The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

A New Dawn part 4: “My Boyfriend Sparkles” by Anne Ursu March 7, 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.]

In this essay Ursu details how the Twilight Saga illustrates truths about first love. Bella’s feelings for Edward are typical of a teenager locked in the throws of their first romance. Each segment of the essay is titled with phrases pulled straight from the mouths and diaries of young lovers every where: “He’s Not Like Other Boys,” “When He Touches Me, It’s Electric,” and “I’ll Love Him Forever.”

A less conventional heading is “My Boyfriend Sparkles.”The books are fantasy, but the best fantasy tells us something about reality[,]” says Ursu. “The author Lloyd Alexander said “Fantasy is a good way to show the world as it is. Fantasy can show us the truth about human relationships and moral dilemmas because it works on our emotions on a deeper, symbolic level than realistic fiction.”” Hmm…sounds familiar.

Ursu takes this a step further and points out that the fantasy of Twilight also serves to obscure less acceptable elements of the story. “There are aspects to Bella and Edward’s relationship that, when translated into the real world become disturbing and dangerous.” Namely Edward’s supreme power over Bella (while she’s human, anyway) and Bella’s supplication before him. This lack of equality is certainly not a healthy ideal for teenagers to emulate. Stephenie Meyer seems to know this and allows Bella to become a super-powerful vampire in the final novel, creating balance not just in the Bella-Edward relationship, but in the Twilight universe as a whole, resulting in total resolution of all conflict by the final pages of Breaking Dawn.

Bella’s transformation and Happily (Raised to Infinity) Ever After ending can be interpreted several different ways, depending on what you believe Bella and Edward’s relationship is supposed to represent. If, as Ursu posits in this essay, it represents the deepest, most obsessive throws of first love, there are still differing conclusions that can be drawn as to what exactly their happy ending means.

One way to interpret Bella’s rise to power and ultimate triumph is that first love can bring two people together, but the relationship can only be whole and permanent if the partners are equals. As such, their love is a source of strength that enables them to reach personal actualization and face down any dangers they may encounter. Even if that danger happens to be an undead army lead by ancient Italian vampires with superpowers.

However, Twilight’s ending can also be interpreted as an encouragement to throw everything to the wind for love, which, although a staple of innumerable volumes of literature, poetry, music, and art, has its pitfalls when practiced in real life. On a personal note, as someone who moved half way across the country to a city where she had neither friends, family, nor job prospects because of love, these pitfalls can be pretty heartbreaking in their own right. This isn’t to say that it isn’t worth it, but simply that the transaction is not as painless as the Twilight Saga would have us believe. Bella gets to keep her human family, her vampire family, her child, Jacob and Edward as a reward for having enough faith to sacrifice even her life for love. In reality, the rewards are more bittersweet.

I believe it is with good reason that the author’s conclusions are a bit pessimistic about the implications one might draw from the Twilight Saga. The fantasy doesn’t stop at the vampires and werewolves, but goes right to the heart of the story. For Ursu, first love that lasts forever is about as realistic as a sparkly boyfriend.

 

Why Fantasy Matters January 29, 2010

As a geeky, bespectacled, and isolated 11-year-old, I was swept off my feet by a guy named Harry Potter and plunged into a lifelong love affair with the fantasy genre. I ripped through Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards Series, Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books and Sherwood Smith’s Court Duel Duet. I read the Christianity-centric Lord of the Rings, Narnia Chronicles, and His Dark Materials Series, though with less enthusiasm.

Even after most of my peers had moved on to more adult reading material (or no reading material at all), I came to regard these books as old friends and read them over and over all through junior high, high school, college, and the present, seamlessly moving between books about the philosophical roots of Islamic terror and magic spells.

It was Buffy the Vampire Slayer that bridged the gap between my childhood experience with fantasy and my adult worldview. I was late to the party, having been too young to watch during the original broadcast in the late 90’s and the out of sequence syndicated episodes were only peripherally on my radar in the early Aughts (the end of my high school career). All of Buffy and Angel were out on DVD when I bought BtvS Season 1 to prevent myself from falling asleep before finishing my crushing load of Arabic homework and/or going crazy in student housing.

A miniscule and diffuse number of friends have shared in my love affair with Harry, Buffy, and the rest, but most of them lost interest over time. By and large, fantasy isn’t something consumed proudly and publicly by the bulk of my acquaintance. I can count the number of people I talked to about Harry Potter in college on one hand – and my email was lumos@blahblahu.edu.

In the past I considered this a good thing, because I couldn’t explain why it affected me so deeply. Had it become a widely known facet of my personality, it probably would have been grounds for classification as, at the very least, someone who couldn’t be taken seriously – which is ironic, because the fantasy realm is where it’s imminently possible to hash out the most serious thoughts about life/death, good/evil, and the pursuit of the good life.

Fiction in general invites the reader (or watcher, depending on the delivery mechanism) to interpret elements of a story metaphorically and/or allegorically in order to find deeper meanings within the text. Fantasy is especially rich source material because it eschews not only historical fact, but also what is known to be possible in the real world as well. Not only did this story not happen, it couldn’t ever happen in this reality. Conflicts are magnified to epic proportions, allowing for easy access to each facet of an issue. Your high school boyfriend doesn’t just turn into a jerk after you sleep with him, he actually loses his soul and tries to suck the world into Hell (BtvS Season 2, natch). Now, what have we learned?

Fantasy invites us to explore different dimensions of meaning on a larger than life scale in a universe unbounded by what Buffy might call “our Earth logic”.

So, why does this matter when we actually do live in a universe bounded by Earth logic? It matters, because fiction suggests hypothetical structures for our worldview and thus shapes the way in which we perceive and interact with reality. It is important that the drafting board upon which we test the bounds of our Earth logic be big enough for them to stretch until they break. So that when our fantasies stop being reflections of reality and come to create realities of their own, they are worthy.