"That's Where My Demons Hide": Twilight's Edward Cullen

NOTE: For those of you who aren't interested in Twilight, at most I'll be interspersing these posts with book reviews for a few Wednesdays. I've got notes on a fantasy novel I just read and am reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose right now, with a long to-read list in the making, and I don't begin to have energy or time to run an H.P.B.C.-sized tour of Forks this year.

* * *

It's hard to know where to start, especially when I'm not sure where this will end.

When I first read the Twilight saga, I liked it so much that I read the whole series five times. Five. Almost without stopping. To be sure, that was how I read almost anything I really liked back then, back before I started posting book reviews every week and spending too much time on the internet in general.

But I've loved Twilight, and I've cheerfully defended it from various accusations, including:
  • bad writing (it's inexperienced and very uneven, but certainly not uniformly bad)
  • passive heroine syndrome (Bella is my favorite character, natch [well, except for Carlisle])
  • Creepy Obsessive Stalker Romance (okay, our Ed has his moments—but immortal is not the same thing as aged; otherwise, Arwen Evenstar would be a cradle-robbing cougar [see also: It. is. a. STORY])
  • "This book is evil because ________" (I've been a Potter fan too long to have much to say to that one)
Masha recently expressed a hope that reading Tolstoy would have made it impossible for me to go back to Meyer. Now, since Austen and Dickens and Dostoevsky didn't make it impossible for me to read Twilight in the first place, I don't think any one author could stop me taking pleasure in a good story, however imperfectly told.

It has, however, been harder for me to read Twilight this time around. I think the primary culprit behind that is one of my... oh, maybe Theta* readers: he made me a better writer, but he also left me hyperconscious to the point of anxiety about my own word choices. Which made me a lot more jumpy about everyone else's, too.

* * *

My biggest problem with defending Twilight: it means I should think twice before getting snarky at Catholic hymns from the sixties and seventies. (Which I should probably do anyway if I want to keep composing sacred music.)
But the lyrics are so bad.
And yet, so many people love this song so much.

* * *

That said, pop culture successes are almost never academically satisfying—and as long as I'm not looking right at one of Meyer's overblown word choices, I still rather love the story—and I have characters to stand up for and story bits to talk about—so let's do this. Here's some pop culture to get in the mood. Thanks to Laura for this link; the song is just perfect for Edward:

At the moment, I'm planning to work through the story more or less by character, rather than by chapter or plot, because I think the characters have the most conversation to offer.

I never read Midnight Sun, but Edward has always fascinated me as the character who most obviously displays the aspect of being human that the story revolves around: the battle between desires and conscience. Edward's dueling passions for Bella are drawn up against his Carlisle-formed conscience in an intense and prolonged war that only begins to resolve peaceably as he learns the ways of love. And I don't mean romance: I mean good, old-fashioned caritas.

Right now, I'm only halfway through the first book (you know holiday busyness is insane when I can't even get through Twilight in a week)—but I'm seeing that beginning resolution in his understanding that he couldn't live with himself if he ever hurt Bella: an understanding that could easily lead someone with his personality to despair, but which guides him to gentleness and self-restraint. He's got a lot of growth ahead of him, but it's a good place to start.

Art by Eldanis
Edward is depressive, obsessive, pessimistic, and often dismissive of others, all of which have opened him up to criticism. Those are weaknesses—you won't catch me denying it—and it's also true that in the first throes of romance, Bella doesn't see those flaws clearly at all (which may not make for good role modeling, but is certainly realistic.)

But Edward's character, despite his having been a vampire for a century or so, is not so fixed that he cannot learn. Knowing he's a monster and knowing he doesn't want to be, he has practiced to perfection a near-infallible control over his passions, and I respect that. He's also remorseful, and while that tends to manifest in unnecessary brooding, it also changes him: he's gotten good at not doing what he knows he'll regret. And despite occasional severe regressions, he spends a lot of time learning to hope.

Quite apart from the whole vampire thing, Edward is not someone I'd have been likely to fall in love with. The dark-and-broody type doesn't do much for me, and I'm not fond of the guy's gracelessness toward humanity in general.

But I have always loved his battered-but-gritted will to do the right thing, as well as his delight in real purity and goodness wherever he finds it: his reverence for Carlisle, his honor for Seth. And I admire his appreciation for the extraordinary in the unsettled, uncertain, fairly ordinary Bella—because I like Bella, and because half the fun of romantic love is in building a unique and exclusive bond with someone who, to the rest of the world, is just one of the billions.

