Posts Tagged ‘Twilight’

YA Article Bingo

The past few years have seen so many terrible articles in mainstream publications about the rise, worthiness and content of YA that it’s hard to keep them straight. Just last month, for instance, Joanna Trollope declared that the entirety of YA SFF “doesn’t really relate to the real world” because she dislikes The Hunger Games, which novels she admits to never having read. Before that, there was Megan Cox Gurdon up in arms at the idea that YA novels might tackle difficult topics like rape, abuse and self-harm, an alarmist piece which lead to the creation of the #YAsaves hashtag on Twitter. ¬†We’ve had pundits suggesting boys won’t read YA titles unless they have gender-neutral covers, and others saying that YA has become so female-dominated that boys are being left behind anyway¬†– which is ironic, given the regularity with which various YA heroines are criticised as being¬†poor¬†role models¬†for girls. While some good commentary has occasionally emerged through the morass of moralising, misapprehension and general handwringing, more often than not, the dominant mood of such articles is censorious: ¬†a condemnation of popular YA in particular that quickly turns to disparaging the genre in general, and doubly so where SFF is mentioned.

Which brings me to the latest such offering: ¬†Laura C. Mallonee’s Time For Teen Fantasy Heroines To Grow Up, which is a perfect example of Mainstream YA Article Bingo and then some. After a few establishing remarks about the current glut of YA film adaptations, it’s not long before Mallonnee presents us with this gem of a paragraph:

“But it would be a mistake to assume that the same girl who sped through¬†Twilight¬†and¬†Hunger Games¬†will easily find her way to¬†The Martian Chronicles¬†or even contemporary fantasy‚Äôs immediate forbearers ‚ÄĒ¬†works by authors like¬†Tamora Pierce¬†or¬†Robin McKinley. Teens today aren‚Äôt genre nerds who only love fantasy. According to Ms. Sutherland, they read these books because it‚Äôs what their friends are reading. But how did they become so popular? And what do they have to say ‚ÄĒ specifically to their young, female readers ‚ÄĒ about the world?”

Obligatory pairing of Twilight and The Hunger Games? Check. The suggestion that modern YA fantasy is somehow fundamentally different to REAL fantasy, or even to the YA novels of yesteryear? Check. Assertion that popular kids read genre now, too? Check. Moral panic about female readers? Check. The cliche density is so high in just this one section alone, it’s hard to tease out all the problematic logic underpinning each and every statement. Take, for instance, the immensely judgemental suggestion that the “same girl” who reads popular YA fantasy novels is unlikely to also read real SFF, presumably on the basis that she’s a popular kid rather than one of the “genre nerds”. What this is, in essence, is yet another permutation of the Fake Geek Girl argument: a deeply sexist panic at the idea that, even when they’re reading dystopian novels, watching comic movies and learning archery for fun, ‘regular’ girls can’t really be true fans of real SFF, because their enjoyment of other, more mainstream activities – or, far more often, their possession of conventionally attractive looks – invariably marks them out as dilettantes only feigning nerdness in order to drive boys crazy. In making this distinction, all Mallonee has done is shift the accusation of dilettantism to the (again, female) creators of modern YA novels: they’re not writing real SFF, like Ray Bradbury did – just popular, pretendy SFF for cheerleaders and pretty girls to read.

We’re then treated to five paragraphs on the history of novels written for young women (comparing modern YA to books written over a century ago? Check!), which, while interesting, betrays a rather heavy-handed attempt to suggest that girl-oriented stories have always fallen into one of three categories: lurid, lower-class love triangles and romantic pulp, written for money; sweet domestic fantasies; and feminist novels where girls do sports and go to college and postpone marriage for the sake of their careers. Which isn’t to say that Mallonee’s analysis is wholly inaccurate, at least as far as the texts she’s chosen to reference are concerned. (Conspicuous omission of J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter phenomenon while discussing the rise of YA? Check!). But in trying to draw comparisons between these categories and different types of modern YA – which is inarguably the intention – Mallonee is not only neglecting the idea that, this being 2013 rather than 1860, a heroine can quite plausibly experience a love triangle AND be domestic AND play sports at college without the readers’ heads exploding, but is effectively arguing that only one of these categories has any feminist value at all. And as much as I enjoy reading YA novels where the heroine avoids romantic complications (and despite my own strong feelings on the subject of love triangles) the idea that such romantic elements are inherently anti-feminist, regressive, cheap or otherwise unworthy simply doesn’t wash.

