The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

A New Dawn part 11: “Edward, Heathcliff, and Our Other Secret Boyfriends” by Robin Brande March 24, 2010

M[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

Just the title of this one made me smile. Growing up a shy, bookish girl, I can definitely say that I got a lot of my romantic preferences from books. Brande compares Edward Cullen to some of the leading men in the novels that influenced the Twilight Saga and argues that he wipes the floor with them.

I’ve already spoken my piece on Heathcliff (or as Brande calls him “Scary Psycho Man”). Brande, Edward, and I are both completely confused by Bella and the other Heathcliff lovers out there. To torture his beloved’s husband, Heathcliff marries his sister and proceeds to strangle her dog and treat her so abominably she has to run away. After she’s dead, he goes out of his way to torment their son (they had sex?! EW!) to an early death. Just…No. Not attractive at all.

To me, it seems unlikely that Edward is supposed to be Heathcliff. Instead he is supposed to be Edgar, while Jacob is Heathcliff. Heathcliff didn’t get the girl. Edgar did. Heathcliff turned into a wolf and ran away for months and months…oh wait, Jacob did that. Heathcliff disappeared for years to regions unknown. Then he goes insane when Cathy is destroyed by her torn affections and dies. See what I mean? What if Edward hadn’t gotten the girl? I think the fact that he can behave himself may have something to do with that fact.

Brande finds Romeo a bit more acceptable, but not exactly up to Edward’s level. Mainly because Romeo ends up snuffing it so early. Sure he married Juliet, but their romance ended up being a wham, bam, thank you ma’am, didn’t it? Bella admits she “kind of had a thing for Romeo” in New Moon. What is with this girl? She clearly has terrible taste in men.

Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy gives Edward a run for his money. It’s no surprise since, Meyer says that Twilight was loosely based on the Austen masterpiece. Brande herself has a thing for Mr. Darcy, calling him “Mr. Perfect” and admitting in her bio at the end that she “threw herself into a three-day binge of Carcy-infused chick flicks.” Bella never mentions P&P as one of her favorites, but she does mention reading some Austen novels in Twilight. I’m sure Mr. Darcy is probably pretty high up on her list too.

Though I agree with Brande’s assessment that Darcy is markedly better than either Heathcliff or Romeo, I’m still stymied by the fact that both he and Edward are arrogant @$$hats sometimes. She admits that they need “a good smack upside the head,” but argues that they eventually mend their ways once they give into true love. They just need a couple chances to get it right.

Brande thinks that Edward beats out all three of these classic heros. They were the “secret boyfriends” to thousands of women throughout the years. Clearly they were Mrs. Meyer’s secret boyfriends too and she appears to have taken the good qualities of all her favorite leading men and knitted together over the series to create the UBER Fictional Boyfriend that is Edward Cullen. Brande and millions of ladies thank her.

I can find little fault with the main argument of the essay. Clearly, Edward’s attractive qualities have roots in the romantic leads that have captured the hearts and minds of women for centuries. I don’t find these heros as attractive as many other women seem to, but to each her own. Maybe I’ll do a follow up post on my secret boyfriends of ficiton…

What really caught my attention is that Brande repeatedly calls Edward honest. Huh? I agree that he’s pretty up front with the declarations of love. In Brande’s words, “Romeo had his pretty soliloquies, and Darcy can say a lot once he gets going, but no one gives you the blow-by-blow, this-is-why-I-love-you the way Edward does.” However, he’s not so up front about other things.

Anyone who’s read Midnight Sun knows that Edward’s got a manipulative streak. Sure the whole Angela/Ben matchmaking thing is cute on the face of it, but it’s obvious controlling behavior as well. Earlier in the essay, Brande cites Edward’s refusal to make Bella choose between him and Jacob as a sign of his rationality (Jacob can protect her and make her happy), but from where I sit it looks like really skillful manipulation. By not forcing Bella’s hand, he makes himself look angelic and makes Bella feel like crap for having feelings for Jacob.

Jacob calls Edward out before the new born battle in Eclipse. When Jacob realizes what a skillful player Edward is, he tries to follow suit. He’s not winning by being honest, time to change strategies. Being both honest and inexperienced, the manipulation is so shoddy, we see it immediately. The whole “suicide by vamp” play for affection and smooches really ticked me off – like it did a lot of readers. However I kind of appreciated that his attempts at manipulation had an ugly clang, especially in comparison to Smooth Criminal Cullen. Edward is so good, he’s even manipulated the readers into being on his side!

