I am finally getting around to posting some items that have been sitting on my desktop for ages. I wrote this particular post about two years ago. My conclusion: The movies are better.
At the beginning of every semester, like a lot of teachers, I ask my students to fill out identification cards with vital information like their name and appropriate nicknames, their email (and more reliable alternate email addresses). But I also ask them to tell me a little bit about themselves beyond the standard info of the major, year, and hometown. "What is the last book you read?" I ask them and the responses are fascinating. I noticed a trend last year, almost all of my female students were reading this book called Twilight. I have to admit that the Twilight phenomenon began out of my radar, and I didn't even really know that it was a book series until the trailer for the film came out. The trailer captivated me, as do most vampire films, so I figured that I would be a responsible literature professor and read the book first. Because the book is always better than the movie, right?
Stephanie Meyer is a practicing Mormon and Mormon views on chastity and marriage shape the relationship between human Bella and vampire Edward. In fact, they provide an easy solution to what I think of as the Superman problem. For those of you not familiar with this, it's the argument that Superman could only have sex with Lois Lane when he temporarily renounced his powers because otherwise, in the heat of passion, he would be unable to control his power (and super seed) and could potentially kill her. This is how Edward explains to Bella over the course of three books why he can't have sex with her. And to Bella's tremendous frustration this also curbs their kissing sessions to "church kisses." The tension that this produces in the novels (not to mention the films) is fantastic, produces some of the best moments in the novels, not to mention the films. But this is the tension that lies at the heart of so much good literature, when characters come so close to what they want only to see it pull away and never come back. This is the tension that makes Wuthering Heights such a classic of doomed love, and it makes sense that this is Bella's favorite book. Heathcliff and Catherine share a violent, destructive and selfish love, and it ultimately destroys them. There's no question when you are reading Wuthering Heights that these two characters will never be together in life, in fact the novel goes ahead and lets you know at the very beginning. The idea of an eternal pairing is one that belongs beyond the pages of the ending, it's not for the reader to witness or experience.
There's really no question that the writing in the Twilight series is deplorable, and it gets worse from novel to novel. The sole exception may be Eclipse, which stars the character of Jacob, a werewolf who loves Bella and offers her the option of a different life, a human life. A life where they grow old together surrounded by children and grandchildren, and embrace together the unknown of the afterlife. For a brief moment in this series, it seems that Meyer will take that brave step into the uncertain ending and maybe not give her protagonist everything she wants. This is what makes Tuck Everlasting a poignant and wonderful book for young readers, because it cautions us that eternal youth is a form of stasis and teaches that growing up and growing old is vital to history. Instead, Meyer opts for the Mormon eternal wedding, the idea that earthly vows persist eternally in heaven. But more troubling is Bella's total resistance to and repulsion for growing old. The idea of being nineteen disgusts her. Disquieting hints of child marriage emerge here. This rejection of growing up in a young adult novel is not new but it is interesting and alarming that in Twilight it doesn't move toward a broader lesson or insight about life, responsibilities, family and history. Instead, Bella gets eternity with her young lover, which marks Bella's final disengagement from life, from the real world.