7.23.2010

Vampire Dates and other stories

Yesterday got by me, and at 10:30 PM I tried to post and gave up. To make up for that, I have two posts for you today: this one, and my review of the movie Eclipse over at The Hog's Head. (Loved it. I grinned my way through pretty much the whole thing.)

Special thanks to my husband, who not only has never complained about taking me to a Twilight film, but treats it like a date and even enjoys the show. He likes the Pacific Northwest scenery—it's hard not to when you live out here.

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This blog has a new web address: jennasthilaire.com. Don't worry, if you've linked to the old blogspot address in the past, the links will still work. But I've been planning, as part of my writing venture, to set up a professional website. Blogger seems to have realized that Wordpress has been beating the socks off it and it is undergoing vast improvements, offering a lot more options, and... we'll see what I come up with.

The beautiful Dark Forest theme that I've used for just over a year will go away soon, which makes me a little sad. I might take a screenshot just to keep for memory's sake. On the other hand, I do love graphic design and should be able to come up with something pretty. Give me time. If the template reverts to one of Blogger's standard offerings for awhile, never fear--that's just temporary while I try to work things out.

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My grandparents left town Sunday, and I am still catching up on things. The house needs cleaning, I have my old computer booted for some work, my novel needs a lot more revision, and I've got a website to design. It's going to be a busy day.

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Writers, here's a set of links for you. Erin Healy has a great two-part guest piece at Rachelle Gardner's, on knowing and loving your reader:

Who is Your Reader: Part 1
Who is Your Reader: Part 2

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Sweet romantic piece of the week: Unwritten Love Notes by Farmer's City Wife. It's an excellent reminder of how to keep love alive.

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Funny line of the week comes from Denise Roper, talking about an experience at Mythcon:

I also loved this particular prayer of petition: “Remember Charles, Clive, John Ronald, and all who have died in the peace of Christ; remember those whose faith is known to you alone; and bring them all into the place of eternal joy and light.” I thought that it was so lovely that we prayed for the Inklings in this way, but I really think Clive would have liked it better if we had called him ”Jack.”

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I've got to get to work. Happy weekend, everyone!

46 comments:

  1. Test comment to see if this works...

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  2. Woohoo! It worked! I can't send e-mail from this weird internet portal/TV monitor that they have in this hospital, but I can post on Jenna's blog. YAY. I've been following lately but not commenting since I've been at work and my work computer is technically a government computer so I never transmit sensitive information over it, my views on Twilight, for instance.

    And oooo, Madame Library Lily,have I got a Twilight-sized bone to pick with you! ;) I supposed it must all be prefaced with "There is no accounting for matters of taste" (and if I could remember the Latin for that phrase I would use it but my vanity has been foiled on this point and this weird Internet station doesn't allow for multiple windows at once) as well as the concession that I only got halfway through the blasted first installment. But I simply couldn't make it any further. I did see the first movie, several times I think, as I was trying to dissect it for my youth group students.

    I will grant you that Stephanie Meyer is more talented than your average purveyor of dime-store novels. She has some original descriptions and insights that impressed me. I happen to think you are a far better writer than she is, however. My several complaints are as follows (and forgive me for putting these in multiple posts -- I am afraid of typing up the whole thing and losing it to the vagaries of this Internet system):

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  3. Exhibit A: the Cascade of One-Dimensional Characters.

    There is nothing more annoying in a story than a series of undeveloped characters who do nothing but serve as vehicles to advance the plot. It becomes a nuisance to keep track of them when frankly, the author hasn't given you a reason to. They are lame "types" with no personality or flesh beyond what the cliche mold holds for them.

    The problem is that no human person is that simple in real life. Even the chick at work who drives me crazy has more than one dimension to her -- layers of goodness and humanity and complexity. In spite of the fact that she spends most days driving me crazy, I could never commit the sin of depicting her as one-dimensional. Real people are not like that, and for a writer to make everyone in the story that way except for the main characters is simply shoddy and lazy.

    It reminds me of those cheap background sets that they used to use in old Hollywood musicals and Westerns. The point wasn't the background so it didn't matter too much if even a child could tell it was phony or hastily assembled. But real artists don't overlook things like that or consider that a waste of time. I am thinking of the gobs of characters in Tolstoy for instance. Yes, their names all began with a "K" and had more consonants than was prudent, but by heaven, I cared enough about them to keep them straight.

    *I should note that I'm not accusing you of holding Stephanie Meyer up as an equal to Tolstoy or any of the other greats, but I am a little surprised at your enthusiasm for her work. :) And I should note too that I am not a story-teller or an inventor of fiction and that I would probably be no better than Mrs. Meyer if I did try my hand at it. But for the love of Peter, Paul, and Mary, I certainly wouldn't have the gall to publish it!

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  4. Exhibit B: The Unrealistic Amount of Drama.

    I know that it is every girl's dream to be dramatically rescued from something by a dark, handsome man who happens to be secretly in love with her, but every 15 minutes? It is entertaining, I agree, but it again adds to the unrealistic tenor of the novel. Bella walks two blocks away from the main drag in Port Angeles and is suddenly accosted by a gang of assailants? And this literally days after she is nearly killed in a car accident? Siiiigh.

    My related beef with this is that extraordinary events are not what makes this life exciting and beautiful and wondrous and worth living. It is the ordinary that is good and holy and beautiful and wondrous. Walker Percy has a great essay on this subject; can't recall the name -- it's something like "The Holiness of the Everyday". People who are bored with life or who are constantly seeking out thrills or excitement have no clue that they are missing out on the biggest thrill of all -- the beauty of the everyday world. Getting my husband to laugh really hard, catching a glimpse of a beautiful, old, toothless babushka in the coverage of the Beatification of John Paul II, seeing the blind and disabled plod ahead of me in the communion line and realizing that I am more blind and disabled than they with my lack of faith, the baby girl with heart-melting licorice-black eyes and dimples in her elbows who is glaring at me because she is not a morning person -- these are the things that make everyday life so exciting if one is not too blind to notice. I know you too reverence these things and that's why I couldn't put your novel down and why I couldn't wait to get Twilight back to the library.

    Writers who rely on constant series of dramatic events in order to make their story interesting do a grave disservice to the public. They contribute to the culture of escapism and that is a big problem in this country. Not that it is a bad thing to want to disappear into a good story from time to time, but our culture has made it into a lifestyle. One only need consider the average number of hours most people spend watching TV, surfing the web, or watching or participating in sporting events. None of these are bad things intrinsically but they frequently have very little to do with beauty, goodness, or truth.

    Josef Pieper, a German philosopher who wrote shortly after WWII, said that leisure was the basis of culture. He differentiated between leisure and mere recreation because recreation does not build up the soul. It may not harm it and it may certainly be helpful and even necessary in moderation but if we make the center of our lives it only serves to make our lives completely devoid of meaning, even absurd. Consider the number of professional athletes whose lives fall apart after they can no longer play. (Again I am not accusing you of subscribing to this disordered view; I am castigating Mrs. Meyer and her ilk for propagating it.)

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  5. Exhibit C: The Vomit-Inducing Dialogue.

    Bella and Edward's dialogue is like emotional ping-pong. He says something and she reacts violently. She mitigates her comment. He softens. He says something and she reacts violently. He mitigates. She softens. The cycle repeats ad nauseaum.

    Real people and real conversations are not that mercurial unless they have mental disturbances-- it would be totally exhausting. Can you imagine trying to keep with that? I was worn out emotionally just by reading it. Now, I don't mind expending emotional effort on a story that is worth my time and energy. But why should I care about the emotional tit-for-tat between two adolescents? Beyond the scope of their relationship, it has utterly no importance and nothing to say about the world around them or their place in it. I would set as a contrast any of the dialogue in Austen's books. There is a reason our grandchildren will be reading Austen while Meyer will be consigned to the dustheap that is the history of American fads.

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  6. *Whoops, just saw a typo in the third sentence of that last post. It should be "He says something and she reacts violently. He mitigates his comment. She softens. She says something and he reacts violently. She mitigates her comment. He softens."

    Exhibit D: Edward Cullen Is Tediously Like Every Other Romance Novel Hero in the World: NOT REAL.