It also royally pissed me off at the end of New Moon when Bella can’t believe that Edward still loves her and Edward turns it back, acting hurt because she had so little faith in his love. “You believed me so easily!” he accuses. Ugh. Excuse me! Can anyone say gaslighting? Ah, yes. The classic technique of romantic and platonic emotional abusers the world over. Enough about your feelings, how do you think I felt when you reacted negatively to me being mean to you?!

Honest? Up front? Not our Edward Cullen.

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A New Dawn part 8: “Destination: Forks, Washington” by Cara Lockwood March 18, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

This was supposed to be a pretty lol-worthy ditty about the real world town in which the fictional Bella and Edward play out the tasty Twilight drama. It’s not quite as lol-worthy as, say, this…but it was pretty good all the same.

I’m equal parts amused and annoyed by Lockwood’s admission that she’s creeped out by little towns. She ties this fear to a point about how lots of weird stuff happens in small towns in fiction. I would argue that lots of weird stuff happens in big towns in fiction too. An inordinate number of super heros and their nemeses seem to live in NYC, no?

After growing up in a small town in Kansas (~3,000 people, very close to the size of Forks, WA) and moving to Long Beach (~400,000 people), I definitely experienced the opposite feelings. Big cities creep me out. It’s loud and there’s always someone around who could be up to no good. I find it more plausible for something crazy and fantastical to go down in an urban environment, because it’s still a foreign land for me.

This is a picture of downtown in my real home town. Notice the lack of...everything...

When I brought my college friends home with me, I was always amused to see their reactions. Gravel roads and county highways seem far simpler to me than city streets stuffed full of businesses and traffic. They seemed to be immediately lost. About as lost as I feel when I try to drive myself anywhere new in L.A. county.

After dark? Forget about it. All of my city friends seemed convinced that a chainsaw killer was waiting for them in the ditch at the next cross roads. Never mind that they were probably in more peril from meeting gentle Bambi and family whilst they crossed the road. Which is kind of like my terror of being outside the apartment alone after dark.

All this affirms my belief that monsters, whether in character or setting form, are obviously reflections of the unknown. City folk write about creepy Podunk towns. People from Podunk towns know nothing happens there and think that the big ol’ city is out to get them.

This is downtown in 1911... Hmm... Looks about the same.

 

A New Dawn part 7: “As Time Goes By” by K. A. Nuzum March 16, 2010

Filed under: Books — imaginaryheroine @ 6:00 am
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[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

What separates humans from monsters seems so obvious that it’s hard to put into words. Nuzum starts with a basic outline of what seems to help us decide what constitutes a monster:

1) Monsters look different from humans.

2) They live outside the normal bounds of society, because they can’t or wont bow to human cultural norms.

3) They live in a “different time zone” than humans.

Wait, what? What time zone is that, exactly? Nuzum separates humans into “Historic Time,” while monsters belong instead to “Mythic Time.” Historic time is progressive and ever-changing. We each keep moving along our own personal time line, making choices about which way it will turn. “One of the ironies of our existence,” says Nuzum, “is that living means always moving closer to death.” Mythic time, on the other hand is circular, eternal, and repetitive as a hamster wheel. Existing in this circuitous existence, a monster will “experience an eternal compulsion to commit and recommit the creation act that transformed them into monsters.”

We place a high value on life’s milestones, specifically because in a progressive timeline “they can’t be repeated or relived.” Edward knows this. He’s had time while repeating high school over and over to ponder the fact that he missed out on a number of important adult milestones like getting a career, getting married, having children – the list goes on and on. He cares enough about Bella to want her to have all of the things he missed out on – even if she insists she doesn’t want them. Witness him dragging her to prom, the ill-fated birthday party in New Moon, and his marriage ultimatum… He’s big on the human coming of age moments, because, as a monster in Mythic time, he will never have them himself.

Nuzum agrees with Edward. Historical time is very important. The accident at the aforementioned birthday party illustrated the dangers of mixing beings from Historic Time with those from Mythic time. Historic time is extremely sensitive to the choices we make and “there’s no such thing as a “do over.”” The suspense we feel when we consider Bella’s choice between Historic time and Mythic time stems from this value we place on life due to our own firm residence in Historic time. Nuzum argues that the Cullen’s vampirism is represented as a last resort, when the only choice is to transform or die. Meyer repeats this choice for us with Bella’s transformation. Nuzum believes that this is necessary in order to quiet reader qualms about Bella turning her back on human life in Historic time and entering Mythic time as a monster. Even monster life is better than death…right? Right?

I’m not so sure that I agree with Nuzum’s assumption that we were all ambivalent about Bella leaving behind the human world. I’m guessing by the end of Twilight a large number of people were thinking exactly what I was thinking:

"Oh, just bite her already!"