The next section – an analysis of Twilight and its reception – is quite breathtakingly hypocritical. Having rebuked the almost universal condemnation of Bella Swann with the assertion that “Branding youth culture as obscene or degrading is old hat ‚ÄĒ and teens don‚Äôt care,”¬†Mallonee immediately¬†jumps on the exact same bandwagon, comparing¬†Bella¬†with Elnora Comstock, heroine of Gene Stratton-Porter’s 1908 novel,¬†A Girl of the Limberlost. “In a time when few women went to college,”¬†she says,¬†“Elnora‚Äôs ambition was a brave push into new territory, inspiring readers with aspirations for their own futures. What hope did Bella inspire?”¬†The comparison with Elnora is then extended, only slightly more favourably, to Katniss Everdeen, who wins some praise for being a capable woodswoman – but not much. Once again, Mallonee’s hypocrisy comes to the fore:

“Though Katniss never had romantic feelings for him before the Games, she pretends to return Peeta‚Äôs affection in order to ‚Äúgive the audience something more to care about,‚ÄĚ and it‚Äôs this complex brand of romance that becomes her main tool for survival. Critics have applauded Collins for subverting standard romantic hooks, but this faux love story actually draws many¬†Hunger Games¬†fans, who debate aggressively online over the respective hotness of Peeta and Gale, Katniss‚Äôs childhood friend. Though Katniss eventually becomes a hero, up until page 156 of the first book, her internal struggles revolve around her conflicted emotions toward Peeta and Gale, not on the ethical dilemma of having to kill people.”¬†

Take a moment to parse the above. In the first sentence, Mallonee asserts that Katniss has no feelings for Peeta prior to the start of the Games, pretending to love him as a survival technique only after he admits to loving her himself; she then complains that, up until page 156 of the first book, Katniss’s inner monologue is dominated by her struggle to choose between Peeta and Gale. Which is a rather astonishing claim to make, when you consider that Peeta doesn’t even admit his feelings for Katniss until page 158 – at which point, they haven’t even reached the arena. Even allowing for a slight slip in page numbers between various editions, it’s still clear that Mallonee has contradicted herself, first claiming that the romantic elements don’t exist at the outset, and then complaining that the outset consists of little else. And as for the idea that Katniss “eventually” becomes a hero – what of her selfless decision to save her sister by volunteering as tribute in the first place? Does that not count as heroic? Evidently not – but then, Mallonee is so keen to criticise both the series and its fans for their focus on romance that, rather ironically, she hasn’t focussed on any other elements herself. Except for death, of course – the dystopian setting is “grotesque”, and Mallonee takes a perverse delight in reciting just how many times the word ‘dead’ appears in the trilogy. (Dystopias are depressing and unsettling for teenage readers? Check!) Mallonee then expresses regret at the fact that, rather than emphasising a comforting moral or specific lesson, the ending of¬†The Hunger Games¬†is thematically open-ended. “Readers,” she laments, “are left to untangle the book‚Äôs intimations about the real world for themselves.”¬†You’ll have to forgive me, but I fail to see how an invitation to further critical analysis counts as a negative.

And then, of course, there’s the obligatory comparison of these pulpy, trashy, regressive, female-authored SFFnal YA novels with a literary, contemporary, feminist, male-authored work which – funnily enough – is better than mere YA: Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. (Male authors doing feminism better than women? Check!) Despite having a teenage, female heroine,¬†Mallonee finds it ”¬†almost ‚ÄĒ¬†but not quite ‚ÄĒ surprising” that Winter’s Bone wasn’t marketed to teenage girls; but then, even if it had been, one suspects that her imaginary, popular strawgirls wouldn’t have had the wit or wisdom to appreciate it. Not like those nerdy, unpopular readers, the ones we’re not talking about; the kind of girls who like popular YA novels are, according to Mallonee, a different breed entirely. This sort of dislike of the readers of popular YA is evident in her conclusion:

“The problem with¬†Twilight¬†and¬†Hunger Games¬†is that while operating in a seemingly black-and-white world they actually infect their readers with chaos:¬†Twilight¬†by exploiting its audience‚Äôs desire to completely escape reality, and¬†Hunger Games¬†by cementing its readers‚Äô fears that there is nothing beyond the darkness.