    Real men are not that emotionally vulnerable. If they were, they would be women. As captivating and as gratifying as it is when a strong man lets down his guard for a rare moment and trusts a woman to know his feelings on something, it's not something that real men do all the time. If they did, we would despise them. Real men are not constantly emoting. They hold it together when we are. Men are simply not subject to the range of emotional sensibilities that women are, and thank the Lord they aren't! Somebody has to hold things together when we can't.

    I am not, of course, tearing down my own sex -- it is woman's particular gift and burden to be so sensitive to others, and the world would be harsh and ugly and sterile without our feminine sensibilities. But only in romance novels is the man constantly opening his heart and soul to the woman.

    This too is another disordered view in our culture that should not be encouraged or promoted. Men are made to feel that the must constantly be emoting in order to fulfill their wife's own emtional needs, and if they don't have any feelings about something they are derided as insensitive. The words women love to have addressed to them and that men dread the most: "Tell me what you're feeling." The romance novel culture has done a great deal of damage to the institution of marriage in our country because so many women go into marriage with unrealistic expectations. Your spouse's job is not to fulfill all of your emotional needs. That's the Lord's job, and secondarily the job of your female friends. And on a very special level it's part of your husband's job. But you shouldn't be looking to your marriage or romantic relationship as the source of your emotional fulfillment. ("You" understood, not you in particular -- I know you in particular don't fall into that.)

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  7. Which Leadeth Me to Exhibit E: Edward and Bella's Relationship Is Totally Disordered.

    Edward is totally consumed by Bella, and vice versa. He wants to know everything about her, and she revels in the fact and even seems to emotionally depend on being the center and focal point of his existence. This is a HUGE temptation for women and in days gone by was referred to the sin of "pride of life": wanting to be a little god, wanting to be worshipped and adored.

    Now there is some element of this mutual adoration in every romantic relationship - part of what makes marital love a foretaste of heaven, so giddy and heady and delightful, is beholding clearly the beauty and glory of another human being and having one's own beauty recognized in return. But making this romantic love and these intense, very evanescent feeings the center of one's existence sets the couple up for a huge disappointment when the intensity fades with familiarity and the stresses of everyday life together.

    If on the other hand you have God as the center of your life, you will be able to appreciate and enjoy the romance of your marriage even more as it evolves and changes from that first glorious, all-consuming passion. You and I (and I would wager all of our close friends) absolutely love our marriages. But that is because we didn't take in the unrealistic expectations of romantic love that our culture promotes.

    Again, Mrs. Meyer is doing a grave disservice to our youth by putting out this kind of drivel, which she is talented enough to make quite captivating.

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  8. Exhibit F: Edward Doesn't Really Love Bella.

    If he really did love her, he wouldn't pursue her and he wouldn't cause her to become his vampire consort.

    I suppose it is fantasy but I can't get around the idea that Carlysle is viewed as having "saved" the lives of Edward, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett. Actually he did the exact opposite. They were on their way to the Four Last Things (maybe even Heaven) and instead he trapped them in a state of eternal limbo wherein they found themselves constantly and deeply tempted to kill people. How is that an act of charity? As far as I can tell he was lonely is his fate and so made for himself a family of other souls afflicted with his same problem. They had no desire to become that way; he did it for his own selfish reasons.

    In this aspect of Edward and Bella's relationship, there is an eerie parallel with lust. Lust, C.S. Lewis says in "The Four Loves", appears that it will sacrifice all for the beloved, even the very soul of the lover. But it is deceptive because that sacrifice is really being made is for the lover, not the beloved. *I'm pausing this scathing review here because Dan wants to watch the Bulls game. Don't worry, I'll be back to finish. I'm on bedrest. It's a long story. Love, Maria

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  9. Temporarily resuming Exhibit E (and heavens to Betsy, feel free to delete all of this -- I'm just using this as a portal to get out my thoughts about it and to see what you think about it in return. I would be happy to be convinced of some greater merits to the book.) I just noticed another typo in the second to last paragraph above. It should read that Carlysle was lonely "in his fate and so made for himself a family of other souls afflicted with the same problem".

    The only suitable analogy I can think of is someone who has a terminal, highly contagious disease. If Edward had HIV-AIDS, the most loving thing for him to do if he truly loved Bella and didn't just want her, would be to get as far away from her as possible so that neither of them would be tempted to do something that would end in her ultimate suffering and death. But this is even worse than HIV-AIDS because that only kills the body. At stake here is Bella's immortal soul. Edward loves her with every fiber of his being and yet he is willing to put her in a perpetual, eternal state of vulnerability to mortal sin? To couch it in less Catholic terms, he is willing to allow her to take on the same loneliness and agony and unsatiable thirst that he lives with every day? He is willing to subject her to a grave temptation to do somthing that she would otherwise never be tempted to? That ain't love. In fact it's selfish as hell.

    That to me is ultimately the most troublesome thing about Twilight. Again I have to reiterate that I didn't finish the book and found out the ending of the series from a secondary source. But I don't think I'd let my teenagers read it without engaging them seriously to think about it. In fact I don't think I would let them read it at all because I consider romance novels to be a dangerous genre for young girls to read and I don't want their opinions of romance to be formed by that. I suppose that's a question of how protective to be in your parenting and I don't believe in sheltering your kids from everything but that is one pitfall I would particularly like to see them avoid.

    I'm awaiting your thoughts on all this -- I'm sure you wouldn't like it as well as you do without there being something redeeming in it. I would be happy to be convinced I am wrong about this series. Thanks for allowing me to get this all out and as I said, feel free to delete all of these posts -- I would have e-mailed you but I can only check e-mail here at the hospital and not send it for some bizarre reason.

    I love your blog and read it faithfully even though I rarely comment -- I've read quite a bit of the archives, too, maybe most of them, though I haven't gone through it methodically except for the first two years of posts. I've enjoyed a lot of the links you've shared, too. So thank you for this wonderful public service of blogging. :) Love to you and Lou and Maia (whose appearances I richly appreciate :)

    ~Maria

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  10. Hey, Maria,

    I'm whipped after staying up all night, but wanted to let you know that I've enjoyed watching these comments come in and will respond as soon as I can. For now, suffice it to say that I agree with some of your points more than you might think, respect you and all your thoughts, and will let you know where I had a different take on things so you can decide what to make of that.

    Thanks for managing to write a scathing review of a set of books I enjoy without making it feel at all like an attack on me. It's a startling joy to have good-natured, honest, kindly debate in this ad hominem world.

    Praying for you and the baby! And Dan, too, of course. :)

    Love,
    Jenna

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  11. Goody gumdrops -- I do love a good debate when both parties have a mutual, sincere affection for one another and are only honestly seeking the truth. Angele and I just had a long talk a while ago trying to work out whether it was a good idea for Christians to celebrate Seder meals on Holy Thursday, and it was invigorating. There are many things I appreciate about the Internet but one thing that really deeply saddens me is how hateful people can be behind a cloak of anonymity (sp?). Under any news story about the Church there is bound to be comment after comment of hateful vitriol against her, against Christians, against God, and against the concept of faith in general. That drives me crazy. IF only people were taught the rules of argument in high school! Without a mutual assumption of good faith, a strong mutual respect for human dignity, and a commitment to finding the truth that supercedes any desire to "win" or simply stroke one's own ego, debate only does more harm than good.

    And bless you for not taking offense! There definitely was an element of "I can't put this down" at first but as the story went on I wondered whether I should be reading it, particularly as it became more sensuous. Probably for many people that might not be a problem but I tend toward caution on that point as I wasted a great deal of my adolesence (sp?) on romance novels, to the very great detriment of my own happiness.

    Thanks for your prayers -- they are much appreciated! Rachelle or Katie would probably be happy to give you an update on everything --I assume you're connected to one or both of them via Facebook.

    Patiently awating to hear your thoughts,

    Maria

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  12. Err...I just finished reading all of your reviews of Twilight, which I suppose I should have done in the first place. I was just so turned off by what I read of the book.

    But before we get down to business I remembered one other gripe: the descriptions of the scenery were terminally unoriginal. I'm not one for long-winded scenic descriptions of any kind so perhaps my tolerance level of them is not the best rubric to judge by. In fact the only author whose scenic descriptions have ever captivated me is Willa Cather. I didn't consider a single word of hers a waste. (Are you familiar with any of her stuff? "My Antonia" is probably in my top five of all time. It's just so magnificent. And "Death Comes for the Archbishop" is a beautifully drawn portrait of the Church. It's absolutely fascinating to me that a non-Catholic could see into the soul of the Church so clearly.) Usually I don't have much patience for scenery. I just finished Lord of the Rings and I have to admit I did not pay very close attention to Tolkien's relentless topography. But you shouldn't put in scenic descriptions unless you're going to do it right. Tolkien's background painting was at least original and I would have read it if I had any interest in the subject. Meyer's is merely, again, stock material that could have been contributed by any high school student. I am sorry to be so severe on her but I am afraid it is true.

