Posts Tagged ‘Tolkien’

The Final Score

In Books on October 20, 2010 at 5:34 pm

One of my boss’ students once told me that Twilight is like football everyone runs around for two hours, nobody scores, and the hordes of screaming fans keep insisting that ‘you just don’t get it’.

I shan’t get into the variety of ways in which football is different and manifestly superior to the intellectual claptrap that is Twilight – if after reading these posts you still don’t think that your time is more profitably spent removing your navel lint with tweezers, then nothing I say here is likely to convince you.  I will say that the joke doesn’t hold for the simple reason that it is in the sweeping orgy of high camp that is Breaking Dawn that someone does score.  After two books and 1,303 pages, in one bedframe-busting, pillow-shredding moment, Edward…..

……gets Bella pregnant!  In the greatest unintentional campaign against teenage pregnancy ever launched, Meyer takes a leaf out of Quentin Tarantino’s manual on storytelling and subjects us to approximately 500 pages of Bella’s gestational period, with graphic depictions of her emaciated frame, copious vomiting of blood and bodily fluids, her cold sweats, cracked ribs, and incessant internal bleeding.  Just in case that wasn’t enough to send us sprinting for our Ortho-Cyclen,  she disabuses us of the notion that the first nine months are the hardest, creating a singularly horrific birth scene, complete with a shattered spine, more vomiting, and a baby that literally chews its way out of her uterus.  Meyer introduces another gem of a plot twist in having Jacob, Bella’s erstwhile suitor/best friend, fall passionately and irrevocably in love with her daughter.  From the moment she’s born.   But not like that.

In an interview with bn.com, Stephenie Meyer told her public that each book of the Twilight saga had its foundation in a Western literary classic – Twilight was built on Pride & Prejudice; New Moon has its roots in Romeo & Juliet; Eclipse was her homage to Wuthering Heights, and Breaking Dawn was a composite of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and another work, the name of which she wouldn’t reveal.  We do see elements of those works in the saga – Edward’s belligerence in Twilight stands in for Darcy’s aloofness; the near-deaths of Bella and Edward and the exposition of Jacob’s character in New Moon translate into some elements of Romeo and Juliet; their intense need (we shan’t call it codependency) for one another in Eclipse is mirrored in Wuthering Heights, and the corrective reinterpretation of the ‘lover’s triangle’ in Breaking Dawn is vaguely reminiscent of the Helena/Demetrius and Hermia/Lysander fracas in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

There are other elements of the play at work in the story – the ragtag group of amateur actors (a.k.a ., the rustics) are represented by a group of independent vampires referred to as ‘the nomads’, and the little orphan boy who serves as the catalyst for Oberon and Titania’s power-play bickering is reinterpreted as by Renesmeé (i.e., the aforementioned womb-chewer).  However, the similarity ends there – and it’s meant to end there.  In almost every interview she gives, Meyer repeatedly says that she used these classics as a backdrop for her story – she wasn’t trying to write a masterpiece of American literature; she has no groundbreaking romantic theory that she’s trying to expound.  In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she said that she had no idea why the books have become so popular – she wasn’t writing for fame, money or art; she was writing for herself, and this important fact is something that must be considered when criticizing her work.  Breaking Dawn was written for two reasons: (1) to tie up loose ends (the magic had to end sometime), and (2) to allow Edward and Bella’s relationship to develop into marriage.

In the first point, she succeeds very well – Bella and Edward are united forever, she gets to have sex, she becomes a vampire, she manages to keep her human relationships, Jacob winds up happy, and the Cullens (and Renesmeé) are safe from the Volturi.  Everyone goes home happy – literally.  She and Edward actually walk off into the sunset together (given their diet, horses would be awkward), and look forward to nothing less than an eternity of uninhibited and unadulterated marital and coital passion.

It’s that ‘uninhibited and unadulterated’ bit that trips me up.  Now, I’m not married, so I’m going by hearsay, but word on the street is, marriage isn’t exactly 35 years of uninterrupted full-on Double Rainbow.  Why does she portray it that way?  Why does their progression into ‘the next level’ consist largely of a transition from uninhibited bliss to uninhibited bliss in South America and Restoration Hardware?  In every essential sense, the relationship remains completely the same – even the addition of significant and dramatic emotional upheavals in their lives (i.e., Bella becoming a vampire and a mother, an entire army amassing against them, and the knowledge that their ‘adult’ friend has just fallen in love with their baby daughter) does nothing to materially alter their relationship.  I get that Meyer is writing a fantasy, but this is taking it a touch far.  If everyday things like bills, work, and childcare create stress in relationships, I think it’s reasonable to assume that things like ontological transformation, motherhood, and what could arguably be classified as pedophilia are going to have the same effect, yet we see nothing of this with Edward and Bella.

I understand that it wasn’t Meyer’s intention to create a realistic depiction of contemporary love – she wanted their relationship to be extraordinary; she didn’t want Bella and Edward to have to deal with the same issues that plague real-world marriages.  But she didn’t have to eliminate relational tension in order to do that – the genre of ‘fantasy’ doesn’t necessitate the exclusion of a realistic representation of love.  Tolkien didn’t hide the fact that Arwen and Aragorn were separated for almost sixty years before they were allowed to be together; Tarzan and Jane had to work through two books’ worth of problems before they married, and even Shakespeare concedes that love is never an easy thing.  In eliminating realistic elements from the dynamics of their relationship, she makes not only their love, but Edward and Bella themselves ridiculous.  Since their respective characters are never developed or explained in terms of themselves, but almost exclusively in terms of their relationship, the removal of any common difficulties or tensions makes the relationship (and therefore they themselves) almost completely irrelevant to the reader.