Here's my glass—well, clay coffee mug full of blueberry tea, because I have a cold—raised to Edward Cullen, then: a monster with flaws who is interestingly and likably human. Love you, Ed.

P.S. I wanted to address the matter of his fitting into vampire mythology, too, but honestly, I can't summon up enough energy, possibly because of the aforementioned cold. If I knew vampire mythology the way I know the Bible, I'd probably have developed the same annoyance I felt at Anita Diamant's messing with Genesis details in The Red Tent. As it is, however, I've only read Dracula, and I wasn't offended by Meyer's blowing off that myth; which means, I guess, that I don't have the information to speak to it, any more than the will. This also means capitulation to Masha's much more knowledgeable points on the subject... but this is popular fiction, and if nothing else, I thought Meyer, in mentioning and then discarding the overall mythology, was within reasonable bounds of poetic license for her genre. Feel free to argue with me in the combox.

* I am way beyond having beta readers with the A.D. story... am probably near the middle of the Greek alphabet at this point.


  1. To paraphrase King Herod Agrippa II from the book of Acts: Almost you persuade me to give Twilight a break.

    But then I read your comment on Dracula... ;)

    1. HAHA! I'm sorry! I didn't mean that I didn't LIKE Dracula... or that it isn't a great book. Just that I'm not particularly attached to it as the source and summit of the vampire mythos. Wait, am I digging myself deeper? Here: Dracula is an awesome book and it creeped me out for weeks and I thought very highly of it in every regard... ;)


      you will never regret it; maybe a little, but probably not (maybe) and then you can have opinions on Twilight! which is the best part of reading Twilight!

      joooooooooooiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuusssssssssssss

    3. Actually I already read Twilight a couple of years ago.

    4. oops, sorry; misunderstood your comment! :)

  2. ahahahaha, cheesy Catholic hymns; you are the cheesiest <3

    Honestly, I think the song fits Bella and her depression almost as well as it does Edward and his vampire drama. I'm at the point where I like Twilight pretty well as long as I'm not actually reading it. But my headcanon is that it's largely a story of Carlisle's failed attempt to teach empathy to his fellow vamps. His unhealthy obsession with Bells was the beginning of Ed's best shot at redemption, but instead of gently pushing back against his selfishness and whatnot, she jumps straight into total devotion and pushes him into turning her into a vampire herself -- arguably as a way of escaping her own demons.

    But every time I hear that song, I feel like I'm reading the book Twilight was supposed to be. < / 3

    I'm torn between being curious about what you'd think of Midnight Sun and wanting to keep you far away from it FOREVER so it doesn't break your heart. I don't personally like Regular Book Edward at all. But Midnight Sun Edward is 1000 times worse.

    1. Honestly, I think the song fits Bella and her depression almost as well as it does Edward and his vampire drama

      Eeenteresting. I hadn't thought of it that way. I think I hadn't thought of Bella that way. But her week is coming....

      But my headcanon is that it's largely a story of Carlisle's failed attempt to teach empathy to his fellow vamps

      Did we read the same book? :P

      Our headcanons must be emphasizing different aspects of the story, which can totally happen.... Anyway, I certainly don't see Carlisle's attempt as failed. Edward and Jacob learn to appreciate each other; Rosalie softens somewhat; Jasper learns from Carlisle and Bella as well as from his own emotions; Bella takes her spiritual direction, such as it is, from Carlisle rather than Edward; and if nothing else, Carlisle has taught all of them self-denial, sacrifice, and generosity within the family.

      True, empathy itself is more than that, and less; it is a stretching out of feeling and comprehension that even self-sacrifice doesn't necessarily require--but then, empathy doesn't automatically result in self-sacrifice, either.

      Is Midnight Sun even still available online? Last time I went looking, I didn't think it was.

    2. I don't think it's permanently failed or totally failed. But I also feel like "within the family" is key. The Cullens are loyal to / patient with / invested in each other and to some extent with the other vampires in their circle, but they aren't interested in outsiders. Falling in love with a human could have changed that, but it mostly doesn't -- at least, from what I remember. It's been a while since I read the last couple books.

      It's a little like -- lots of people do something they call "giving to charity." But within that category, some people give money directly to people who need it or to organizations that help people in need, and other people give most of their charitable donation money to their church. And then again, some churches spend a large part of their budget on food pantries and Habitat for Humanity and malaria prevention and whatnot, while other churches take that tithe money and spend it on spectacular new LED signs and espresso machines for the atrium. Emotionally (and financially), the non-Carlisle Cullens are tithing directly to the Megachurch of Cullen.

