Sunday, September 15, 2013


In David Brin's "Uplift War" there is a pivotal chapter where the Tymbrimi Teenager Athaclena is pondering her feelings for the human Robert Oneagle. She thinks she may be in love with him, but they are different species, and it could never work. That is unless she completely changes herself and becomes human, an action that she is capable of. She also knows that it will be irreversible. Being rather rational for a Teenager Athaclena eventually comes to the conclusion that doing this for a boy is a really really bad Idea and that the most they can be is comrades in arms. This chapter probably makes Atheclena a very good role model, but completely ruins the romantic subplot of the book.  And really as the reader I was disappointed by Athaclena's rational deliberation, I wanted to see her fall head over heals and do something stupid, the chips fall where they may.

And this is exactly the point where "romantic" focal characters Like Bella Swan and Arial (AKA the little mermaid) do the stupid thing and decide yes I will change everything about myself for my handsome prince. Granted that at least in the original version of the Little mermaid things don't work out so well, it is a cautionary tale and Arial is punished for this moment of irrationality.  Bella, like the Disney version of Arial, however gets her happily ever after. What we have here is not a role model but a cautionary tale that has been subverted with a happy ending.

There is also another important detail David Brin can allow Athaclena to make the sensible choice because it is not what the book is about. You could remove this subplot entirely and still have a coherent story. Apply the same thing to Twilight and you wouldn't have a story. Bella's discovery that vampires are real followed by her quest to become one is what the story is about.

Feminist cirques of twilight tend to complain a lot about how it encourages traditional gender roles. To some extent I have to say that it does. But making the story do otherwise would really feel false. Firstly we are in small town USA, the fact that there are more old fashioned ideas of gender are somewhat expected.  Secondly Most of the important female characters are vampires. They where literally born in another age, mostly in an Age which had much stronger ideas of gender roles. From where I sit the real issue is not that Bella does not make choices but that many feminists do not agree with the choices that she makes.

Edward and Bella's relationship also gets a lot of flack. To this I would say that yea, Edward does start out as a rather messed up character. Hay he is a guilt ridden vampire who has been brooding for 90 years, he has issues. Much of this is based on highlighting things Edward says through the books. Highlighted they do seem to support the argument. But do they still support the argument in context? Very early on Bella complains that the students at Falks High School seem to not get sarcasm. And really there later conversations with Edward are loaded with it, and both of them seem to be aware of this, and playing with it.

While Edwards obsession with keeping Bella safe does go over the top repeatedly, It is also thwarted repeatedly. Generally Bella will find a way to go and do what she intended to do any way. Yes in the real world breaking up with him and getting a restraining order if necessary would have been a much more sensible choice. But we are not in the real world here, but in a fantasy world where the dangers that Edward sees are real dangers and not irrational fears.

More importantly About half way through the 3rd book Edward has his epiphany and starts treating Bella as more of an equal. By this stage he know that he really can't stop her doing whatever she has set her mind on doing, and no longer tries to do so. He has finally resolved a character flaw. After that their relationship is carefully negotiated, and both get some of what they wanted from it.

However there is one Feminist  Critique of the Twilight saga that I do agree with. The Warewolf imprinting on children thing is very disturbing. I would note that the creepiness factor does come up in the story several times, and it does get to the point where the characters are protesting too much. In any case any pretense that this isn't an instance of Wife Husbandry is pretty well undone in Breaking Dawn when Jacob gives Renesmee the Quileute version of a promise ring. But despite this it still seems to fit the fictional world that it takes place in. It is a fictional element in a fictional story about a fictional race that is not quite human. Most readers will realize this and know that it was not intended to apply to anything in the real world.

All that out of the way, What do I think of the writing. Occasionally it does drag on a bit. But this actually makes it feel more authentic. We are in the head of a girl who likes reading classic English literature. She has read Wuthering Heights so many times that the binding is almost falling apart. The flowery delivery fits, and at the end of the day I liked it. Though I will admit to Breaking Dawn getting less and less satisfying the more I think about it. The following alternative conclusion (taken from this amazon review, does indeed sound like a much better story:

Bella would have actually wanted to marry Edward. She would have cared about the decorations and Alice would have developed into a real sister, and not some overblown party planner. There would have been real sex - not smutty, but real, nonetheless. Pregnancy would have disappeared. Bella would have had to make the choice - between having babies and having Edward. She would have been cruel to be kind and given Jacob his freedom. Jacob would have grown and gotten over her, and moved on and found real love with someone who loved him back - maybe even Leah, since that ground was laid pretty well. Bella would have spent months being a newborn, filled with nothing but bloodlust. Jessica would be her first victim. The Cullens would have worked tirelessly to help her transform, and we could have gotten to know them all so much better. Rosalie might have died, doing something selfless for once in her life. That would have been doubly meaningful if Meyer rewrites the whole series from Edward's POV (ala Midnight Sun, which in rough draft form is head and shoulders better than Breaking Dawn.) Bella would have to give up Charlie and Renee for a while, but eventually they would be able to be in her life, altho in a much more limited way. There are a million possibilities that could have had a very nice happy ending, with a bit of bitter thrown in with the sweet.