    I'm in the midst of reading the Forks Professor's analyses of Twilight, and I have to admit from reading your reviews that there is more going on there than I thought. Still, the vampire motif bothers me. Even if Edward only ever killed "bad people" like potential murderers and rapists, it's still gravely evil and kind of disturbing.

    I see you do agree with my assessment that the novels are not appropriate for pre-teens and teenagers because there is so much sensuality and the main characters do not set good examples. But pre-teens and teenagers are exactly Meyer's target audience! That strikes me as incredibly irresponsible, especially as an act of someone who claims to be a devout Mormon. She bears some responsibility for leading young girls astray into this distorted view of love.

    I was intrigued by the quote you cited from Garrett and the idea that one of the ultimate messages of the book was that family life demands self-denial and that love is intrinsically bound up with self-sacrifice. But that seems to be the exact opposite of what Edward does in the end, so I don't see how that can hold true. I don't see how him pursuing Bella is anything other than fundamentally selfish and not at all in her best interest.

    Anyway the bottom line is I would read Jenna St. Hilaire any day of the week over Stephanie Meyer.

    :)

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  13. Hi, Maria,

    Sorry to be so late getting back to you on this. It's been one of those long days... Anyway, I am strongly with you on endless descriptions--including Tolkien's "relentless topography" (well put). I've read Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, which is incredibly visual without being drudgery to read.

    I will also agree with you on Meyer's descriptions. They're at least not heavy, but they are common and repetitive. Meyer herself will claim that she "is a storyteller, not a writer." I wouldn't call that a great excuse, and if her concept had not been so powerful, I doubt she'd have been published.

    I'm glad you read the reviews, and that you're looking at the Forks High School Professor's work. For now, I'll try to respond to at least some of your points. It might take me a few comments, too...

    Exhibit A: One-dimensional characters. Many of them are relatively simple, I'll grant you, though if you read further into the books you'll find that Jacob Black, in particular, is nuanced. Rosalie and Jasper have some strengths as well, and I've always liked Carlisle and Esme and Alice and Charlie.

    Bella gets "No personality" a lot, but I disagree. She lays down her life for someone in every one of the novels, despite being socially timid. She goes through the difficulty of loving Edward and Jacob at the same time, and she keeps up an internal and external life that don't always match.

    Edward is less interesting to me, though I've always been Team Edward as far as Bella's love story goes. But I wish I remember how I felt about him before watching Robert Pattinson's hair play him.

    My friend Arabella (Deborah Chan) wrote a piece on the psychology of the characters here, if you haven't read that yet.

    More to come...

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  14. Exhibit B: Unrealistic Drama.

    I had a different take on this, probably because it fascinated me that Meyer set Bella up as shockingly accident-prone once she gets around vampires. For whatever reason, that concept appealed to me as a fantasy device.

    Outright escapism and extreme action, on the other hand, generally don't appeal to me. As you say, I appreciate the ordinary joys of life, the small things. And often the small conflicts, too, over the large ones. The number of near-death scenes didn't particularly strike me, though the unbalanced pacing certainly did. But I was interested enough in Bella's emotional progression to keep reading.

    I love Pieper's differentiation between leisure and recreation. Might start taking stock of that in my own life...

    The second book, New Moon, was particularly soul-building to me. It gave me powerful imagery to work against my agnostic tendencies. It is true, of course, that one has to look beyond Team Edward and Team Jacob to find that, and many teens will not.

    Exhibit C: Crappy Dialogue.

    The dialogue: not my favorite part of the books. And much worse in the movies. That is all.

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  15. Exhibit D: Edward Cullen is Not Real.

    I love, love, love what you say about men and women in your points. It's not something I'll argue with. But on a symbolic sense, Edward is not meant to be the human hero. Jacob is. Meyer sets this up in Eclipse, with both Jacob and Bella realizing that if there hadn't been vampires and werewolves, the two of them would have been together. They'd have fought and made up and recognized each other's imperfections and had children and lived a happy, normal married life.

    The Bella/Edward relationship is set up as superhuman in strength and nature, something even divine. Mormon heaven isn't Dante's rose with the incarnate Christ at the center; it's eternal marriage and (pro)creation of a new world and the souls that populate it. Needless to say, I disagree with that view of the afterlife, but that's the worldview she's working from.

    Which works into Exhibit E: Their Disordered Relationship. The center of the LDS life, if I've understood it correctly, is marriage and family, certainly including God as part of the family structure. Immortal marital bliss is part of the deal.

    Looking from the outside, it seems rather hard on single people. And again, my experience with teen girls more than suggests that it's the earthly romance they care about, that thrill of being chosen and beloved. The desire to be loved and chosen is natural, but I absolutely agree that expecting a man's full attention every hour of the day and night is beyond unrealistic. So is expecting him to never really get frustrated or angry with you, or to have a woman's emotions over you. That the surface-only reading most teens will give Edward encourages an impossible standard, I cannot deny.

    I don't get the sense that Meyer wrote this primarily for teen girls. I believe she wrote it for herself and her sister, both grown women. But that's just the original writing, and the marketing certainly went straight to the young. There's a part of me that thinks this is almost as dangerous as taking a 14-year-old boy to a burlesque dance. There's another part of me that recognizes the deeper import of what Meyer wrote, the part that spoke to me even as I rolled my eyes at some of the dialogue and skimmed past stuff that I considered uncomfortably sensual (almost all of which is contained in the first half of the first book.)

    Frankly, the--er, thrust of the story is so strongly toward chastity, with first Edward and then Bella insisting upon it despite every opportunity for hopping in the sack, that I think this balances out somewhat. There's a strong scene in Eclipse where Bella basically throws herself at Edward, even attempting to undress him, and he tells her flat-out that he's trying to protect her virtue. And his own--he's broken nearly every other one of the Ten Commandments. Considering how much of young adult literature contains all kinds of sexual experimentation, I felt like Twilight at least gives young girls the opportunity to consider that chastity might be a better path, that a loving man might care to respect his girlfriend's purity and his own. For a girl like you or me, this lesson was of course drilled in. For a girl whose experience looks more like that of John Green's Alaska or Lara, this is a bit of a surprising concept.

    The existence of a good influence does not negate the existence of a bad one, of course.

    Would I let my hypothetical teen daughter read these books? I believe it would depend on the development of her critical thinking skills, the way she felt about boys, and her willingness to talk about it with me and perhaps read some of John Granger's work on it. Also, I don't have a daughter, so maybe I'd be more protective than I expect.

    Exhibit F and the vampire concept tomorrow. I need to think about shutting my computer down shortly. :)

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  16. ...and apparently I'm having another insomniac night. Might as well use the wee hours productively. :)

    Exhibit F: Edward and Carlisle's failures to love

    I've already talked about Edward's determined chastity; to that, I'd add his steadfast refusal to kill her. The lion loves the lamb and will not wrongfully take her body or her blood, no matter how much he wants to.

    Second, I think you might have misapprehended the way the vampire/soul situation works out. Edward believes that humans have souls, but lose them in the process of vampire transformation. Bella and Carlisle believe that vampires retain their souls and can live a conscientious life without murder. Carlisle made the decision to transform Edward on Edward's dying mother's request, questioning his own judgment the whole time. Esme was a suicide and Rosalie the victim of a brutal group rape; the latter he called "too much waste." (Admittedly, that's all still questionable judgment.) Alice and Jasper came to him already transformed.

    Edward spends the first two books determined that Bella will not become a vampire, and when she is bitten by an enemy vamp at the end of book 1, he draws the poison from her blood himself. In book 2, he breaks off their relationship entirely to give her a chance to love someone else and live a human life unaffected by monsters, and when that doesn't work, he still refuses outright to allow her to change.