      Which is kind of ok -- I don't think they're obligated to care about people outside the family. Having a close-knit family group that doesn't pay much attention to outsiders is still way better than EATING outsiders. And my headcanon respects that that is a difficult and important achievement. It's far from nothing.

      But Headcanon Carlisle -- whom I admit could be a completely different character from Actual Carlisle -- was hoping for something more, a tentative, slow rejoining of humanity. Conquering the thirst not just for its own sake, not merely not to be a monster, but so that they could begin to use those predator powers -- the strength and speed, the precognition, the clarity of though, even their piles of stock-market cash -- for someone else's good. To turn the curse into a gift, not just for themselves, but for humanity. It was always going to be difficult, but for Headcanon Carlisle, it was worth a try.

      And I don't think Bella joining the Compound means that can never happen. But I do think it's a setback. Even with Jacob -- mild spoilers? there's an element of, "Well, Jacob is kind of related to us now." They've brought someone new into their circle, but they haven't broken out of it themselves.

      I guess I have such an elaborate Carlisle-focused headcanon because the romance plot didn't do much for me :)

      Do you want the link to Midnight Sun? I found it right away. But it's your call -- I won't put it here to tempt you unless you seek it out :)

    3. Ha, well. I should've Googled before posting; Midnight Sun was easy enough to find. I'd like to try and read it, but I HAVE to finish Eco first.

      And I get your point about Carlisle versus the others. Carlisle is the only one who has managed to work outward to any real degree. I'll grant that point; even Charlie is brought in, a little, rather than gone out to.

  3. Arwen is totally a cradle-robbing cougar! Do you think there's a relevant difference, though, between Aragorn's relative youth and Bella's? Arwen is older than Aragorn by a LOT more than Edward is older than Bella, if you're just looking at solar years. But you could argue that Arwen and Aragorn are both clearly adults, while Bella is not an adult. At least, she reads to me like a very young, very isolated seventeen (I think her time as Designated Parent in her mother's house has actually made this worse, not better).

    In non-fantasy terms, I would tend to feel ok about a 50 or even 60 year old who dated people in their 30s, and NOT OK AT ALL about a 35 year old who dated teenagers.

    1. Hmmm. To me, in non-fantasy terms, a twenty-year age difference is always kind of like "....wait, what? Really? And the younger party was up for that?" But when the younger party is under twenty, it's like, NO. There are reasons there are laws against that sort of thing, and I agree. Teenagers don't have either the experience or the settled decision-making brain powers to be fairly advantaged against someone in their thirties.

      Although I admit to never scolding Austen for marrying thirty-eight-year-old Colonel Brandon to nineteen-year-old Marianne Dashwood. But marrying them, not having them skulk around together, and in the Regency era, when that sort of unequal marriage was allowed to be sympathetic if the wife could expect to be kindly treated.

      In fantasy terms.... I'd still hold that immortal is not the same thing as aged. For story purposes, Edward is basically a seventeen-year-old guy who has had a lot of free time to study languages and music and brood over his supposed soullessness in the dead of night. I'm okay with making that part of my suspension of disbelief.

      But, to be fair, I'm granting Meyer a bit of a pass because I think she designed Edward and Bella's relationship to be very innocent, and the story itself introduces things that in any other setting would be severely problematic. Generally speaking, I think teen paranormal romance is kind of questionable as a genre (I'm not suggesting banning it, I just think it's risky.) Real men who exhibit the traits that even the best of the immortal boys--and from what I've seen, Edward and Jacob might just be the best--display are usually just dangerous.

    2. I agree, I think? I mean, on giving paranormal romance a pass on the age and power discrepancy front. That is, I can give it a general pass without necessarily liking it personally.

      Like from one angle I want to say, "This book is a fantasy for teenagers; it's ok that it doesn't provide a reliable guide to RL dating," but I'm also not totally comfortable with the way it's presented. That said, it's probably the least of my issues with Edward.

      I was fine with Col. Brandon because he seemed like decent guy. Also, I ship Abelard/Heloise, so any complaints from me about age-and-power issues OR unhealthy relationships can be freely dismissed as RANK HYPOCRISY anyway :)

      On the subject of May/December romance and its discontents -- Have you read Middlemarch?