The value of books like¬†Girl of the Limberlost¬†and¬†Winter‚Äôs Bone¬†is that while acknowledging the world‚Äôs ugliness, they carve a path of resilience the reader can follow.”

Respectfully, I would submit that this is bullshit. Throughout her article, Mallonee has made clear her contempt, not only for popular modern narratives, but for stories which dare to include a romantic component for their heroines – an opinion she has tried to imbue with historical significance by first disparaging the “promiscuity” and “passivity” of early romance-oriented novels aimed at girls, and then contrasting these lesser works with their unromantic, college-and-sport themed heirs,¬†¬†novels which “captured the spirit of the Suffragettes”. That being so, it hardly seems irrelevant that, in critiquing modern YA novels, Mallonee has described the romance in Twilight as “sinister”¬†and disparaged its role in The Hunger Games, all while praising the lack of romance in both Girl¬†of the Limberlost and Winter’s Bone. For Mallonee to conclude, then, that the value of the latter titles and the failure of the former is due to other factors entirely – thematic descriptors that, quite pointedly, have nothing to do with romance – is both insincere and deeply inaccurate. Instead, she tries to pin that sentiment on David Levithan, quoting him in such a way that her own, snide conclusions about the failings of SFFnal YA read as an interpretation of his remarks, rather than as a revelation of her own bias. To quote:

“I asked¬†David Levithan, Scholastic‚Äôs vice president and editorial director, whether such books might be a way for girls to escape the real world. He explained that most successful fantasy literature is actually deeply relatable to the reader: ‚ÄúThe themes (survival in¬†Hunger Games, unrequited love in¬†Twilight, etc.) are completely real even if the situations are not.‚ÄĚ Within this milieu, authors as influential as Meyer and Collins have the opportunity to inspire their readers toward greatness, but they squander it miserably. Neither Bella nor Katniss have dreams that transcend their current situations.”

¬†In fact, it’s not even clear if the bracketed reference to Twilight and The Hunger Games is something Levithan actually said, or whether Mallonee inserted it herself to contextualise his comments and just so happened to forget the convention of using square brackets when commenting within a quote. In either case, though, it seems abundantly clear that Levithan’s actual statement – that the success of fantasy literature hinges on its use of real and relatable human elements – is the exact opposite of Mallonee’s conclusion, which is that Meyer and Collins both fail to do this, as neither of their heroines “have dreams that transcend their current situations.”¬†Whether intentionally or not, Mallonee has ended her article by quoting a prominent YA editor in such a way as to make him look highly critical of Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins – a ploy which is not only grossly misleading, but cheap. And that, I’m afraid, is the tone of her article all over. Rather than enter into an honest discussion of her issues with the portrayal of romance in YA novels and the genre’s newfound popularity – both meaty topics, and well worth discussing – Mallonee has instead decided to invoke the age-old spectre of SFF as meaningless pulp, less worthy of praise than real literature, and used it as a shoddy cover for different anxieties. As she herself says:

“Louisa May Alcott may have written sensational vampire stories, but she also wrote¬†Little Women, a classic I first read in middle school that taught me I could do or be anything, and that my uneventful life was filled with meaning. I‚Äôm not betting on Meyer or Collins to create her, but I‚Äôd like to think another Jo March might still be out there.”

What a condescendingly sexist, genrephobic mess. While there’s nothing wrong with either critiquing the role of romance ¬†in popular narratives or disliking popular works, the intimation that the presence of the former and success of the latter is somehow fundamentally unfeminist, unliterary and unworthy is deeply problematic – ¬†as is criticising exclusively the tastes of female readers and the motives of female authors under the guise of impartial, literary concern. Thanks ever so for your patronising thoughts on YA SFF, Laura – but next time, save yourself the effort.

My husband and I saw Eclipse at the movies today. (Let the record state that, contrary to conventional wisdom, it was his idea, not mine – I went along with it on the grounds of being hungover.) I’ve only read the first Twilight novel; he’s read none, though we’ve watched all the films together. Beyond this, my knowledge of the series has been fleshed out via numerous and detailed internet plot summaries. Walking back from the cinema, we started talking about what we’d seen, and one way or another, this lead to my mentioning the existence of Renesmee, Bella and Edward’s daughter as of Breaking Dawn, and the circumstances surrounding her birth.