    Bella goes over his head to Alice and Carlisle, and when they sympathize with her and agree to transform her themselves, Edward is caught. The Volturi (elite traditional vampires) have also sworn to kill or change Bella themselves if the Cullens do not. Edward never becomes wholly reconciled to her choice until the change is made, halfway through book 4. And Bella never gives up her conviction that both of them have souls.

    Yeah, it's wonky theology. But I tend to accept almost any religious setup in fantasy, because fantasy sets aside the world we know for another one. This is less true, of course, about urban fantasy, where the real world at least exists. I wasn't troubled by Meyer's world-building, which at least allows for the possible existence of God and insists on the existence of the soul (which could imply a creating God.) Even Edward rationalizes that if things didn't evolve, he supposes God created the vampire the way He did the shark.

    To be continued...

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  17. Here's where we get into the vampire concept. I know people troubled, like you, by the hellish nature of vampires. I can understand that (more on this in a moment.) But from the very first read I've thought the primary strength and virtue of Meyer's entire concept was this: Vampire renounces his own evil nature and chooses to obey his conscience, even during his greatest temptations. (Would have been nice if Edward also had any thought of avoiding the near occasion of sin. But I suppose it would have made for a less intense book. :P) Edward shows repentance for his murders as a young vampire, even of those who deserved to die. He feels remorse, and he changes his ways.

    To me, it's a beautiful and shocking picture of what it is to be a human subject to the Fall and the sinful nature.

    Now, I'll grant you that the mere idea of good vampires can be a challenge to accept. I recently read a book in which the main character turned out to be a demon--held THAT information off till the very, very end--and though the protagonist's response was "No, I'm not going to be one of those", I had such a visceral response to the very idea of being in a demon's head (yeah, The Screwtape Letters was hard to read, too) that I chose not to review it. I didn't think I could be fair. Hell is hell, and I want no part of it. At all. Ever.

    ...but for some reason, I didn't have that reaction to the word 'vampire.' I'd never read Anne Rice or even Dracula at that point, and Meyer's mythology is comparatively mild. (At least until the Volturi come along.)

    Anyway, it's five AM and I think I've exhausted my brain for one sitting. Feel free to rejoin--I've thoroughly enjoyed the conversation thus far.

    Also, I'm shamelessly flattered that you like my writing better than that of one of the most successful young adult authors in the business. :)

    I hope you're finding ways to enjoy yourself while stuck in bed, and that all is going well. I'll have to check in with one of your family members once I've gotten some sleep.

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  18. ...and my apologies to anyone who reads the last few comments. I can really tell I wrote them at four AM. The grammatical errors are astounding.

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  19. Haha!! I didn't even notice any grammatical errors - for one, I'm a little rummy from this hospital regimen (vital signs and the fetal monitor every six hours) and for another, this screen is hard to see. I saw gobs of mistakes in my own posts, though.

    Well, hmmmmmmm. You have made me reconsider. I guess if the worst of the sensuality is in the first half of the first book I may try to continue reading.

    You seem to be set on finding good in everything, Madame Library Lily. That is one of the best qualities a person can have. It certainly makes getting through this life a lot more pleasant.

    I'm not finished digesting your comments and I haven't plumbed the Forks Professor's website, but I may as well since I'm confined to the nest until further notice. Actually this is the most fun I've had in a long time -- I get to lie abed and be waited on hand and foot, and the cafeteria brings me as many Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate chip cookies as I ask for. Not to mention I get to go to Mass every other day and have the Eucharist brought to me on the off days. You cannot imagine what a comfort it is to be in a Catholic hospital!

    Speaking of monitors, I'm going to wrap this up because I've got one of those blood-oxygen clamps on my pinky and it is getting in the way "something terrible", as Mrs. Rachel Lynde would say. But I'll keep reading and thinking about this and get back to you. Thanks for taking the time to reply to my inquiries!

    Love,
    Maria

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  20. Wow! I just finished reading Arabella's anaylsis and it was intriguing! I think I may still be in the revgeorge's camp: the emotional baggage is exhausting and I find it to be a turn-off.

    Your comments make a lot of sense, especially regarding the Mormon theology. I did know that because I spent four years working for and with devout Mormons, but it did not occur to me that Meyer's ordering of romantic love as the apex of the meaning of life jives with the Mormon beliefs about the afterlife.

    And I'll grant all your other points, but the one thing I am still unsatisfied about is that Edward's life is a life of suffering and he allows Bella to take on that same perpetual suffering. It seems to me that he ultimately chooses to gratify himself rather than choosing what would be best for her. The Cullens have a strange, lonely existence of feeling perpetually unsatisfied (living on "tofu"). For Edward to bring Bella into that just doesn't seem loving to me, regardless of the fact that Bella is willing to make that sacrifice.

    Bella herself puts her own desires above Edward's well-being by insisting on being with him and putting him in situations where he will be tempted to kill her. That's hardly loving. Again I have to raise the parallel with lust. Anna Karenina tells Alexei that she has sacrificed everything for him, her whole life and her whole self. But the truth is the exact opposite -- she sacrificed everything and her whole life for her own gratification. If she had truly loved Alexei and not just lusted for him and his affections, she would have cut him off and refused to see him. So I still find that problematic. I would be obliged if you could address this difficulty.

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  21. I think there was a similar concept in that horridly inane movie "City of Angels" that was popular in the mid-nineties: an angel falls in love with a mortal and chooses to become a mortal (and therefore chooses to be subject to concupiscense) in order to have a relationship with the mortal. The Goo-Goo Dolls had a huge hit with a song that I think was on the soundtrack ("I'd give up forever to touch you..."). That just seems like idolatry to me -- putting a lesser person in the place that should be occupied by God alone. For Bella to choose voluntarily to be subject to this very grave temptation to evil for the rest of her life in order to have a relationship with the man she loves...this seems disordered to me. And yes, it may jive with the Mormon theology but it doesn't jive with Christian theology.

    It would be one thing if Edward were just asking Bella to take on suffering when he asks her to be his wife. Marriage IS suffering in some sense because love is intrinsically bound up with self-sacrifice and self-giving. Every vocation requires suffering. But Edward is asking her to take on more than just self-denial. He is asking her to expose herself, for the rest of her life, to a grave temptation to commit murder. This is not in her best interest. How do either of them know she will be able to resist the temptation? If she even fell once it would not be worth it. And to voluntarily put yourself in an occasion of grave sin is itself a grave sin because that makes it clear you are willing to risk offending God. How would Edward feel if Bella caved one day and killed someone? Does he want her to know the feeling of having committed murder? I can't get over that hurdle.

    I don't suppose I could trouble you to explain what you meant about the imagery regarding agnosticism? That interested me a great deal. But if you can't explain it to someone who hasn't read the book, don't bother. Now that I've done some further reading I'm satisfied that there is quite a bit more going on in the books than I thought. I am grateful that you acknowledge the flaws in her writing; that soothes my annoyance with it tremendously. :)

    Well, they're coming in a few more hours to put me on the monitor so I'd better go to sleep. Everything's stable, but keep us in your prayers -- the baby is only 34 weeks.

    Love,
    Maria

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  22. ** Oh my word, I just read a plot synopsis of that movie "City of Angels" (I have never seen it, only heard the basic plot described a long time ago, and I wanted to make sure I was thinking of the right movie) and I almost threw up everything I just ate. Thank goodness I never haplessly happened to see it -- I would be so angry at never being able to get those two hours of my life back! It was apparently even worse than I had imagined.

    Perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on people -- after all, pop culture is merely a barometer of how far we are from God as a society. If you've never known God's love you can't know what you're rejecting. I guess it's just sad and horrifying that a movie with that kind of plot would be so successful and really accepted without comment by the culture. I was pretty young when it came out so I don't remember anyone voicing any kind of objection to it but I suppose if you haven't got the eyes of faith you wouldn't see anything wrong with it. It's sad though...I remember having a friend in high school who absolutely loved that song "Iris". She hadn't been raised in any faith so romantic love was to her the source and summit of our existence rather than Love Himself. She was a sweet girl.

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  23. "You seem to be set on finding good in everything, Madame Library Lily."

    Thanks! It's true, but I'm afraid I can be a little bit of a Jane Bennet about it--as in "What a stroke this was for poor Jane! who would willingly have gone through the world without believing that so much wickedness existed in the whole race of mankind, as was here collected in one individual.... Most earnestly did she labour to prove the probability of error, and seek to clear one, without involving the other." :)

    Also, I probably enjoy the emotional baggage too much.

