Twilight Time: A Review

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I finally gave in and read Twilight. Mainly, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. If you haven't noticed (because you don't watch TV, read the newspapers, surf the net, have a teenager, know a teenager, know of a teenager, etc) this book and its three equally-massive sequels have taken over the world. Now, I'll admit that I had low expectations as I went into this endeavor. And I was not disappointed. I mean, I was disappointed, which is what I expected, which...whatever.

Yes, it is a love story. Yes, some vampires show up, and blah blah blah. But after 544 pages, I closed the book thinking "and.....so?" Granted, I haven't read the other three books. Maybe, 2,000 pages later, Bella undergoes some sort of challenge or grows in some manner that explains her current status as a heroine. But it sure doesn't happen in Twilight. Bella's main "challenge" is that she chooses to move to a different city, where she happens to fall in love with a strange boy, who happens to be a vampire. The only real drama occurs when Bella is briefly chased by a vampire bounty hunter (?) who traps her and attempts to drink her blood. But Bella doesn't fight, she doesn't mouth off, she doesn't really do anything except for close her eyes and hope that it ends quickly. Which it does (for the bounty hunter) because the aforementioned boyfriend shows up to save the day. And....scene. Whatever. Its not that Twilight is bad, per se, its just that it could be so much better. And there are already so many books that are so much better.

On that note, allow me to present my list of female fantasy heroines who are better role models for young girls than Bella Swan:

Meg Murry: Meg is the heroine of Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. Much like most young girls, Meg often feels insecure, and her insecurity leads to confrontations with classmates and teachers. She compares herself unfavorably to her beautiful mother (who just happens to be a Nobel-prize winning scientist), and worries about not fitting in due to her brilliant and famous parents, and her genius younger brother Charles Wallace. Yet, despite her insecurities and fears, it is Meg who travels through time and space, first to rescue her father from the evil planet Camazotz, then to rescue her brother Charles Wallace. Through Meg, we learn that regardless of who we are, the most important quality we can have is compassion (including compassion for our own faults).

Sally Lockhart: The first of two heroines created by Philip Pullman. I've often wondered how a middle-aged man can create two of the most vibrant and memorable young female characters, but I'll chalk it up to superior writing chops. The Sally Lockhart novels take place in Victorian England, and are not so much fantasy novels as straight-up mysteries. What makes Sally such a fantastic character is that she feels incredibly real and modern, without taking the reader out of the Victorian setting. Sally faces up to some of the nastiest characters from the darkest corners of London, using only her bravery and intelligence (and the ability to "shoot like a Cossack").

Lyra Belacqua/Silvertongue: I can go on and on about how much I love Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. Like Sally Lockhart, Lyra is orphaned at a young age. Of all the characters on this list, Lyra faces the most intense danger and personal challenges, yet arguably achieves the greatest victory. Lyra is clever, irreverant, and most of all, incredibly brave.

Vicky Austin: Unlike the other characters on this list, Vicky Austin's challenges are more internal than external (although she does face quite a bit of real danger at times). Vicky is intensely introverted but cares passionately about others. Her most important quality is her faith in the goodness in others and in humanity.

Lucy Pevensie: The first to discover Narnia, Lucy is always the voice of truth. While her brother Edmund betrays the others and the true king of Narnia, and her older brother and sister are cautious and hesitant, it is Lucy who gives herself over to Aslan whole-heartedly and saves the day (and all of Narnia).

Jane Drew: One of several children from Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence, and the only central female character. Jane has several key scenes, mainly in Greenwitch. She is taken along to a ceremony in which the women of a Welsh village build the Greenwitch - a giant figure made of twigs and leaves which is ceremonially thrown into the ocean. While the other women in the village see the ceremony mainly as a social event, Jane alone sees the deeper significance in the ritual. Jane understands that the figure of the Greenwitch is not just remote and wild, but lonely and sad, and wishes that it could be happy. Her compassion and intuition are rewarded when the Greenwitch gives a valuable secret to Jane in a dream.

Each one of these characters is tested - some multiple times. Jane Drew battles the forces of the dark, Lucy battles the White Witch. Meg Murry travels through space and confronts the Echtroi who are trying to extinguish the stars. Sally Lockhart is chased and attacked by criminals. Vicky Austin is kidnapped and left for dead in Antarctica and nearly sacrificed to pagan gods when she travels backwards in time. And Lyra Belacqua travels to the dangerous, frozen North, and then to land of the dead, where she battles a warrior angel for the release of all the trapped souls in hell. Compared to these battles, Bella Swan and her vampire boyfriend just seem silly. Each of the other characters is compelled on a journey by something greater than herself, be it promises made to friends, rescuing endangered family members, or saving the world. Bella deliberately puts herself in danger, and then relies on Edward to save her. I see thousands and thousands of young girls are reading Twilight. And while I'm happy to see them reading anything, I just feel that they could do so much better.

Posted by oballard at 7:39 PM  
3 comments

"and...so?"

That's exactly what I felt like after giving my time to Twilight. Give me a character who has a backbone. Someone who's only apparent (and very uninteresting) characteristic is her clumsiness and ability to stand around in a school parking lot and/or lunch room and staring at people. Yawn....

I never bothered with the other books. I just can't do that to myself (or my husband, who put up with me complaining through the first one!).

December 12, 2008 at 9:06 AM  
Sanguine said...

Well, my take as a guy might be a little different, but I would say that I thought the later books of the series were better. If you are waiting for Bella to break out of her victim role and stop being drug around by her controlling boyfriend, well, it does eventually happen but it takes a while.

I thought the books were worth my time (which really wasn't that much), and I did personally feel the first was the worst.

December 14, 2008 at 12:34 AM  
Loree said...

Great post! I haven't yet given into Twilight...tempted, and based on this and some other things I'm hearing, I'm not sure it's worth my time. You know, I could be watching more Law & Order re-runs or something.

December 14, 2008 at 5:40 AM  

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