Here is what I know about Renesmee: being a special hybrid child, Bella is only pregnant with her for a month or so, and by the end of the book, the continuation of her rapid physical and intellectual development means that, after little more than a year of life, she resembles a bright, precocious six-year-old. Off the top of my head, I can think of six other instances of Magical Pregnancy and/or Fast-Growing Children in fantasy narratives, but even where the device is used with skill and integrity, I’ve come to realise that it bothers me on a number of levels. At the most basic level, it’s simply too…convenient. Nine months is a long time, and small children are complicated, narratively as well as in real life: someone always has to be with them, and though they can‚Äôt contribute much in terms of dialogue for the first few years, they nonetheless exert a significant pressure on the actions of those around them. In that sense, using magic to speed things up is an understandable reaction. But what are the costs?

Back in the days of Xena: Warrior Princess, there were a series of episodes given over to the story of Gabrielle’s daughter, Hope, the evil child of the dark god Dahak. After gestating for only two weeks, Hope attained the physical age of a nine-year-old in just a few months, going on to reach full adulthood not long after. Given her intended role as a villain, this sped up her confrontations with Xena and Gabrielle, not to mention the fact that, in a TV setting, you will never see a child grow from infancy to school-age unless the show is specifically about that sort of development (Full House) or there’s a reasonable way to keep them off-screen most of the time (Friends). If a baby is introduced elsewhere, however, the writers have a problem: what happens next?

If the whole point of introducing the child is the person they‚Äôre going to grow into, then leaping right ahead to that point certainly makes sense ‚Äď but it‚Äôs also something of a cheap trick. The actions of TV characters are already constrained, certain choices forbidden them in order to maintain the static premise of their shows across multiple episodes and seasons. Confront this normalcy with the prospect of week-in, week-out pregnancy and/or childrearing, and even the least analytic of audience members knows that the threat is hollow: magical or otherwise, something is bound to avert it. Through all the formula and familiarity, the tension in television comes from our knowledge that, even if only once a season, one of the threatened changes will be carried out, forcing the characters to react. Someone will die, a relationship will end ‚Äď but raising a child is too great a threat. We know the writers are bluffing.

Another example: in Season 4 of Angel the vampire Darla gives birth to baby Connor and dies, leaving Angel to raise his son alone. But, sure enough, the passage of a few episodes sees Connor stolen away by one of Angel‚Äôs old enemies, who takes the boy to a demon dimension where ‚Äď conveniently ‚Äď time passes at a different rate. Scarcely has his infant son been stolen than a portal opens at Angel‚Äôs feet and spits out an angry, vengeful teenager in his place. Fastwind through a series of increasingly melodramatic events, and we watch as the now-grown Connor saddles Cordelia with a speeded-up pregnancy of her own, bringing the trope full circle.

Beyond the realms of television, there are novelised instances, too. In Christopher Pike‚Äôs The Last Vampire series, the main character, Alisa, carries and gives birth to a powerful, demonic and fast-growing daughter, Kalika, in the space of a few months. Though not evil, the same is otherwise true of Blessing, the daughter of Liath and Sanglant in Kate Elliott‚Äôs excellent Crown of Stars series, though this is the only instance of the trope I find palatable: nothing is circumvented because of it ‚Äď in fact, it makes things more complicated ‚Äď while Liath‚Äôs absence forces Sanglant to raise and protect their wilful daughter alone. In this iteration, it also helps that Blessing herself is a more realistic mix of childishness and maturity: her body might have developed quickly, but unlike Meyer‚Äôs Renesmee, she is still as naive, demanding and impatient as any toddler, and not just an angelic miniature adult. By contrast, the seven children of Snow White and Bigby Wolf in Bill Willingham‚Äôs Fables graphic novels progress from infancy to middle childhood in the blink of an eye for seemingly no better reason than that they can, a shortcut that allows their mother to continue her normal working life almost unimpeded. Rounding out the examples is the Icarii race in Sara Douglass‚Äôs Axis trilogy, all of whose offspring are sentient even before birth, able to communicate cogently via magic with both parents, thereby rendering the usual childhood troubles moot. This is possibly the weakest example, but even so, it is an instance of wherein normal human difficulties ‚Äď such as parent/child communication ‚Äď are erased with magic.