    ...the one thing I am still unsatisfied about is that Edward's life is a life of suffering and he allows Bella to take on that same perpetual suffering. It seems to me that he ultimately chooses to gratify himself rather than choosing what would be best for her.

    Considering that life involves suffering and a pretty constant sense of dissatisfaction and of a lesser existence than we were meant for, that we are all subject to the temptation to commit grave sin, and that we go on existing anyway, I'm not particularly troubled by the fact that Edward allows Bella to choose a life that involves suffering and feeling unsatisfied. Of course, regarding the perpetuity, you have a point that I'd absolutely have to grant except for one thing: that existence is a physical impossibility in reality. God did not actually give us that choice, and therefore different rules may apply.

    Also, Bella chose that life. Edward would have had to force her not to, and God doesn't even force us to stay out of hell.

    Back for Bella's lust, City of Angels and the Goo Goo Dolls later! I've got to get dinner made now if I expect to feed Lou before taking off with the girls for the evening.

    Glad to hear things are stable with the baby for now, and I'll keep praying that they stay so!

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  24. Okay, Bella and lust.

    Almost all of Bella's behavior from meeting Edward to finally promising to marry him is lustful and selfish rather than loving. Oh, she has her moments. Going to save him from the Volturi at the end of New Moon, for instance, although even there she could have at least given her father respectful treatment. For the most part, she acts like an uninhibited teenage girl who wants what she wants and will do anything to get it. I've no intention of defending her for such actions.

    Led by Edward, sometimes Carlisle, and sometimes even Charlie, she develops a better understanding of love throughout the books. When she agrees to marry Edward and let Alice plan the wedding, she's accepting tradition, the idea of a love that is bigger than her own selfish desires, that gives the rightful role to her family and community. It's one of my favorite things in the books.

    In Meyer's mythology, Bella has the choice to live an immortal life still subject to temptation, and she takes it with every determination to stay murder-free. She has the example of Carlisle, who has never killed. And while she's terrified that she'll fail, her determination proves successful; she manages to avoid several potential murders in her first few days as a vampire. She does nearly kill Jacob, though, for totally non-vampire-related reasons, and I almost wonder if a more experienced writer might have made that more shockingly realistic and important.

    As for City of Angels, I've never dared to watch it as I've assumed it would upset me. And I cannot abide that Goo Goo Dolls song. :)

    Here's where my Jane Bennet side may be kicking in, though: I read all romantic stories written by anyone with any degree of Christian faith as symbolic of our relationship to God. Put that in the context of leaving God's heavenly glory for an earthly sexual relationship, though, and you've just totally killed it for me. Which makes the tale just a romance, and therefore less interesting (and possibly idolatrous.)

    Bella has no formed concept of God, heaven, or glory. All she has is this supernatural bond with an immortal creature. And while her tale has some nice symbolism, it's not allegorical, and Meyer developed the concept the only way it could really work out.

    Hopefully that makes sense.

    Agnosticism in the next comment--I just remembered that you asked about that. :)

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  25. New Moon spoilers ahead, in case anyone reads this and doesn't want to know.

    Brief personal admission: agnostic tendencies have been a struggle for me for several years, following an experience that made it quite clear that either I was wrong about who God was or about the nature of my relationship to Him.

    When Edward leaves Bella at the beginning of New Moon, he says "It will be as if I never existed." And he's thorough. He takes his photos out of her album and hides the CD he gave her. She blinks, and he disappears. He leaves town, doesn't contact her, and even convinces his family to vanish with him.

    And she starts having these dreams--of standing in the woods, completely and totally alone. So alone that she wakes up screaming, every night. She drives to his house one day, by herself, and the well-off-the-road place is just...empty. Braving the reports of large bears or wolves, she hikes to the meadow where Edward first said he loved her, and it's just an ordinary meadow. She can no longer see the intense beauty she remembered. And then a vampire steps into the meadow. A red-eyed, thirsty vampire, ready to kill her.

    That is exactly how I felt, facing the loss of my faith, of the concept of a loving God. The deepest beauty in life...gone. Made ordinary. But only the beauty. The nightmares, the horrors, still existed, only without mitigation.

    It's in that moment of utter danger that Bella hears Edward's voice, telling her what to do, coaxing her to distract the vampire until the werewolves show up. It's a long time before Edward comes back. But that little taste of him, that little unconscious hint that he still loves her (one of several) is the sort of thing she lives for until she finally gets word of him.

    And while I never got to courting danger like Bella does, I know how that feels too.

    So... I've had three late nights this week and am not at all confident that these comments are coming out with any fluency. Do let me know if you want me to explain myself.

    Happy first Mother's Day!

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  26. WOW! That is powerful imagery indeed, as you applied it. Fascinating. Okay, another point granted.

    Thank heaven that you too hate the song "Iris". It's always nice to have one's own violent prejudices validated by a person of taste...Oscar Wilde says people of similar opinions are always delighted to compliment one another on their good taste.

    Incidentally, I was just recapitulating the plot synopsis of the movie "City of Angels" to Dan and suddenly it struck me as wildly funny that Meg Ryan gets hit by a truck because she's so happy that she decides to ride her bike with her eyes closed. What a just ending for such a character. I literally can't stop laughing. Who on earth wrote that part of the story and how did it get past the editors?

    Back to Twilight. I'm still unconvinced that Bella's transformation is an act of love on her part or Edward's. I do see what you mean about allowing the author to construct her own mythology but there seem to be some metaphysical limits on that. The basic rules of philosophy and reality still apply even in a fantasy: a thing cannot be and *not* be at the same time and in the same manner, and so forth. But maybe I just can't make the leap in my head. I suppose that's possible. At any rate, I don't see how it can work if the basic rules of right and wrong still apply in Meyer's world.

    Thank you for posting that Jane Bennett quote, by the by. I had forgotten how great Austen really is. Thank you also for indulging my wish to have a conversation about these books and for going to the trouble of explaining things to someone who has never read most of the series. It was highly enjoyable and helpful.

    On an unrelated note, Dan and I just saw a movie that was actually worth seeing. I tend to have stringent standards for movies. Unless the thing is well-made and fairly clean, I won't waste two hours on it and I actually resent movies that turn out to be bad. :)

    So I am happy to report that "Last Chance Harvey" is the best movie I've seen in a long, long time. It stars Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson as well as an excellent supporting cast, and it's a very simple film. It's funny but it also has a lot of sorrow. As Dan says, "It's about real life." I would watch it again and I would actually buy it, which is saying a lot. I am kind of surprised that I haven't read any good reviews of it in the Catholic publications because it's clean as a whistle (exceedingly rare in a romantic movie) and there is even an even rarer moment of painful clarity on the culture of death, in a film that otherwise has nothing to do with that topic.

    Like I said, it is a very simple film. I'm always wary of hyping people's expectations of a movie because it may not strike them in the same way, but Dan and I both thought it made for a great date night and I think you and Lou would appreciate it. Plus I'd be thrilled to read your review of it. :) The director actually bothered to make it a work of art and not just another throw-away. A lot of movies are made merely for the sake of entertainment and those typically don't interest me. (I also just watched "Letters to Juliet" and it was fairly stupid; not offensive or harmful in the least, which is a lot to say for a romantic comedy at this point in our culture, but it was nothing that I'd pay money to see or ever watch again.)

    Aw, and thank you for wishing me a happy Mother's Day! It's been great so far. Dan bought me an entire package of Klondike Bars...of which he has eaten two and I haven't had any. Don't worry, I'll get around to them.

    Happy third Sunday of Easter, too! He is risen, Alleluia!

    Love,
    Maria

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  27. I really do feel like I shouldn't intrude on this conversation, I'm really enjoying just following the discussion, and I'm uber-impressed by the charity in both of you! I hope that any comments do add come across as I intend them to - as kind and respectful as all the preceding.

    I do feel the need to jump in though, because I do have such strong feelings about certain trends in popular fiction, and in Twilight, it seems many of them come together. One of the most disturbing for me it the huge number of authors who publish interesting "ideas" that have never really been worked through, or edited properly by they author. The point seems to be publication more than the actual making of a piece of fiction to be proud of. Everything is too immediate. I hope, and feel that if Stephenie Meyers had thought about her story, she would notice the complete dismissal of the majority of her minor characters, the dimishment of their humanity and the negative presentation of their motives and intentions. It is mainly an implied and underlying aspect of the books themselves, but the attitude is very much present, and the "supplemental-from-Edward's perspective" on Mrs. Meyer's website is overt, and honestly, offensive.

