The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

A New Dawn part 12: “To Bite, or Not to Bite; That Is the Question” by Janette Rallison March 26, 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.]

Most of what I read about the Twilight refers to destiny or fate. According to Janette Rallison, the books are instead all about free will. This jives with a few statements I’ve read from SMeyer. On her website, Meyer discusses the importance of the apple image on the first novel’s cover. Apples have been featured in myriad stories through the ages, but always with a similar meaning: Choice. She also discussed the importance of Free Will in Mormon doctrine in an interview with Lev Grossman from Time:

“[A]lthough Mormons avoid caffeine on principle, [Meyer] drinks the occasional cherry Diet Pepsi. “It’s about keeping yourself free of addictions,” she explains, sitting on a huge couch in her living room. “We have free will, which is a huge gift from God. If you tie that up with something like, I don’t know, cocaine, then you don’t really have a lot of freedom anymore.”

Rallison shows us that Meyer overtly communicates this idea to the readers when Carlise tells Bella that all anyone can do is decide what to do with what they were given in life. Even Alice’s future sight is dependent on the decisions of others. Rallison points out that this is Meyer telling us again that “no one’s fate is set in stone in the Twilight series. The future is made and undone with every choice a character makes.”

I’m going to stop with the free will vs. destiny stuff right here. It’s a good essay. Go buy or take the book out of the library and read it.

I’ve been derailed (Again!) by someone totally missing the manipulative element behind Edward letting Bella see Jacob. Rallison attributes this to Edward’s saint-like understanding. I’m still pretty sure that the whole point was to make himself appear saint-like and make Bella feel that she had to get rid of Jacob in order to be good enough for perfect, angelic Edward.

He's doing it again!

Then she turns around and says that Jacob is not above manipulation when honesty and logic don’t work. Yes. He did try to manipulate Bella. I will yet again point out the fact that when he did, he totally stank at it. People hated Jacob for that stunt. He’s not a skillful manipulator, for the simple reason that he’s usually an honest guy who doesn’t try to manipulate others. Allow me to point out (AGAIN!) that Jacob only tried it, because he realized that was how Edward was winning! He was manipulating Bella’s pathological need to throw herself under the bus before hurting anyone else.

Even thought Bella says Edward isn’t playing any game, Jacob knows better:

“He isn’t manipulating me”

“You bet he is. He’s playing every bit as hard as I am, only he know what he’s doing and I don’t. Don’t blame me because he’s a better manipulator than I am – I haven’t been around long enough to learn all his tricks.”

“He isn’t manipulating me!”

“Yes, he is! When are you going to wake up and realize that he’s not as perfect as you think he is?”
Eclipse p594

Maybe it would be different if this was an exploration of open relationships or something. I’m sure there’s a pile of fan fiction about various Bella, Edward, Jacob arrangements. But that’s not what the Twilight Canon is about. Edward, Bella, and Jacob are all up front about wanting to be in a monogamous coupling. Both Edward and Jacob are trying to get the other out of the picture by any means necessary. Neither is above manipulation to achieve their ends. So why is Edward getting called honest and understanding while Jacob gets tutted at for doing the exact same thing?

Ugh. I’m going to pull out a legendary Kansas quote and and simply say: “That’s right…Dollar signs.”

All of this discussion of who is manipulating whom is not about who is right for whom or which guy Bella should have chosen. Of course Edward loves Bella and vice versa. Of course Edward was the right choice for Bella. She may have loved Jacob too, but she always knew she loved Edward best, last, and forever. I just wish people weren’t quite so hard on Jacob. Sometimes I wonder if people don’t hate him so very much because he brought out the nasty side of Edward. It’s hard to see your knight in shining armor get tarnished.

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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.