In each of the above instances, some explanation is given as to why these children grow so quickly. But even where that reason feels plausible, it also, with the notable exception of Elliott‚Äôs contribution, makes me sad. Because ultimately, what it seems to say is that motherhood ‚Äď the process of carrying, birthing and rearing a child to an age where they are capable of walking, talking and learning on their own ‚Äď is incompatible with a mother having separate adventures at the same time. That these parts of childhood must be removed from or circumvented in narrative, not because they might make for dull reading, but because they will inevitably curtail the actions of both parents (and particularly mothers) to such an extent that the story can no longer take place. That a fantasy heroine cannot be both a heroine and a mother at the same time; or at least, not a mother to small children. That it must always be one or the other.

Whenever it is that I have children, I hope that I‚Äôll do my best by them. I don‚Äôt want to be selfish, neglecting their wellbeing and happiness for the sake of carrying on my own life as if I‚Äôd never had them, or as if they were no more than conversation pieces who‚Äôd changed me not in the slightest. But I refuse to believe that my own life, such as it is, will entirely cease to be. It will change, yes, in order to accommodate a different set of priorities, and I will change, too, because how could I not? It certainly won‚Äôt be easy. But in real life, parenting has no ‚Äúskip to the school years‚ÄĚ option. And every time I see a fantasy story take that route, a part of me worries that what I‚Äôm seeing isn‚Äôt just an easy television trope or narrative shortcut, but a warning about the perils of my future life.

Right now, it seems to me that children are an adventure in and of themselves, and maybe we in the fantasy business are doing a disservice to that fact by too often taking the easy, magically-aided route as regards the formative years of their upbringing. Alternatively, I‚Äôm being ridiculous and oversensitive. But even if I were given the choice, I think I‚Äôd prefer to slog out those early years and know my future children better than to press a button and have them be ready for school. Which, ultimately, seems to be the biggest cost of this trope ‚Äď a loss, not of time, but family.

I have a theory.

Firstly: these are four little words which should strike fear into the hearts of men, especially when coming from me. You have been warned.

Consider, then,¬†the stereotype of hardcore science fiction: heavy on detail, short on character, long on nitty-gritty and emotionally ambivalent. A crude stereotype, but despite being far from universally accurate, there’s an argument to be made that hard SF is the traditional province of male geeks exactly because of the above descriptors. Which isn’t to say that women don’t or shouldn’t read it, or that¬†a given work¬†ceases to be hard SF if it invalidates any of the above categories, or even that the genre lacks female characters. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, for instance, is both fabulously philosophical and supported by a wonderful knowledge of human nature, while Scott Westerfeld’s The Risen Empire is built on immaculate details of technology and society, with chapter time shared equally between vividly written male and female protagonists. But if you were of a mind to analyse the readership of hard SF, it still seems likely that most of them, regardless of other¬†demographic factors, would be male.

Of itself, that shouldn’t surprise us. Little boys have been raised for years¬†with rockets and trains and plastic guns, and for much of the¬† – still¬†relatively recent¬† – history of geekdom,¬†things like video games, Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer and¬†even straight fantasy¬†were deemed by normal society to be the sole province of dysfunctional, dateless nerds. The idea¬†of geekhood as an equal opportunities employer is¬†something which,¬†it seems, despite the long-established existence of female geeks, has only recently¬†occurred to¬†the mainstream world. There are various reasons fo this, and a great deal of iconic female sci-fi/fantasy at which to point the expostulating finger. For instance: Tamora Pierce, author of The Song of the Lioness quartet, grew up resenting the lack of female warrior heroes in fantasy novels and thereinafter set about writing some of her own, with brilliant results. Gene Roddenberry was prevented by¬†network politics¬†from making the first Star Trek captain female, but that didn’t stop Uhura and Janeway from getting their dues. Most obviously from the point of my generation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer proved that popularity and geekdom weren’t like oil and water: not only was it possible to put a beautiful blonde in a horror setting¬†who didn’t get killed off in the first five minutes, but TV shows could be fantasy-based and still pull in the big ratings.

