kill her. (Granted, this could just be liquid medicine, but even so, that sets an awful precedent).

Bella also seems to have a problem when dealing with people. You want to know how Jacob Black even enters the love triangle? Because Bella flirts with him in order to get him to tell her a local ghost story, about how his grandfather made a treaty with the Cullens. While packing to run to Phoenix, she concocts the perfect plan to get Charlie to “let her go”: tell him she hates his guts. She even uses Renee’s parting words. What a low blow. Has she considered telling him the truth? And if that’s not possible, why not just announce she’ll be gone? Perhaps on a camping trip with the Cullens. It just annoys me that Bella parts with Charlie in the most hurtful way possible. I bet he cried afterward.

But it wasn’t until Bella was lying in the hospital for the second time that I realized the awful truth: neither Bella or Edward learned a single thing, or grew at all, over the course of the novel. This is a problem, because there was quite a bit of room for growth. Bella is still too pretentious to think she needs to be in the hospital, and Edward wants to leave Bella to protect her, still. I know that this is the first part of a series, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of growth. Katniss Everdeen suffers from PTSD following the first game, and develops a reluctant relationship with Peeta. Harry Potter obtains the Philosopher’s Stone and learns the value of friendship, courage, and love. Percy Jackson becomes a confident, hardened warrior. Lizzy Bennet abandons her prejudice and finds she can love the humbled Mr. Darcy. Bella Swan … finds out she really does like Forks?

So that’s Twilight. I’m supposed to get to the rest of the series, but I’ve realized I have about 1,500 pages to go, and the first 500 in Twilight were rather difficult to slog through. So don’t expect anything soon. In the meantime, I’ll be putting up plenty of short fiction, so please stop by and enjoy it.

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2 thoughts on “The Twilight Review, Part 6

  1. Rob says:

    I don’t really see Bella Swan as a Mary Sue character because she does not demonstrate any extraordinary talents, as the term is defined in the Wiki. True, she has a good life: she has loving parents; she’s smart; she is loved by everyone at school; and she is dating the boy of her dreams. But she is no genius, nor is she especially gifted in any particular area. And she isn’t the youngest Captain in Starfleet (so to speak). She’s just a teenager, misunderstood by her parents and hating her own life without understanding how blessed she is.

    If there is any serious flaw in the character, it is that she is too immature to make an intelligent decision regarding the disadvantages of falling in love with, and becoming, a vampire.

    Twilight may well be cast in the urban fantasy genre, but it doesn’t appear that the urban setting has much of an impact on the plot. And Forks, Washington, is a not exactly classic urban setting. Regardless, fantasy can exist in semi-urban settings as well, and that may be sufficient to earn the rating. And perhaps the semi-urban / semi-rural aspects of the setting help the character to more easily accept the fantastical aspects of her situation. Ancient legends loom larger in a forest than a city. Yet my impression is that Bella comes to accept it relatively quickly due to her inner desire for some kind of extraordinary life rather than any environmental influence. And it would make sense if, as you say, she first suspects that Edward’s abilities are due to his being granted super-powers. In a true city, that would be completely plausible; but here in the hinterlands of Forks, it makes even more sense that he has super-natural powers. Again, the ancient legends loom larger in the forest.

    I find it interesting that Edward-the-eternal-teenager is also living (if that is the correct term) in a fantasy-world, yet of a wholly different kind. He believes that he can love an entity who is more prey than partner.

    James is perhaps the only one who fully accepts his role; he is a hunter, and Bella is his prey. And it is only when she – or someone she loves – is threatened by his true-to-himself character that we see hers revealed. She is willing to sacrifice herself in order to save someone else (in this case, her mother). This is the true intersection of the real world with the fantasy world: rather than grasping the heel of the supernatural and attempting to become a part of it, she gives up everything so as to protect someone else. Were the novel more true to itself, this is where it should have ended, with Bella accepting her place as prey to the vampire hunter.

    Yet she is rescued by the Cullens, those rebels against their own kind, who have turned their backs on their supernatural instincts and attempted to carve a new niche in the world. This seems false, a weakening of the legend, a watering down of great power to provide a vapid but happy ending. A better tale would turn around her desire to become a vampire in order to fight them on their own terms. She would sacrifice her own humanity in order to protect her family, not out of some misbegotten love between herself and the eternal teenager who, by rights, should eagerly desire that fate for her as well, although for his own reasons.

    But she is a teenager, and, like so many of her peers, she is ready to sever her relationships with her family – after saving her mother! – so that she might pursue that which she perceives to be desirable (beauty, strength, danger). So that she might become one of the Living Dead. So that she might spend eternity with her undead lover, who will never age or tire or fade away.

    This is her greatest contradiction: that she is willing to sacrifice for her family when she thinks it will cost her everything, but also eager to give up that same family if it will mean that she can spend eternity with a creature whom she should, by rights, fear more than any other.

    • If she doesn’t seem like a Mary Sue now, she will when she becomes a vampmeyer. Urban fantasy doesn’t require a necessarily urban setting. Percy Jackson and Harry Potter are both urban fantasy. All that is really required is that mythological/fantastical elements occur in a contemporary setting.

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