    3. Oh, Middlemarch!!! I've been meaning to read that forever! Gah, the reading list. Is SO LONG.

      Like from one angle I want to say, "This book is a fantasy for teenagers; it's ok that it doesn't provide a reliable guide to RL dating," but I'm also not totally comfortable with the way it's presented.

      And that's totally fair. Even I sometimes think that what Meyer did was safe for me, and for her, and for her sister, but not for the target audience Little, Brown naturally assigned it to.

  4. Is it wrong that..when I first read Twilight, I hated it so much that I read it five times too...that unhealthy tendency to wallow in the things that bug me is EXACTLY the reason I spent two days baking to Netflix episodes of 'Sister Wives'..ugh. Those poor women are so in need of a hug, and a really long counseling session..Kody though, is beyond help. Douche-city!

    The thing about Edward (and I've been thinking of him tons this week (because Seth and I are getting our Joss Whedon fix through Buffy this week - and Angel is sort of "Edward done right")..is that he doesn't love. Love wants the Good of the other, even when that good hurts. So, Angel leaves Buffy, because staying with her isn't good for her. And Buffy (being a sort of 'Kick-ass Bella, done right) can take it, because Angel isn't her god, and because she loves him, and leaving is better for him too. And, while both Bella and Buffy are teenage girls in love with much older Vampires, Bella is treated as a child (a lusted after child, but still a child) by Edward, while Buffy is treated as a equal by Angel..and Buffy isn't isolated, Bella is.

    ...I'm sure I have more to say, but..it'll have to wait til I'm done with the Harry Post! Watch Buffy!!!!! It's not as good as Firefly, but I'm pretty sure Stephenie Meyer got most of her inspiration from Season 1. :p

    1. I like that Bella's not kickass, though. I like the fact that she's not a vampire slayer or even physically strong. Not that I hate the Whedon model; it's just nice to see other kinds of heroes.

      She IS treated like a child by Edward, which is arguably part of what is so appealing to Bells about the relationship. Bella's been paying her mother's bills and now she cooks for her distant dad. Neither one of her parents seems to notice when she does something self-destructive, or that she's so depressed her life feels like a series of blank pages. Her teachers aren't stepping up, either. So to have this guy who is constantly picking her up and carrying her and saying -- no, you can't go there; it's dangerous, you have limits, I care about you, I don't want you getting hurt -- the appeal of that for Bells is INCREDIBLY powerful.

      I think Edward is a douche about it most of the time. But I can understand how for Bella, being treated like a child is a feature and not a bug.

    2. Haha! I'm sure I'd wallow in the things that bug me, too, except that I can't bear it... I really can't. I have to draw lines for myself.

      The thing about Edward...is that he doesn't love.

      You say that like it's incontrovertible. :P Hmmm. Here: I'd say that a lot of Edward's love, especially at first, is disordered love.... but I still think disordered love counts as love, only it needs to be shaped. Edward's not transgressing an obvious moral law in loving Bella--he just believes he shouldn't exist--and when obvious moral laws don't always keep people from messing up each other's lives, how is that supposed to?

      Besides, it would've been a shorter book. ;)

      Edward DOES eventually leave Bella, believing it's the only loving thing to do. It just doesn't wind up working out for either of them.

      I want to watch Buffy! It's just finding time... and Lou probably won't want to see that with me... and are you telling me it doesn't have a happy ending?! But I agree with Laura about Bella. I love that she is not kick-ass. I get soooooooo tired of kick-ass... I'm so not that myself.

      And my experience of romance is that sometimes you mother him, and sometimes he acts fatherly toward you... you should see Lou when he's putting his foot down about something I shouldn't be doing to myself... but you're still equals. Bella has to fight for her equality now and again with both boys, and it's hard for them to recognize it because she's all fragile and accident-prone and they're both more or less invincible... but she's no doormat, and she makes them both stand round.

      Ideal, well-adjusted relationship? Not necessarily. But they're not ideal, well-adjusted people. They do pretty well considering that one of them is a monster and the other has had no good examples in life. ;)

  5. Oh, and I can see the song fitting either..But I always think of "Don't stand so close to me" as Edward's song. ;)

  6. Sorry I'm late to this party, I've been under with a respiratory bug (speaking of bugs).

    Jenna, this is a great post! I like the focus on Edward and the song is amazing. I agree about "desire and conscience" being a huge theme.

    Laura, I'm in your camp, as I'll explain.