In fact, if you look at the past fifteen years of film, books and broadcasting, you’ll see a meteoric rise in mainstream awareness of fantasy. Commensurate with the rise in special effects technology, there have been¬†innumerable film adaptations of classic sci-fi/fantasy novels – not to mention TV shows –¬†once computer processing power made the concept seem¬†more viable and less cheesy. Even before the advent of J.K. Rowling in 1997, the mantle of World’s Best-Selling Author belonged to Terry Pratchett. Throw in a diverse range of sci-fi fantasy programming – The X-Files, Roswell, Charmed, Firefly, Stargate, Sliders, Farscape, True Blood, Heroes, Supernatural – and it’s plain to see that public awareness of the geeky sphere is bound to have skyrocketed since the mid-nineties, if only by dint of a casual glance at the TV guide or ticket office.

All of which has helped to¬†take social notions of geekdom away from the hard SF, lone-nerds-in-basements days of yore and instead present something friendlier, more gender-neutural. Women, of course, have been reading fantasy alongside men for as long as it’s been a separate genre, but with the patina of mass-appeal thus gained, publishers have seemingly¬†felt able to try something new, with the consequence that previously well-established genre boundaries in the world of sci-fi fantasy have started to fall by the wayside. Ever since¬†the established stereotypes of Who Buys¬†What went flying out the window – and¬†though¬†this has undoubtably occurred, it’s still debateable as to when – geeks en masse have proven to be such a diverse demographic that the¬†blurring¬†of¬†genre lines, far from deterring¬†potential readers,¬†has acutally become an individual draw.

Which brings me to the current trend in paranormal romance and urban fantasy, and that¬†particular proliferation of vampires. While there’s a case to be made that fanged fiction is the literary equivalent of a dot com bubble – certainly, no trend goes upwards forever – I’m sceptical of the notion that it will all come to nothing. Urban fantasy, apart from anything else, has always been the gateway drug of make-believe: particularly on television, viewers who might otherwise be put off by fantastic elements are comforted by the simltaneous presence of what is real and familiar, while others of us get our kicks from seeing the norm subverted. The fact that Harry Potter and Edward Cullen have helped move this phenomenon from screen to page seems overdue, and not in the least bit faddish. Which isn’t to say that public opinion won’t steadily turn elsewhere until the Next Big Thing – that’s only human nature. But for all that vampires are the current flavour of the month, the idea that they’ll vannish between airings is absurd – Stephenie Meyer no more invented the oeurve than did¬†Anne Rice.

Both¬†despite¬†and because of this broadening of geekishness to new and wonderful realms, hard SF¬†remains a beloved, male-dominated genre in its own right.¬†But¬†if one were interested in drawing conclusions about the varying ends of a given spectrum, paranormal romance would seem to be as feminine and popular a fantastic subsidiary as hard SF is masculine. Which is why,¬†to reach a long-awaited point, I don’t think it’s going anywhere: because for the first time, fantasy has found a foothold which isn’t mainly male or gender-neutural by virtue of diversity, but expressly, purposefully¬†feminine – and proud of it.¬†More than anything else, the current boom in paranormal romance¬†feels like the response of¬†a¬†market which has hitherto existed, but remained largely untapped, populated by the kind of intelligent,¬†imaginative women who might shy away from picking up a Harlequin romance novel, but who still – often without realising it¬†– have been hankering for a little bit of literary lust.¬†

Ironically, it’s taken¬†a surge in YA fantasy for this to become apparent, assuming the legions of¬†grown women¬†lining up to buy Twilight are anything to go by. But if there’s one thing the sexual revolution and the mainstreaming of fantasy have taught us, it’s that guilty pleasures – even when they’re not so much guilty as wildly,¬†passionately longed-for pleasures – are nothing to be ashamed of.

When the media first started comparing Stephenie Meyer¬†to J. K. Rowling, my hackles rose. Insofar as I could tell, both the mood and execution of their respective¬†series seemed entirely different, a suspicion which was confirmed when, last month, I finally finished Twilight, the first book of Meyer’s quartet. Drifting through the¬†life of Bella Swann is, in its own way, peaceful:¬†the writing flows smoothly from page to page, a continuous, soothing¬†rhythm comparable to soft music.¬†The pace is good, and the characters are, by and large, believable. Given that I’m no longer wracked by teenage angst, however, I wasn’t nearly so invested in the ups and downs of¬†Bella’s relationship as I once might’ve been.¬†Consequently, I¬†found the in-depth description of Edward’s every pose and expression frustrating, a troublesome sour note which,¬†by itself, caused me to¬†stop reading for two weeks¬†at the halfway point.¬†It’s not that Meyer writes¬†clunkily – far from it. It’s simply that, as an¬†adult, my attention is fixated less on the¬†physicaility of fraught exchanges and more on their content.