    It seems in her books that 90% of the population is selfish, unkind, ignorant, and dishonest - the supernatural beings and Bella's family excepted. This is a completely unjust view of humanity, and the idea itself is problematic in that it creates an "us vs. them" mentality with destroys our ability to truly Love our fellow man.

    I am not saying that this is how Stephenie Meyers Sees humanity, but this is how she presents her view of humanity, which indicates, at best, a failure to communicate her understanding, and a failure to understand the ideas she is presenting.

    I hope this doesn't sound wretchedly harsh. I next want to mention my trouble with her mythology, and the negative aspects of Bella, Edward, and Jacob's relationship - especially relating to teen-girls tendencies to enter into abusive, all-encompassing relationships, but I'll breathe for a moment, and allow you to do the same. :)

    I hope, Jenna, that you don't feel at all "ganged up on" by my jumping into the converstation. I'm fascinated by the response the books have created in you, and especially, coming from such a different background. But I do really appreciate the invitation to participate in the discussion!

    Blessed Mother's Day to you both as you bask in the love of the Theotokos!
    Masha

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  28. As for my mythological issues with Meyers, I simply don't believe authors ought to use mythological creatures if they refuse to show any respect for or understanding of the mythology itself. Myths can vary to a certain extent, in vampire mythology, for example, there are vampires that feed on blood, on energy, and on sexual encounters, but they are by nature evil, draining, destructive, and they cannot abid the light. Once you take a "vampire" out of this context, you don't have a vampire anymore. Meyers would have been better off inventing a new creature, altering the myth this completely destroys the power of the myth. Meyer's does to folk mythology what Dan Brown does to Christian myth - she plays and alters with no respect for symbolism and meaning. Unlike Dan Brown I doubt she's doing this intentionally, but it's problematic, and part of the post-modern mindset, to assume that "I" have the power to alter meanings to fit my purpose. If I look at a horse and call it a cow, it becomes a cow. If I create a character that only vaguely resembles a vampire, I can call it a vampire and get away with my distortion.

    Maybe this issue isn't as important to most readers, but because of the mind-set it comes from and contributes to, it really is a valid criticism. I hope you don't see it as nit-picking.

    Blessings,
    Masha

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  29. Hi, Masha! Thanks for joining in. I'm eager to hear the rest of your thoughts. I hadn't considered the idea of Meyer not respecting the mythological rules about vampires but I don't think that bothers me as much as the other problems. Like Jenna, I thought the idea of a vampire denying his depraved nature is a bit ingenious and makes a good image of the way mankind similarly has to strive against his wounded nature. So I have to say that concept appealed to me once Jenna pointed it out. But I agree with your other points and am eager to hear the rest of your ruminations on the subject.

    Cordially,
    Maria

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  30. Maria, LOL--I don't think there's ever been a person more quotable than Oscar Wilde. Also, you've given me another reason to never ever watch City of Angels: lame, cruel, stupidly tragic ending.

    As for the question of Bella's choice, it has never bothered me, but it's absolutely possible that I haven't thought through the implications. At any rate, I'm open to the possibility that I'm just dead wrong. :)

    Masha, welcome to the conversation! I'm glad you jumped in. I'm actually very curious about your point that "It seems in her books that 90% of the population is selfish, unkind, ignorant, and dishonest - the supernatural beings and Bella's family excepted." While a couple of Bella's school friends are kind of nasty at points, some of them--Angela and Ben, sometimes Mike, Billy Black, Sue Clearwater, etc. have always seemed like positive characters to me. And even the bratty or tasteless behavior of Jessica and Tyler and Lauren just seems like typical high school stuff to me.

    Edward tends to be dismissive of others, but he sees everyone's thoughts--not a good way to get a good impression of even decent people. Now, granted, I haven't read Midnight Sun, the supplemental piece from Edward's perspective. Arabella keeps telling me to do that, and I keep forgetting. But it wouldn't surprise me if I agreed with you about his perspective giving offense. Edward is such a hopeless character that he might well think badly of almost everyone.

    I will also agree with you that the speed with which the books were written and published really shows, and that it is a weakness.

    To you and Maria both, I think there are two different issues going on with the mythological question. While I loved the idea of a vampire denying his depraved nature, however weak the execution, you are certainly right that Meyer shaped her vampire mythos to align with her original dream rather than vampire mythology in general. I've heard other readers complain about this as well. The glittering in sunlight rather than getting burnt to a cinder is perhaps the biggest named issue, but it also troubles me that humans have no wards, no recourse against the predators.

    Though Dracula was a good book, it was too chilling to make me want to read Anne Rice and friends, so Meyer's changing the myths didn't matter as much to me--except for one thing. The Volturi murder of the woman praying a rosary is, in my mind, perhaps the single most offensive thing in the entire series.

    At any rate, I don't see you as nit-picking. :)

    A blessed belated Mother's Day to you, too! We sang the Regina Coeli and Arcadelt's Ave Maria at Mass. Just lovely. :)

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  31. Thanks to you both for the welcome!

    With the mythological issue, my trouble is less that they attempt to overcome their nature than that they aren't vampires. There are other mythological creatures that drink blood, and blood-drinking is really the only thing that links this crew with the concept of vampire. And you're right that my biggest issue is that she altered the myth to fit her idea, which is too common in fiction now - even Anne Rice doesn't alter the essential aspect of the vampire - which is pure,dark sensuality. Meyer's vampires are decidely unsensual. They're sexual, but not sensual, and they are so decidely modern that it's really impossible to believe any of them are older than they appear. I can see why the lack of religious protection against the vampires offended you, Rice does the same thing in her books, though it's more understandable in her case, because she wrote as an atheist. But really, if Meyers' had presented the rosary as having some protective power against the vampires, she would have been presenting the vampires as evil creatures, which would have made Bella's choice to become one more obviously a rejection of all good out of a selfish refusal to give up her "vampire" boyfriend. Sacramentals have power over the demonic, which is why traditionally they would defend against vampires, but Meyers would rather her vampires have a choice between acting in a good or evil way, which removes them from the vampire myth, and any protection traditionally given by the Church. But it does give a very secular flavor to the books.

    Mike is much less decent in the supplemental story. And it's her concept of "typical" high-school that disturbs me the most with her view of humanity. I have to admit I wasn't really thinking outside of most of the high-school characters. :) Mike, Jessica, etc are presented as normal high-schoolers. In Midnight sun, she even has Edward especially surprised by the goodness of Angela and Ben, because the minds of everyone else are so awful. This is completely unrealistic and unkind. The Actions of many high schoolers are often unkind, but their minds, no matter where they fall on the social spectrum are generally better than that.

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  32. But the most distrubing issue for me in the books (and actually, the only reason I read them in the first place) is the glorification of unhealthy relationships. If you've ever watched a friend descend into an abusive relationship, it will be easy to spot the pattern in Bella's relationships with Both Edward and Jacob.

    Both the boys "love" Bella in a consuming, all-encompassing sort of way. They both focus their lives around her to such an unhealthy extent. I realize that Meyers is trying to portray the over-blown, "you are my destiny" style romance of the Bronte's and other romantic, gothic writers, but it really brings to mind the Mark Walberg film "Fear" or the stories of so many young women dating men who "love them" so much that they get uncontrollably angry when she does "dangerous" things, hover around her, can't bear to be apart, are extemely jealous of her male friends, and makes decisions about their relationship without consulting her. Edward and Jacob both fit the profile, Edward is the worse of the two, though that may be only because he has more control over Bella. And Bella is almost overdone as a typical victim, she defines herself in relation to him. When he leaves, she has to find another boy to attach herself to in order to feel semi-whole again. Her sense of self-worth is absolutely non-existent.
    If this were done as Nabokov does Lolita, it wouldn't be problematic, just an examination of the destructive effects of abusive relationships, but both boys are portrayed positively, Meyers seems unaware that Bella is abused and objectified throughout the books. I'm assuming it's because she has never witnessed or experienced abuse, and because she's a bit over-dosed on romantic novels, but idealizing such a relationship, especially in a book primarily marketed to teen girls, who tend to struggle with the desire to be absorbed in a relationship, is irresponsible and extremely harmful. I shudder when I hear girls say they want an Edward, or a Jacob of their own. Teen girls have so much to struggle against, they don't need to be told that romance and abuse go hand in hand.