    But first I want to put in a plug for Midnight Sun; I feel Edward can’t be fully understood or appreciated without reading it; it's very revelatory. I just reread Twilight preparing for these discussions, bouncing back and forth between Twilight and MS, as far as MS went. I've done this before and it's become my preferred way of reading the story. Actually, I enjoy the story much more from Edward's point of view, as it’s more interesting. The first time he goes to Bella's room and decides that he loves her is one of my favorite scenes.

    Edward is loving, to his family, and even to humans in not targeting them. He may disdain them, having to hear their every thought, but he does protect them. In MS you see what he does to protect Bella during the first science class, as he struggles against his shocked impulses. Edward’s mind is much nicer than Mike’s and Jessica’s.

    I don’t see Bella as passive, because she makes decisions all the time. She may not make the most reasonable or sensible ones (Edward either), but she makes choices and stands by them, including being willing to die to save the Cullens. I like her selflessness, her loyalty and her courage.

    Both Bella and Edward are pretty much repressed control freaks, because they’ve had to be. Edward for his family (relying on him for safety via his mindreading skills) and to not be a monster, or at least an active one. Bella because she’s the parent of her family. Their own desires are constantly, sacrificially quelled. And they’re both lonely. No wonder they both kind of burst out of the confines when they meet and are drawn to each other and are faced with someone they can’t control. For Bella, there is finally someone who cares about HER, her welfare, her needs. For Edward, someone sparks his humanness, and captivates him with her silent mind and good nature. They both raise each other up. Sure, they go a little crazy. I find them both endearing for that.

    Why are Meyer’s characters criticized as poor role models? Other authors aren’t criticized for this, no matter the awful things they do. Meyer’s characters behave humanly, just like other authors’ characters. So why is she held to this singular standard?

    Meyer may not be a great stylist, and I don’t think anyone could argue with that, but she tells a whopping good story. I can easily suspend belief to enter her world, because it’s like a fairy tale.

    And that dreadful Catholic hymn?. I can think of plenty of Protestant praise songs that are worse.


    1. Okay, I gotta read MS. And I enjoyed your points all around!

      I don’t see Bella as passive, because she makes decisions all the time.


      Why are Meyer’s characters criticized as poor role models? Other authors aren’t criticized for this, no matter the awful things they do. Meyer’s characters behave humanly, just like other authors’ characters. So why is she held to this singular standard?

      That's a very good question, one I don't know the answer to. Maybe because it became cool to hate on the story for any and every reason. Maybe because it's a romance, and it's always been A Thing to critique the handling of romance because of all the tricky moral issues involved. Maybe because Meyer became so successful so suddenly and easily, which everybody knows is not supposed to happen. Maybe one person said something and it went viral. Maybe all of the above and then some.

      I can think of plenty of Protestant praise songs that are worse.

      Hahahahaha! True, that. I've probably sung some of them passionately myself in the past. ;P

  7. Initial response, before reading the other comments:

    Ah, Jenna, when people like _you_ have something to say about Twilight, I'll listen. I'll listen to an interesting person whom I respect talk about a rock or the stock market. So full speed ahead!

    The Edward-and-Bella pairing reminds me of Heathcliff-and-Catherine. Both couples are romantic or creepy, depending on one's vantage point. So I'm prepared to say it's not entirely fair that some people condemn Twilight. And I'm all for teaching children how to read with discernment and then letting them loose on all the books in the world over censoring any day.

    Without having read the books, I think Edward is the kind of character I would be romantically attracted to. But being attracted to a character is a different color horse than being attracted to a real life person. I mean, the idea of a super jealous, possessive, and potentially dangerous man pushing his baser instincts into submission and learning how to love me is nice in theory, but in real life I'd probably just be creeped out and/or break it off due to my incredible stubbornness, argumentativeness, independence, and problem with being bossed around. I also have a strong tendency to believe I'm often, if not always, right, and that wouldn't go over well with someone of the same persuasion!

    I think why I haven't picked up and read Twilight, though, other than being put off by corny love scenes and notorious clunky storytelling, is I'd be setting myself up for sadness. I've enough experience with fandom to know I'm not the only person who gets fangirl withdrawal--the moment when you put down the book, butterflies still in-stomach, and look around at the drab, real world and feel extreme disappointment. There is a clear difference between books, movies, and series that do that to me and those that don't: Harry Potter, Firefly, and The Lord of the Rings don't leave me feeling like that; most anime, Doctor Who, and recently, Sherlock do. Now there's got to be a way to unravel exactly what traits do cause that kind of post-reading/watching despair, but that's another topic for another day. Suffice to say for now, that I can see how mothers would hesitate to give their daughters Twilight to read when they fear that their daughters will develop a false ideal for a fitting spouse and suffer wounds to their self-worth when the Edwards in their life don't take notice. Or settle for someone Edward-like, minus his redeeming virtues, instead.