Maybe this links back to Steiber’s argument that Meyer’s vampires have inverted the vampire legend. In Twilight, the vampires aren’t the monsters – we are. Our imperfections and vulnerability to the hands of time have us more scared than blood drinkers or shape shifters. Nuzum insists that the passage of time is actually an integral part of our character formation, because “it is our experience in time the defines us as individuals, that gives meaning and uniqueness to each of our lives.” This is undoubtably true, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary as heck.

 

A New Dawn part 6: “Tall, Dark, and…Thirsty?” by Ellen Steiber March 14, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels.]

This essay was one of my favorites of the lot. It started with a fun overview of vampire mythology, literature, and movies and some of the social constructs our changing vampires have reflected over the years. Unsurprisingly, when Steiber begins interpreting Meyer’s vampires as part of that continuing tradition she’s more than a little disappointed in how they stack up. As a traditional vampire novel, Twilight kind of sucks (lame pun intended). [Maybe because they’re a different kind of blood drinker? The “drink this wine it is my body” kind of blood drinker?… Ahem…] She then finds something even more creepy than blood-drinking monsters lurking beneath the vampiric veneer.

Steiber places the origins of our current crop of vampires in the Balkan “Vampire Epidemic” of the 1730’s. The legends and old wives tales found their way to Britain and were popularized by two works in particular. The first was John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (I got my hot little hands on it for free right here). Published in 1819, Polidori’s tale of the vampire Lord Ruthven is said to be a product of the same ghost story session that spawned Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The darkly magnetic Ruthven, Steiber tells us, was even based upon another of the session’s participants, the bad boy, rock star poet Lord Byron.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) amped up the sexual tension. What with his trio of sexy lady vampire roommates and taste for young innocent women, Dracula was clearly a metaphor for the specter of sexuality in the repressed Victorian Era. “He’s a perfect example of the exotic, inscrutable stranger whom good girls really should avoid,” says Steiber. In 1931, Dracula became immortalized on the silver screen by the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi. His portrayal was so arresting that it has held up for 80 years as the prototypical vampire. Ask anyone to do a vampire imitation and I’m betting it will owe quite a bit to Lugosi’s Dracula.

Over the years vampires have become even more tied to sexuality and romance. Steiber points out the advantages to a vampire as a romantic lead. A vampire is powerful and magnetic, making him immediately appealing to other characters and readers alike. The vampire has also become something of a sympathetic loner, making them emotionally vulnerable in ways that can be exploited for a number of plot devices, particularly a romance.

After setting up the source material for our modern vampires, Steiber decides that Meyer has actually inverted numerous traditional elements of the vampire. Edward is not a dark parasite destroying the life and virtue of his innocent victim. Quite the reverse, Edward is a paragon of Victorian morality, safeguarding his beloved’s virtue – even when she begs not only to become a monster, but to jump his bones as well. Even Bella’s transformation into a vampire is an inversion of the classic story line. Bella does not become a fallen monster, instead her transformation saves her life and enables her to raise her child.

If the vampires in Meyer’s universe aren’t about sexuality and destruction of innocence, then what on earth are they about?

“What I’ve come to see about vampires, though, is that they change with the time and culture they appear in. They’re mirrors of our fears and desires. Early bloodsucking vampires were all about the hold that the dead had on the living…The stories of psychic vampires told of people who fed on other’s energy, drawing their strength from weakening those around them… Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been interpreted as a reflection of fears of its time: of foreign influence threatening british society, of our animal nature threatening to overwhelm our reason, and of illicit and irresistible sexual compulsion threatening marriage…Meyer’s vampires – or more accurately Bella’s obsession with Edward seems to mirror our current terror of aging, our own deep fear that without flawless physical beauty, we’ll never truly be worth loving.”

The prevalence of the beauty as virtue has a major impact on the young women of today. Especially now that we live in an age of rhinoplasty for sixteen year olds and Photoshop features for personal digital cameras. Steiber is rightfully concerned that Twilight seems to whole-heartedly endorse this philosophy and export it to the millions of teen girls who read it.

“She’s taken our warped attitude toward age and made it even more extreme, and because Bella is so easy to identify with, I can’t help but feel uneasy with this. Life is change. What Bella’s so eagerly signing up for is everlasting stasis.”