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  33. The boys aren't the only ones to objectify Bella though. Alice, her "best friend," uses Bella like a doll, dressing her up, playing "party Bella" and in general using Bella to fulfill fantasies of human life. Alice is manipulative, over-bearing, and insistent - almost bullying (in a middle-school, popular girl sort of way). She rarely if ever shows any regard for Bella's feelings on any of the activities she forces her into. Meyers may be trying to show Bella's self-sacrifice, her desires make people happy, but as Bella has almost no limits to what she'll allow to be done to her, she appears more needy and weak-willed, and her relationship with Alice seems less and less like a true friendship.

    These are obviously completely different - less artistic and more moral criticisms of the books than the mythological and the general "overproduction" feel of the writing, but they are some of the most significant. I would love to hear your responses and impressions of this aspect of the books.

    Blessing to you both!
    Masha

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  34. Maria, by the way..have you seen "Wings of Desire"? It's an older German movie that I think City of Angels was based on. It's better, not perfect, but definately visually more interesting than anything with Nicholas Cage!

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  35. Oh, I forgot--Maria, I've never seen Last Chance Harvey, but I'll note down the name and maybe Lou and I can look into it one of these days. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Masha, thanks for your extended thoughts! First, I should say that you have some excellent points about Meyer's vampires being sexual but not sensual and much too modern. About the latter, it would have taken some serious research to write the thought processes that someone of Carlisle's time would have gone through, but I would have loved to see that.

    The alpha and omega of the rosary is the crucifix, so yeah--Meyer was saying "These vampires aren't Dracula." (And possibly making a statement about what a Mormon would perceive as the apostate church, which I try not to suspect her of any more than I can help.) I hadn't thought, though, of the fact that allowing the rosary to repel the Volturi would have defined her characters as evil by nature rather than by choice. That's an interesting point. It softens my irritation somewhat, since she did remove her vampires from the bulk of vampire myth, but on the whole I am decidedly in favor of giving sacramentals their virtue against the demonic.

    I'm now curious and rather tempted to go read Midnight Sun tonight, but lack the time, so I'll defer. I'm sorry to hear that Mike came off less decent, though, because I always kind of liked him. :)

    Response to your points about abuse coming up next...

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  36. Wow, just posted that and I'm already re-thinking whether I'll be less irritated at Meyer over the rosary.

    When it comes to abuse, I should say right off that I'm liable to read with the same blinders Meyer may have worn when writing. My life has been very sheltered from emotional and physical abuse. I've seen it, but only from a distance.

    With that perspective, I wasn't particularly struck by abusive elements in the story. Bella defied Edward to go see Jacob in book 3, and I cheered her on. She punched Jacob in the face in the same book, and I cheered her for that, too. The way I saw it, she fought to keep both of them exactly where she wanted them, with varying degrees of success. The only instances that I found really disturbing were Edward's sneaking into Bella's room while she slept, especially before asking her permission (Carlisle and Esme, how did you not know about that and put a stop to it?!) and Jacob's making her kiss him (too bad he didn't feel her punch the first time; the second time, when he threatened her with his own death, was incredibly disturbing and just about made me dislike him permanently.) I've got no excuses for either of them, there, or for Meyer--especially as regards Edward's bad behavior. His having the run of her house came in handy several times in the story, but there would have been better ways to introduce that.

    But... as I say, I'm reading this without a strong concept of abuse, without sensitization to the details. So what doesn't hurt me may in fact be very dangerous to a thirteen-year-old girl caught in school world, where the adults are distant and the boys really do only want one thing.

    I think you're on to something in pointing out that Meyer seems unaware of it as well. I honestly think she meant well, that she just wrote a story she couldn't resist, and even that she gave it the best of what she had to give at the time. The innocent thought process is much of what I like about the story: Bella trusts very simply and loves very deeply, which I sympathize with, and compared to other teen protagonists, she has an exceptionally clean mind. I love all this. But innocence came with some definite naivete about the average teen girl relationship, Native American stereotypes, history, and the like.

    Your point about Alice came as a bigger surprise to me, something I'd never really thought about. And yeah, she is a bit manipulative. For me, though, it just sort of seems like... life. Siblings and close friends often push each other into uncomfortable situations, and the less emotionally mature they are, the less likely they are to notice and respect the other person's feelings. All of us are either on one side or the other of that at some point, and quite likely both. I'm not sure what Bella's response ought to have been, if not what it was. Frankly, it's not too far removed from what I do when friends try to get me to party up. :)

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  37. Jenna,

    Thanks for your response. It was really interesting to read the perspective of someone who didn't see these issues as glaring flaws in the work. I was going to write a whole long response, but then I realized that you've been on the recieving and repyling end of the discussion since long before I joined. I'd love to know What it is about these books you love? What appealed to you and made you a fan? I honestly can't say I found anything to like in the books (except that I didn't like them, and sometimes I just love reading frustrating books), but they've obviously appealed to you in a real way, and I'd love to know why and how.

    Blessings,
    Masha

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  38. ..Ooh, the "glaring flaws" comment sounded snotty after I posted it. It wasn't meant to be at all. Only that I've never discussed the books with someone who didn't either have issues with the misogynistic relationships or the faulty mythology..not because I live in a completely closed off little society of artistic feminists, but because I don't discuss the books often. :) Please don't take it the wrong way!

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  39. Before I get started: Congratulations to Maria, who gave birth yesterday to a baby boy! Mom and son are doing well, as far as I've heard.

    Because Blogger's outage has at least temporarily lost Masha's comments:

    Thanks for your response. It was really interesting to read the perspective of someone who didn't see these issues as glaring flaws in the work. I was going to write a whole long response, but then I realized that you've been on the receiving and replying end of the discussion since long before I joined. I'd love to know What it is about these books you love? What appealed to you and made you a fan? I honestly can't say I found anything to like in the books (except that I didn't like them, and sometimes I just love reading frustrating books), but they've obviously appealed to you in a real way, and I'd love to know why and how.

    Blessings,
    Masha


    and

    ..Ooh, the "glaring flaws" comment sounded snotty after I posted it. It wasn't meant to be at all. Only that I've never discussed the books with someone who didn't either have issues with the misogynistic relationships or the faulty mythology..not because I live in a completely closed off little society of artistic feminists, but because I don't discuss the books often. :) Please don't take it the wrong way!

    Masha, that didn't come off as snotty to me at all. I understood what you meant.

    Your question is a good one. Frankly, I think what got to me most was the imagery--nothing more so than the picture of agnosticism in New Moon (described a few comments ago.) But also important to me was the portrait of self-denial and sacrifice as the crux of familial love. I was very, very touched by the working out of that concept.

    I also just appreciate coming across a story where the good and the pure are actively sought. The characters might have issues, but most of them grow and change for the better.

    Ultimately, I think that a lot of it is also that I sympathized with Bella. I was able to put myself in her place and walk through her apotheosis and feel what she felt. (For the most part.) Her story got inside me and spoke to the painful longings and fears that I have as much as anyone else.

    And here's where I think I'm the sort of person Meyer wrote it for, at least in that she wrote it for herself. Most teenage girls, as pointed out by both you and Maria, will read the Twilight series and find it stirring their deepest and most desperate yearning to be loved. For that matter, most women will, too. I did. No shame here. But that yearning looks beyond men to God, and for me, the whole series seemed made to help me wrestle with faith and the Person on the other end of it.

    Which is how I read, honestly, especially since Harry Potter, which I credit as one of the topmost reasons I'm still a Christian. Twilight isn't that, but it was definitely cathartic.

    That might make me incredibly uncool and weird, but then I'm already outside normal in my circles for having any use for Twilight. :)

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  40. I'm glad you didn't think my comment was snotty! I've participated in too many discussions - online and face to face, where I've forgotten my "tone" and accidentally given offense, so I try to clarify as much as possible. :)

    As far as being uncool and weird, coolness and normalcy are generally hand-in-hand with imitation, and a life lived in imitation of others is always wasted, as Kierkegaard says. So I wouldn't go for either so much as for honesty and growth. :)

    It's hard to really respond to your appreciation of the Twilight books because it's so very personal and very much an emotional (as far as I understood it) response to the books. I'm beginning to see why fans of Twilight, and the Harry Potter books too, can get so upset when the books are criticized - especially by people who haven't read them: because (and maybe I'm wrong, you can let me know) it seems to be almost less about the books themselves then it is about the emotions they bring out in their readers. I'm not down-putting your reaction in anyway, but trying to, as much as I can, tie it in with my own experience to understand where your coming from. Feel free to tear this little analysis apart if I'm completely off base.