    1. Amendment. THIS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM50q9fZuFg

    2. HAHAHAHA. That fangirling video!

      Funny, but when I finally read Wuthering Heights, I wound up liking Heathcliff and Cathy more than I thought I would. Both of them were nastier, ultimately, than Edward or Bella... and I'd even go so far as to say that part of the reason for that is that Bronte was a better novelist than Meyer. Meyer parallels her characters overtly to Bronte's in Eclipse. I'm not usually one for bad characters, but all four are human enough to get my attention and compassion.

      being attracted to a character is a different color horse than being attracted to a real life person

      True. In real life, I probably would have gone for Mike. ;P 'Course, I haven't read MS yet.

      And I'm fascinated by your comments about fandom post-book despair. Twilight does have the potential to leave a girl with that, I must admit. I have felt that feeling you're talking about, but not usually for long enough or deeply enough to really concern me.

      I can see how mothers would hesitate to give their daughters Twilight to read when they fear that their daughters will develop a false ideal for a fitting spouse and suffer wounds to their self-worth when the Edwards in their life don't take notice

      Yeah, I understand it, but regarding the last phrase--my mom would've had to keep me from reading anything romantic at all. Boys took very, very little notice of me until I was in my late twenties, after I learned how to dress like a young woman instead of a WalMart lady, and even since then I've never been much of a guy magnet. Disappointment was inevitable. For whatever that's worth... :)

  8. I don't have a lot of time right now..but thoughts on this, anyone???

    1. Here's my failed attempt to keep my thoughts brief:

      1. That baby is cute. <3

      2. This is ok as a framing device for a review of Twilight, I guess? But I hope the author is not actually planning to forbid that baby from reading Twilight (or equivalent future YA powerhouse). I hope writing it made her realize that she can talk about it instead and that's better.

      3. It's not really possible to control who your children's fictional role models are going to be or what's going to resonate with them. The best you can do is make sure there are lots of options and maybe get a conversation going.

      4. It's ok to like things that are problematic! I think it's actually a really good idea to learn / teach / model that Books Are Not Truth – you can enjoy something AND recognize its problems at the same time. Enjoying it doesn't make you a bad person, AND being in a book doesn't make a thing true. This is a SUPER VALUABLE LESSON.

      5. Stephenie Meyer. . . obviously doesn't understand love. . .because she's a bad writer? I HOPE THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS.

    2. Well, it made me so angry I could hardly read it. :)

      Core offending paragraph replied to as follows:

      Boring-gal and Old-Man-Vampire are madly attracted to each other from the moment they see each other (or in Old-Man-Vamp’s case, smell each other).

      Boring is a personal judgment call. Haley may have perfectly good reasons for not being interested in Bella, but I loved her and needed her. I need examples of quiet, introverted, depressive, not-always-original characters who think more about relationships (of any and every kind) than about anything else, because that is my life.

      Also: see earlier discourse about immortal vs. aged.

      He even compares the strength of his attraction to her scent to that of a pretty serious drug addiction. My dear, that’s not love. That’s hormones. Also, it’s creepy.

      That's the conflict to the story--it's creepy. And the point of that conflict is that Edward is more than his powerful monster-pheromone attraction to Bella's scent. Kind of like we humans are more than our wrongful lusts and desires.

      Let’s just come right out with it: giving up your soul and abandoning your family because of your infatuation for an elderly stalker that might accidentally drink your blood is never a good choice.

      But that's not what Bella is asked to do. All these points are off. Bella doesn't give up her soul (at least, she and Carlisle don't believe she does, and Carlisle is the spiritual leader in the series). She winds up finding ways, with the help of her new family, to keep her long-since-broken human family in her life (and in some ways, the story is about Bella finding a functional nuclear family; she's taken care of her parents forever, and has never known what being cared for is like). Her affection for Edward starts out as infatuation and becomes love over time, which is pretty normal and human. Edward is not an elderly stalker. And if he drank her blood, it would be on purpose. He chose not to. Conscientious choice is arguably the largest and most central theme in the books.

      There are actually some intense Christian themes in there. Granted, they rise out of Mormonism--but I think very highly of Mormons and Mormonism, even though I disagree with core doctrines.

