Thursday, 2 May 2013

Twilight

I know I'm about seven years late, but I've finally got around to reading the first Twilight book.

Not being a teenage girl, or a girl of any age, I'm a long way from the intended audience for these books.  Still, I wasn't in the target audience for the Harry Potter books either, and I read all of them pretty much as they came out. 

Of course I had kids of the right age, and it was nice to share something with them.  But the early books themselves were a lot of fun, full of spells, potions, magical creatures and objects, odd characters and childish high-jinks, plus a villain dangerous enough to be scary but ultimately weak enough to be beaten by well-intentioned children.  It's a shame the later books got bloated with badly written teenage angst and clumsy attempts to darken the atmosphere, but even then there was enough fun to keep me reading.  No doubt many of the young readers who got hooked on the early books were less critical of the later ones than I was, being consumed by teenage angst themselves.

Young American author Stephenie Meyer pretty much stepped straight into JK Rowling's market niche with her Twilight books.  The first of the series, Twilight, was published in 2005, the same year as the sixth Harry Potter book.  We are introduced to Bella Swan at the age of 17, when she moves from her mother's home in arid Phoenix, Arizona to live with her father in Forks, Washington, the wettest place in the USA. 

Bella is highly intelligent and independent, and despite being painfully introverted she quickly makes friends and starts to settle into Forks' social life.  She is also incredibly clumsy and accident-prone.  This applies not only to her attempts at PE, but to her relationships.  Despite being chased by a number of nice, normal young men, she manages to fall in love with a vampire.

Of course Edward Cullen is handsome and extremely gentlemanly in a domineering, old-fashioned kind of way.  He also has a number of unique qualities, like superhuman strength and speed, unnaturally acute senses and an ability to read minds - although not Bella's, for some reason I have no doubt will be revealed in a later episode.  Then there is the fact that he saves her life twice, as if once was not enough.

However, there are a number of drawbacks.  He's way too old for her - athough he looks and pretends to be 17 he's actually over 100.  A diet consisting exclusively of blood makes dinner dates rather unusual.  Then there is the fact that he finds the unique smell of Bella's blood particularly appetising.  Not to mention that he spends his sleepless nights stalking her, creeping into her bedroom to watch her sleep, and during the day when he is not with her he reads the minds of her friends to find out what she is doing and saying.

With all this creepy behaviour it's surprising that a girl as seemingly sensible and clear-headed as Bella should fall for him, but we are in the territory of Gottfied von Strassburg here.  True Love is an overpowering force which mere mortals, and even immortal vampires, are powerless to resist.  Once Edward and Bella are hooked, there is no escape for either of them no matter how bad an idea their relationship seems.  It is just fortunate for Bella that Edward and his "family" have sworn off human blood, but their little coven is a kind of vampire equivalent of an AA meeting - Bloodsuckers Anonymous, perhaps - and its members could fall off the wagon at any time.

Sadly, Meyer is no Strassburg and this is no Tristan and Isolde.  It is certainly readable, but more like Mills and Boon with vampires.  There is even a love triangle of sorts, with Bella taking the fancy of a less scrupulous vampire who decides to stalk her in deadly earnest.  Bella finds herself rather too literally torn between two powerful males.  The hunt, and Bella's efforts to escape with the aid of Edward's "family", provide the only action in what is generally a rather dull and absurd story. 

Will Bella get her way and become a vampire, joining Edward in eternal love on the edges of human society?  Will Edward recover his own humanity and learn to eat normal food again?  Or will it all end badly for both of them?  The answers to these questions are known to millions of teenage girls and their boyfriends around the world, but I'm not sure I have the patience to read another three volumes (or sit through four blockbuster movies) to find out.

In the meantime, a word of advice to young female readers.  If you are faced with a choice between a man who wants to eat you but refrains and a man who has no intention of refraining, choose neither.  Stay single.  Or else pick one of those other nice young men who will be devoted to you without actual consumption.  The worst they can do is try to seduce you, and you are free to say no if you wish.  He may be the most handsome man on the planet, but even if he doesn't live for ever life with a bloodsucking stalker will seem like an eternity in hell.

(If you enjoyed this you can also read about Bram Stoker's Dracula, which is a whole different bottle of blood!)

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