    I thought her imagery was weak all around, but, as I've never dealt with agnosticism - I LOVE the way you describe it, by the way - as beauty made ordinary and terror remaining extreme - I can't know whether I would Feel the analogy as you did. The closest I can come in personal experience is Beauty and terror merging in the disquieting brand of Catho-paganism I practiced at one time. Entirely different, almost at the opposite end of the scale of badness, really. I wonder if I were coming from a different way of seeing, the book would have had a similar effect.

    I also was completely unable to relate to Bella, primarily because I saw her as too willing to give up her Self, and I can see no possibility of love when one of the pair sees herself with no value. You're right though about the common desire for love, and I can see how, if Meyer's concept of love came closer to mine, I could have appreciated that focus in the books more.

    But again, the ability to relate to a character is so personal. I can't say "well, you're wrong to relate to Bella" because you're not wrong, and if the books encouraged you to move beyond them, and into Christ, then a blessing on Stephenie Meyer for that one!

    I would like to know, too, in what way you saw the good and pure actively sought in the books, apart from Edward's refusal to "sleep" with Bella before marriage of course. Though I guess you could add the avoidance of human blood. Am I missing anything?

    Blessings,
    Masha

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  41. Masha, thanks! I think the response to any book is very personal, and always somewhat subjective based on what the reader naturally sympathizes with. It's certainly true of the Twilight Saga, and I'm not offended by responses from the numerous intelligent people I know who couldn't love the story as I did. :)

    I thought Bella's coming to have some value for herself was part of the point of the series. The end of New Moon includes her finally understanding that Edward loves her, no matter how ordinary she feels next to him. And the thing about her mind that she thought defective turned out to be her great strength at the end of Breaking Dawn.

    Regarding your question about the seeking of the good and the pure, here's an offhand list:

    * vampire avoidance of human blood
    * Edward's insistence on chastity
    * Bella's discovery of the importance of tradition and marriage
    * Carlisle's going beyond merely abstaining from human blood to choosing a career where his superhuman strengths allowed him to save lives (notice that as a doctor, the temptation of fresh blood for a vampire would be constant--yet for him, it's basically nonexistent due to his cultivated purity of mind and heart)
    * Garrett's 'conversion' from standard vampire to choosing Kate and (presumably) her way of life
    * Jacob's defense of the Cullens when Bella is pregnant with Renesmee, and his acceptance of Seth and Leah
    * The celebration of Seth's pure, kind mind
    * Leah's slow and admittedly unfinished progression toward healing
    * Reconciliation between the Quileutes and the Cullens
    * The healing of Charlie and Bella's relationship
    * Bella's choice to carry and bear Renesmee at the risk of her own life, standing up to Edward, though she never had thought of herself as wanting children and sluffed off Rosalie's warning
    * Bella's forgiveness of and protection over her friends, including Jessica

    ...that's a start, though a sleepy one.

    Blessings to you, too!
    Jenna

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  42. Thanks for your response, and especially for the "Good story, bad writing post!" I'm thrilled to have a lot of response to digest! I'm home after a long weekend with my family, and so I've saved everything to my desktop to read over and respond to Thoughtfully, and not with airplane-brain. :) I hope Lou is safely home and your enjoying his return!

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  43. Finally, I'm getting to this. Good list in your May 16 comment, Jenna.

    I can’t possibly address all the thoughts here because of time, but I'm glad if my essay assisted anyone in understanding the psychological aspects of the Saga. Please keep in mind that these aspects are very important, because the characters operate from their pasts. And the pasts of the trio are certainly not the best springboards to healthy behavior. Bella is a child-of-divorce caretaker who has never lived her own life. Only untoward behavior (depression, cliff-diving, marriage) get her parents’ full attention. Edward lost both parents, was made a vampire, and has spent decades trying to reconcile this and find where he fits in. Jacob lost his mother at a young age and is going through the worst puberty ever. So how they behave makes a lot of sense to me and I find it very realistic and relatable.

    It’s curious that in a time when poor teen behavior is flaunted in books, films, and TV, that Meyer alone has been singled out for censure, and often viciously so, for her characters being or not being “role models.” Why? I read a lot of young adult, and feel Meyer's characters are better role models than many. All YA characters are seeking identity and working through that difficulty, warts and all. If you want to work the “role model” arena, consider Sara Dessen’s characters, who freely drink, smoke, and swear, and can be pretty annoying people. Why are they not criticized as “poor role models”? The writers that deliberately write their characters as “good role models” tend to be writing in the Christian fiction ghetto. Yet Meyer has written one of the most moral, spiritual stories going and is condemned.

    So, are Bella and Edward “good role models”? Yes and no, and their deficiencies are dealt with in the Saga. Is Katniss of the Hunger Games a good role model? Ditto. But I’m not seeing Collins getting the kind of unparalleled criticism Meyer has gotten. And Collins’ characters are getting insightful psychological looks. I haven’t seen the same with Meyer’s. When I wrote my essay, I could find nothing else out there.

    Continued below.

    --Arabella

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  44. So, why is Meyer held to a standard other authors aren’t, or her characters given less rounded comprehension? I think it’s probably genre prejudice and because the books are so popular, have gotten a lot of press, and therefore attention from those who have never read the books. I've never seen more hostility toward books not read, except for Harry Potter. People read online or hear their friends talk about it or see the films, and make leaping conclusions. I haven’t seen the films and so can’t judge those, but the mania surrounding the young leads hasn’t helped, either.

    To best understand Twilight, one needs to see it symbolically, and go much deeper than the surface (plot) reading (or a truncated film). It's critical also to understand the Saga's Mormon framework, and to see it as a transforming Beauty & the Beast, Hero Journey, God/man story. Reading John Granger's Forks Professor posts will help with that, also his terrific book Spotlight: A Close-Up Look at the Artistry and Meaning of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, the first serious analysis of the Saga.

    On to a couple points raised.

    Is Edward abusive? I don't believe so, as I write in my essay. Bella and Edward both have control issues and their prickly relationship is bound to highlight that. Actually, I think that the Saga takes the reader through a good understanding of why that behavior isn’t fruitful for their love. It’s through their many sacrifices for each other that they learn to overcome those tendencies. I sometimes think the “Edward is abusive” is a shortcut for not looking at the story as a whole.

    Edward and Carlisle. This is a point that has always bothered me, too. Why does Edward revere Carlisle so much when Carlisle doomed him to a double-sided immortality? Meyer writes in her new Twilight Saga Guide backstory that Edward’s father was emotionally distant and traveled a lot. So I can reconcile that having a father figure was important. But if you understand the Mormon undertones to this, it’s going to make much more sense.

    Does Bella give up herself? I think the better thought is that she finally finds herself.

    As far as writing quality goes, Meyer is no stylist, although Twilight is the worst offender. But while the writing underserved the story, the story wasn’t diminished by it, either.

    With a story like Twilight, you’re either going to like it or you’re not. There is a lot about it that won’t stand up well to minute critique. But I think it stands up remarkably well, and better than a lot of other storytelling going on.

    But I’m troubled here by valuations based on reading only the first book, or part of the first book and/or book reviews/plot summaries. Is that really a solid base for critique?

    --Arabella

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  45. Hi Arabella,

    I only just remembered this discussion, and, as my husband is ushering me out of the cafe and back to real life, I can't really respond, except to assure you that my understanding of Twilight-the-series is not based only on the 1st book or the reviews of others. I've read all of them, and her internet unpublished story, as well as quality criticism. So no worries on that front. :) I'll add more later.

    Masha

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  46. Arabella, sorry this is so late! Thanks for your great thoughts. I always appreciate what you have to say, and as noted before, your essay was enlightening and helpful. :)

    I like your point about Bella finding herself. Reminds me of that line in the Gospels... "For uwhoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

    Also, good points about role models.

    And now I must run... but I wanted to at least come by and acknowledge your contribution. :)

    ReplyDelete

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