Ellen Steiber‘s essay really surprised me. I thought I was in for a bit of historical info, but she really shifted my perspective on Edward’s sparkling, marble pecs and gave me another interpretation about the underlying meaning of Twilight. Her assertion that we have abandoned our disgust of the monstrous, parasitic vampires of the past in order to focus our loathing on humanity has given me plenty of tasty food for thought. Her bio at the end of the essay says that she’s also written for a book called Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series. Sounds delicious… *Adds to Amazon wishlist*

 

A New Dawn part 5: “Dancing with Wolves” by Linda Gerber March 12, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

I liked Gerber immediately, since she began her essay by confessing her membership to Team Jacob. If this blog had wider readership, I would probably start getting hateful comments right about now. Let me just reassure my dear friends on Team Edward, I think Bella and Edward were clearly destined for each other for all eternity, etc, etc, ad infinitum…ad nauseum… I just like ’em tall, dark, warm-hearted, and warm-blooded, I guess.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets talk about wolves. “Dancing with Wolves” discusses the ubiquity of wolves in the legends of cultures around the globe. From the number and variety of legends named by Gerber, the humans affinity for wolves is patently obvious. The author quotes Daniel Wood’s book Wolves, saying “these animals are “mirrors, reflecting the proximity of the primitive in human nature,” and adds a number of examples of how wolf and human social structure are similar.

The essay then discusses the prevalence in Native American legends, in particular those of the Quileute tribe, and how they relate to wolf imagery in the Twilight Saga. The legends that Jacob tells Bella at First Beach in Twilight are all authentic Quileute legends with the exception of the story about “the cold ones.” Originally, Jacob and his werewolf brethren played a much smaller role in the saga. It was only when Little Brown offered Meyer a preemptive multi-book deal, that she added the werewolf/shapeshifter embellishment upon the Quileute wolf legends in order to create the Bella-Edward-Jacob triangle.

Gerber discusses some wolfy themes that permeate Jacob and the other Quileute’s character development. Two of the most common associations with werewolves are puberty/coming of age and good/evil or evolved/primitive man duality.

Jacob, like most teenage boys, has a crisis of identity when his body begins to change. These emotions are enhanced by the werewolf metaphor. A teens body turns against them and they become a kind of half-and-half monster. Gerber points out that calling on wolves is an integral aspect of some coming of age rituals among tribes in the Olympic peninsula, which parallels the formation of the Twilight wolfpack, if not quite as literally.

Another common werewolf theme deals with good vs. evil duality. Sometimes it’s presented as evolved vs. primitive duality as well. The explosion of a human into a monstrous wolf represents an escape of either the evil or primitive, Id-like nature inherent in human beings. This jives with a Cherokee legend related by Gerber that tells of a battle between two wolves that goes on inside us at all times. One wolf is good, while the other is evil. It is up to us to chose which wolf will win and guide our conduct.

Initially, Jacob and several of the other pack members resent their destiny. They reluctantly take on the burden of being Protectors, but they are unhappy the proximity of the Cullens has robbed them of their fully human identities. Jacob settles uneasily into his new form, but he still rejects his full destiny. He refuses to be Alpha and clings to Bella, urging her to forget Edward and chose him instead.

Gerber likens Jacob’s character trajectory to that of a Spirit Journey, he “has to let go of who he thought he was so he can become who he is meant to be.” When Bella and Edward marry, Jacob attempts to avoid what is admittedly a pretty tough destiny by sinking into his wolf form and running away. It’s not until Jacob returns, claims his rightful place as Alpha, and fights beside the Cullens to protect Bella and her baby that he walks his true path. In the end, Jacob is rewarded by imprinting on Edward and Bella’s half-breed daughter, Nessie.

While this essay focused on the wolf/human connection and the ways in which Meyer’s Quileute werewolves help us to explore various philosophical themes, there was really no discussion of how the Twilight Saga has affected the real Quileutes or the reception of Twilight in other First Nations groups. It’s not a snark, since Gerber doesn’t claim to do that. She very specifically sets out to talk about wolves in Twilight, not Native Americans in Twilight. Hopefully I can come up with more on this issue later.

 

A New Dawn part 3: “Romeo, Ripley, and Bella Swan” by Rosemary Clement-Moore March 5, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

A theatre expert, Clement-Moore analyzes the Twilight Saga as an Aristotelian tragedy. According to Aristotle, the point of tragedy is to inspire pity and fear in the audience through sympathy for the doomed hero. This sympathy has a therapeutic effect on the audience, allowing us to achieve catharsis.

Twilight in Greek! How cool is that?!

Twilight in Greek! How cool is that?!

In this analysis, Bella is interpreted as a Classic Hero with a tragic flaw of being in love with a monster-boy and a tragic fate of being a danger magnet for less benevolent monsters. We feel sympathy for her through the novels as she suffers for her love. We fear no matter what she does, Bella may be fated to lose the ones she loves – her human and vampire families, her friends, Jacob, and Edward. By evoking these feelings, the novels allow us to connect with the fears we have about our own destiny and release some of the tensions they cause.