From friends and reviews, I knew that Jacob Black was supposed to become a competing love interest later on, and a werewolf to boot. Invariably, this knowledge changed my expectations for the character: I was looking for someone to rival Edward by displaying a different kind of magnetism, helped along by the ancient were/vamp battle mojo. I was, therefore, extremely disappointed with the reality. Had Bella Swann gone to Forks and never met Edward Cullen, I felt, it was unlikely that she would’ve looked twice at Jacob. Which, of course, would be a different story; but the point of Edward and Bella is one of destiny –¬†that regardless of the circumstances under which they met, the pair would fall in love. From Twilight, the same cannot be said of Jacob Black, and although this isn’t a plot hindrance in the first book, I suspect it may become so later on.

As a heroine, Bella is markedly different from those around her, both in her perceptions and actuality. Her internal monolouge¬†describes her as feeling older, quieter, awkward, more distant than her teenage friends, contrasted with a childlike naivety when it comes to all things Edward. In actuality, Bella is, inded, different, but not in the way she imagines. Forks fits her like a glove, such that, despite her protestations,¬†it’s hard to imagine her ever living boisterously in Phoenix under the hot sun, pale and quiet as she is. Indeed, presented with her physical appearance, preference for classical¬†music and love of Jane Austen, one instinctively places Bella in an English locale: somewhere¬†soft, green and glowing from frequent rain. It’s a measure of Meyer’s¬†ability that she pulls off this deception with ease, allowing Bella’s¬†self-perception to shield us from¬†just how¬†much she does, in fact, belong. This skillful tension¬†permeates the narrative,¬†and is arguably Twilight’s real heart – not¬†romantically, but in terms of craftsmanship.¬†It’s why the book works, and the reason it holds together: a solid sense of place.

The ending, however, troubled me, not only because it departed from that environment, but because Edward’s decision to¬†save Bella undermined the entire narrative. In order to allow for even the barest physical interaction, Edward’s danger and ferocity¬†are systematically blunted throughout the book, until it becomes difficult to believe¬†they ever really existed. Similarly, his inner struggle to resist feeding on Bella has, by the end, vanished, such that the climactic moment of choice¬†–¬†to keep her human – poses neither threat nor tension. Over and over again, we have been told that Edward is dangerous to Bella without actually witnessing it; which suggests, ultimately, that he isn’t.¬†Compare this to¬†the¬†turmoil of vampire¬†Angel’s¬†TV relationship with¬†Buffy Summers. Admittedly, Buffy is significantly ¬†stronger than Bella, such that Angel can physically attack her without killing her outright; nonetheless, it’s impossible to doubt his dark side. The same cannot be said of Edward Cullen.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Twilight. At¬†its best, Meyer’s style is captivating, while the story flows steadily from outset to conclusion. Despite this, however, I don’t want to finish the saga. What made Twilight successful was its grounding in Forks, and the extent to which that environment was built, bones-up, to reflect Bella Swann. Outside those parameters and with Edward’s danger dissipated, the story can only be continued by making it more complicated,¬†introducing new elements and moving the protagonists to new locations. At best, this style of serialising¬†can¬†make each successive volume a new first, with each story standing slightly apart from the others, unique despite a linear chronology. At worst, it devolves into the kind of add-on storytelling all too common in Hollywood sequals – notably Pirates of the Carribbean –¬†in which¬†a¬†stand-alone¬†first instalment is undermined by the introduction of a larger, unfamiliar world. The Twilight Saga will, I suspect, fall somewhere between these two points: Meyer has left enough undone to merit further exploration, but following through will invariably take the story away from what made it work in the first place, prolonging the initial catharsis by setting the characters on a¬†largely circuitous¬†route.

In fairness, I should read the rest of the series before passing final judgement;¬†maybe Bella and Edward will pull the story¬†through. Either way, Meyer isn’t the new Rowling, but that doesn’t stop her from being a skilled author in her own right, and certainly one worth keeping a¬†careful¬†eye on.