      Also--I'm going out on a limb--but American Christians have this idealized picture of romantic love, where you develop this friendship and it becomes all swoony once you both realize how awesome and Christian the other is, and then you get married and find ways to keep the stars in your eyes and love each other by way of 3AM baby feedings and pregnancy craving errands. And that can be a great way to start off... but people have a lot of different stories for how they fell in love, or how they stayed in love, or how they stayed together out of love even though for the longest time they didn't feel love. And love is a huge overburdened word that means a lot of different things. Yeah, epic teenage crushes usually result in epic teenage breakups (or, in my case, epic teenage journal entries and nothing else), but I've known happy, lifelong marriages to result out of teenage weddings. In one case, the girl was sixteen. Recommended? No. Works in occasional cases? Yes.

      Also, I pretty much agree with Laura.

    3. Now that you mention it, I'm also kinda sick of the "that's not love, that's hormones!" line in general. Outright dismissing sexual attraction as some kind of TOTALLY IRRELEVANT LOVE IMPOSTER you should ignore forever is. . . unproductive, for starters.

      I need examples of quiet, introverted, depressive, not-always-original characters who think more about relationships (of any and every kind) than about anything else, because that is my life.

      I think this is a big part of why the books were so popular. And I LIKE punchy action girls and awesome braniacs and chirpy quirkstorms, too. But that's NOT the only way of being interesting, and it's not the only way of being strong, and . . . yes, I have feels on this subject as well.

    4. I found this "prescription" essay so annoying I didn't finish it. So snobby in attitude. Dislike Twilight if you will, and I have no problem with those who do, but don't slam those who find value in it, as if we're all a bunch of gooey-eyed, non-discriminating stupids.

      And that Chesterton quote she uses? Totally, TOTALLY fits Twilight.


    5. Laura, I agree about "that's not love. It's hormones." That, in my opinion, is taking science too far.


      Dislike Twilight if you will, and I have no problem with those who do, but don't slam those who find value in it, as if we're all a bunch of gooey-eyed, non-discriminating stupids.

      Hear, hear!

    6. I don't see her 'slamming' people who find value in it, she's just hoping her daughter doesn't end up finding value in it, just like she's probably hoping her daughter won't find value and role models in Dawson's Creek, or Vampire Diaries, or anything else of the sort..I hope the same for all the kids I know and care for, without hating on any of those people I know who love them.

      And, well..sometimes it is just hormones (or..something, because really a vampire shouldn't have hormones as such - being merely a possessed corpse, but since I've given Joss a pass on that whole area in Buffy, I should extend the same to the Twilight kids, right? :) Either way, I don't see much in Bella and Edward's relationship besides hormones and obsession..

      "You say that like it's incontrovertible. :P Hmmm. Here: I'd say that a lot of Edward's love, especially at first, is disordered love.... but I still think disordered love counts as love, only it needs to be shaped."

      You're right, Jenna, I shouldn't have said it so blandly..AS I SEE IT: Edward gets about a B in 'affection', a C in 'eros', a D-in 'charity', and an F in 'friendship' ..to put it in the highschool world he's so comfy in and to save time writing it out ;) I think it's primary a relationship based on obsession, mutual self-hatred, and attraction..and what is most disturbing about their relationship to me is that the author writes as if she's writing her ideal of love, without seeming to see all the awful in both her characters - because I think Bella's love is as disordered as Edward's in a different way.

      Sorry! I don't want to sound harsh..I really don't think you are a non-discriminating stupid (you know that, right :) )..but honestly, I'm kind of on Haley's side regarding the books.. :) But..I'm also sort of obsessed with Characters..it's on reason I love Joss Wedon and Tolstoy so much, their characters are so layered and real..and for me, if a book isn't character driven it better be pretty amazingly well-written, which sort of leaves Twilight out in the cold..

      Again, Sorry!!! No judgement on you :)

    7. I don't think your comment sounds harsh. <3

      Haley's did, and her tone was much more annoying than her points. I get that rant and snark are valid literary forms as far as the internet goes, and I have NO right to talk after what I said about The Summons. :P But it's always hard to be on the receiving end of it (so sorry, Mr. J. Bell!) And to be fair, I don't recall Haley specifically criticizing the Twilight audience. It's just that a lot of anti-Twilight snark is aimed at the audience, directly or indirectly, so the snark in general--especially when it treats Twilight as if it's not worth reading for any reason--seems to implicate those of us who like it.... if that makes sense....

