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Twilight: I Was Not Dazzled

I have to begin this review of Twilight with a disclaimer. I have only read the first book in the series. That’s important and counts as an initial strike against my review, because I happen to agree with James W. Thomas, lit scholar at Pepperdine and author of the forthcoming book Repotting Harry Potter that there are far too many people who have written off J.K. Rowling without reading all 4100 pages of J.K. Rowling. I’d hate to be one of those people who are missing the greatness of one particular series of books because I haven’t experienced them in full.

Still, two things lead me to proceed with this review.

One, if the literature is great, it can be shown to be great – or at least have a few inklings of future greatness – in the first portion of the series. Two, if the series is any good, the first book should at the very least keep me reading, wondering what will become of these characters. Even “page-turners” and “penny dreadfuls,” after all, make you want to get to the next page. And in the case of Twilight, current editions have page one of the second book readily available for the reader after the epilogue. But I closed the book, not caring one bit about the sneak-peek into New Moon. I might also add that, in stark contrast to Harry Potter, Twilight has not inspired volumes of academic analysis and college courses exploring its literary merits.

There are many who enjoyed Twilight, and I do not want to disparage their experiences. Everyone loves an exciting story, and I have no gripe against occasional mindless fun. While I found this book neither fun nor exciting, your mileage may vary. But when considering Twilight’s artistic merits, it fails miserably.

By the time I was halfway through this book, it seemed to me that the wisest course of action would have been to put down the book and begin actually looking for Bella. It would have saved my boredom, and perhaps her life. In a few hundred pages, her heart sped up and stopped so many times, it’s cause for serious concern. I work in cardiology in my real life, and I think she needs to come into our lab and get a defibrillator implanted.

Therein lies one of the many artistic problems with Twilight. The same default words, expressions, and phrases are over and over, and if ever the cliche, “beating a dead horse” were poignant, this is it. Bella’s clumsy and gets faint around Edward, who is perfect. And dangerous. And if you forget either of those things, never fear: these two characters will remind you on every page of the book.

So, no – I was not “dazzled” by Edward’s “perfect/glorious/godlike/angel face” and his “dark/golden/ocher eyes,” nor did my heart go into weird rhythms and stop when meeting any of the female vampires. Andrew Osenga’s review got this right. Remove this incessant, uncreative motif, and you lose the majority of the book. Meyer cannot pass up an opportunity to glory in the beauty of Edward, and it gets nauseating as Bella nearly faints – and momentarily faints once! – and goes into frequent bouts of tachycardia.

Very little happens for 400 pages, until we get a jet-tour through an utterly predictable ending which I’m guessing most readers saw coming. Not only the plot, but any poignant theme in this book is not just blurry, but non-existent. In great literature, one finds great themes: self-sacrificial love, mercy, forgiveness, good vs. evil, etc. But in Twilight, a bunch of stuff happens, and that’s about it. We are taken through the melodramatic thoughts of a 16-year old girl who intends to give up her entire life for an infatuation with a creepy, 100 year old vampire who is obsessed with Bella for no other reason than that she smells yummy.

There is zero depth to any these characters. On top of the fact that vampires – vampires – bored me to tears, none of the book’s characters has a unique voice. There is no change in speaking style from one character to the next. To make this even more painful, it’s written in first person of Bella – which means the entire story is a “voice,” and everyone talks exactly like Bella thinks. You’d think that with characters well over 300 years old, there’d be a few interesting voices, that something in the way they speak would indicate that there’s something more to the character. Alas, we find no such thing. And there’s no subtlety in the character development. We don’t come to know characters by their unique actions or their singular voices, but by the same tired descriptions.

I do not care about the characters of Twilight. When I first met Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment), I was immediately compelled by his tortured psyche. When I first met Charles Wallace (A Wrinkle in Time), I knew I wanted to learn everything about this amazing little boy. When I first met Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter), I knew I’d be fascinated by this enigma for seven full books. When I first met Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights), I knew I’d encountered an intriguing, disturbing character. But there is nothing compelling about any of Twilight’s characters.

Is there any redemptive value to the story? It’s hard to say for sure. In the first place, I’d argue that the artistic excellence of any work of art contributes significantly to its redemptive value. The work itself must be beautiful – and calling one vampire “beautiful” 37,000 times in 500 pages doesn’t count. We could argue that there is a battle with sinful nature, depicted in the Gothic vampires. The world of the Gothic is a vivid portrayal of fallen humanity (think Jeckyll/Hyde, Frankenstein, etc.), and with a small number of vampires are fighting their desire for human blood, you could say this holds true for Twilight as well. But the struggle against sinful nature in the world of the Gothic has been done so many times before, and so much better, it’s hard to justify the poor artistry of Twilight for that reason alone. If this theme can be found in the stories, it is heavily, heavily muted by the drama of teenage infatuation.

In fact, the fundamental problem I see here is that the sappy romance completely overrides anything mysterious, anything that would hint of an encounter with Faerie, a journey through the Perilous Realm. Unless I missed it because I was too distracted by all the beautiful vampires, the novel operates at no deeper level than the surface story. There is no “journey toward gestures, pictures, images, rhythms, metaphor, symbol, and at the peak of all, myth” (Clyde S. Kilby, Forward to Christian Mythmakers). It seems devoid of much apart from a romance that involves the perfect-looking undead.

I’m sure the story gets more exciting in the sequels. There’s bound to be more revelation about the history of the vampiric subculture, and I’m guessing there’s some conflict ahead with those werewolves. I’ll never know, because I’ve no intention of reading the next volume.

We should call Twilight what it is: the first successful campaign by a publishing company to market a book as “the next Harry Potter.” But successful marketing is all there is to it.

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