It all breaks down for Clement-Moore in Breaking Dawn as it did for many Twilight readers. Bella seems to escape her tragic fate and achieve a rapturous ending for all involved. The author decides to throw Meyer’s zillion page finale out because, for her, it doesn’t fit the pattern of the other books.

I will admit that this was my first instinct when I read Breaking Dawn. Actually my first instinct was to throw the book across the room. I think I may have done so a couple times. My cat was not amused.

What may be the problem here is that Clement-Moore is working with a philosophical framework that isn’t a fit for the subject matter. Stephenie Meyer was brought up in the Mormon church, attended Brigham Young University, and is still an active member of the LDS community. What Meyer created in Breaking Dawn is not a subverted Greek tragedy with a daring escape from fate, but instead a tale of triumphant ascension with a uniquely Mormon philosophical framework. In marrying Edward, consummating their marriage, and bearing his child, Bella is transformed into a powerful immortal being. This pattern closely matches the process of conversion to Mormonism and the path to redemption and union with God as promised in LDS teachings.

Low blow, but I couldn't resist

It’s important to note that my argument here is NOT that SMeyer set out to write a book to convert everyone to Mormonism. It is not that Mormonism is a good thing or a bad thing. It is not that Twilight having a Mormon moral to the story is a good or a bad thing. These are all debatable points and some of them depend on subjective personal beliefs.

My point is simply that Meyer has  a strong philosophical point of view and it inherently defines her writing. It would be interesting to speculate how intentionally she crafted her finale  – is it a very Mormon conclusion because she is very Mormon and that’s the framework by which she defines a happy ending or did she set out to write a characteristically Mormon happy ending from the beginning?

We will never know for sure and in some ways it less important than other questions. Questions like what does it mean that there has been so much backlash to Breaking Dawn from loyal readers? What does it mean that despite that backlash, it still sat atop the best seller lists for record amounts of time? Is Meyer a Mormon apologetic? Are some elements of the Saga a critique of Mormon thought? What does this mean for the stigmatization of Mormonism in American culture?

If it’s not already obvious, I find the Twilight Saga more interesting as a Mormon allegory than I do as a vampire adventure or a romance novel.

 

A New Dawn part 2: “The Good Girl Always Goes for the Bad Boy” by Megan McCafferty March 3, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

This was a fun essay about how the popular trope “good girl + bad boy = LUV4EVA” is used in Twilight both traditionally when Bella falls for Edward and then inverted when Bella wants to have sex with and be bitten by Edward and he resists.

“In one of the most amusing passages in the whole series, Bella says, “you make me feel like a villain in a melodrama-twirling my mustache while I try to steal some girl’s virtue.” To which Edward replies, “I had no right to want you-but I reached out and took you anyway. And now look what has become of you. Trying to seduce a vampire.”

McCafferty writes engagingly about her own bad boy crush in high school and how the old trope doesn’t always (ever?) play out in real life. On the heels of an essay that contemplates whether or not Edward is a sociopath, it seems like a subtle hint about just how seriously one should take Twilight as a dating guide. Which is to say, not at all.

Following my own post about Edward’s sociopathic and abusive tendencies, I feel kind of silly asking the question:

Is Edward really a bad boy?

...whatevs

This is the only vaguely bad@$$ Edward pic out there...

I know you’re thinking “WTF, mate? A little consistency here!” But truly, as bad boys go, Edward is kind of lame. You know, if you put aside the whole killed lots of people and wants to drink Bella’s blood thing.

He’s unfailingly polite, never swears, tries to save everyone and their Auntie Mildred from danger, and studies Shakespeare and concert piano all night while his family have hot vampire boinkfests. He has been a virgin for 100 years, people, saving it all for THE ONE to whom he would pledge his undying love and devotion. I guess I’m sort of ruined by the actual bad boy Edward from Wide Awake. Now there’s a proper bad boy with a potty mouth, a history of arrests, and an intimacy problem a mile wide.

Just like I never really fancied myself in love with Edward, I don’t think I’ve ever had a real crush on a real bad boy. Maybe I found them attractive in fiction (see above re: Edward in Wide Awake and also Eric in the Southern Vampire Series), but acting like an asshole never seemed as adorable in real life as it did in print or on a screen. Even in my pseudo-punk phase, I always liked nice boys. What can I say? I’m a sucker for that whole decent human being with a subtle whiff of mental health routine.