      And, well..sometimes it is just hormones

      Sure, I can envision that. It has never been that clear-cut for me; wherever there's been attraction, there has always been some degree of love. I can't divide the two in my own life. I think that's true for a lot of (certainly not all) women, and I don't rule out the possibility of it being true for some men. And I read Edward and Bella both with that in mind.

      I'm halfway through Midnight Sun right now, and Edward, in his vampire state, doesn't seem to react much to females, either human or vampire, till Bella comes along. I'm finding Edward's mind pretty interesting, actually, and am enjoying the explanations of how the vampire transformation affects the emotional state.

      the author writes as if she's writing her ideal of love, without seeming to see all the awful in both her characters

      Meyer seems to have written the first novel on the same sort of emotional buzz that a crush is made of. (Judging not by the text but by her descriptions of the original inspiration and writing flow.) I think that made for both its power and its flaws.

      I also suspect--suspicion only, not knowledge--that she's possibly a little bit like me in the matter of being... sort of innocent. With the strengths and weaknesses that that implies, from candor to naivete. It's something that can happen to certain personality types when raised in very sheltered religious settings. It's both a gift and a curse, from time to time. But the verse "To the pure, all things are pure" seems to apply here. This works as love for Stephenie Meyer because her impulses are so thoroughly trained to strive for goodness. It may make a different set of connections to people who have seen a bit more and especially those who have lived differently or intimately known a lot of people who live differently.

      I'm also sort of obsessed with Characters..it's on reason I love Joss Wedon and Tolstoy so much, their characters are so layered and real..and for me, if a book isn't character driven it better be pretty amazingly well-written

      If a book isn't character-driven, I usually can't read it at all, no matter how good the prose is. I am obsessed with characters, too! And I LOVE Firefly for that, and I loved that in Tolstoy, and it's true that Bella and Edward are both more lightly sketched and more ordinary than anyone in the Whedon and Tolstoy universes, and I don't know what to say except that... they make sense to me somehow, and I love them. :)

      I don't disrespect Haley; I'm just tired of anti-Twilight snark because a) I've seen so much of it, and b) it stirs up all my Protector Guardian impulses in favor of protecting Meyer, who is known to be sensitive to criticism.

      But I definitely don't feel judged by you, Masha! I know you too well. <3

  9. I think the tone we find troubling in Haley's piece is, "I don't want you to be like those people." So, as Jenna said, the essay's dismissal of Twilight leaks on to those who like it.

    I read a lot of YA and I find it troubling that the Katniss/kickass heroine is being lifted up as the best role model. Not every female can relate to these kinds of characters, or find resonance with their personality and growth path. There are different kinds of strength and courage. So I'm for female protagonists of all personality types. I myself would never be a Katniss; as with Jenna, I'm more of a Bella. But this doesn't mean I'm an empty or shallow person.

    To me Bella and Edward are quite clear. When John Granger started his Forks Professor site, I wrote a post called A Psychological Look at Bella and Edward in Twilight and New Moon. Bella had puzzled me in Twilight, not because she was passive, but because she revealed so little of herself. But when I read New Moon, the pieces clicked. Both she and Edward made much more sense--their struggles with depression, anxiety, control/loss of control, their attraction to each other and their love. I find them to be both reasonably drawn and lifelike. I think Meyer does draw strong, relatable characters. I very much appreciated Midnight Sun for the peeks into Edward's psyche, too, and his family relationships, as shown in the pow-wow scene in the dining room after the parking lot accident.

    But I feel Meyer's best character work, though, was in The Host. She had obviously grown as an author.


  10. In addition, as the kickass heroine is regarded as the best template, it's important to remember that these character types spring from severe family and life dysfunction. They aren't that way naturally.

    But not everyone reacts to dysfunction in a stereotypical kickass way. Both Bella and Katniss come from dysfunction, but have different ways of dealing with it. Both are strong characters. Interestingly, in these two stories, it's Bella the meek who "inherits the earth."


    1. I agree that not every heroine should be cut from the same cloth. I'm completely sick of hearing actresses talk about how much they loved any given role because "she's such a strong woman", as if that's somehow unusual. But are you saying that the kick-ass heroine-type is synonymous with the Katniss Everdeen-type? Because she strikes me as belonging more to a sub-category, rather than being an alternative heading term.

      Also, what do you mean by "severe family and life dysfunction"? And do all heroines come from these or just the more active, fighting ones?

      -The Neglected Husband

  11. No discussion of Strong Female Characters, however tangential, is complete without this:



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