The Twilight Experiment: Day 4

Four days. Four days and I am still alive. Still breathing. Battered, though.

My verbal apologies for what I am doing to myself have gotten even better-rehearsed. When we have visitors they don’t even make it through the door before I have told them that I’m doing this for science, for fame, for knowledge. For the love of little apples. How I will get millions of hits on my blog (still waiting, btw.). How the fans finally won’t have any arguments anymore. How I will sleep more soundly, having finally solved the last big puzzle of humanity.

Needless to say, it is a lonely life.

Okay. The morning of Day Four dawns. We haven’t got much in the way of plans, which is a perfect excuse for me to slouch off to the bathtub and read.

Someone very wise once said that spaceships travel at the speed of plot. I guess you have to add that he also was the creator of a sci-fi television show in order for that to make sense, so yeah: he also created a sci-fi television-show. My point is that Bella’s thoughts travel at the speed of what is convenient.

Here’s the thing. In the first book Bella’s pretty fast on the uptake when it comes to the whole vampire thing. Edward’s fast, strong, attractive and he skips school when the sun’s out. What’s missing from the picture is that he doesn’t happen to be the quarterback for the Forks High football team. Enough to make Bella’s devious little mind tick. So she gets suspicious, asks the local mysterious native gullible teen for some inside info on native legends. Bam! The Cullens don’t like to go on the reservation. And they’re cold. A lot. Bam again! They have to be vampires. Easy as pie.

Book two: Jacob Black has these friends. They hang out a lot. Slavishly follow their leader, almost like dogs. The wolf is the sacred animal of the local tribe, as a matter of fact they even have legends about being descended from them. (Sons of bitches, all of them. Let me tell you: cleverly disguised racial slurs lie underneath it all!) Suddenly there’s huge wolves in the woods and Jacob doesn’t want to talk to her anymore (finally an intelligent reaction). And then Jacob comes along and tells her that something pretty strange has happened to him, but he can’t tell her, because there’s some weird shit going down in his head. And Bella is like: “Oh… I guess he doesn’t like me anymore, just like all the other sane people. I mean, he couldn’t possibly be a werewolf, they’re, like, mythical.”

I see.

The only logical explanation is that Bella has the power of Selective Disbelief +3. No, wait, there’s another one: possibly this woman, Stephenie, appeared to her in a dream and said that werewolves don’t exist. Edward’s sparkly shoelaces were with her and since Bella was very ecstatic to see them she believed Stephenie. Yeah, that has to be it. It’s the shoelaces’ fault.

Anyway. Aside from Bella’s highly selective… uhm… mind, the story takes its utterly predictable course. She falls in love with Jacob. Slowly, dragging it out for as long as possible, because otherwise this book would have been 57 pages long instead of the joy-filled 497 that it ended up having. And even then she doesn’t even say it, or think it with that sorry little excuse of a brain that she has, because that wouldn’t make the third book be any fun. Hah! Excuse my brittle and mirthless laugh. So she kinda falls into liking with him. Or something. Loke, I think might be a good term. Because although she is all about how much like a brother he is to her, she also goes on about his russet skin and delectable smell and beautiful eyes. And his biceps, mustn’t forget the biceps. I know that Stephenie Myers has at least one brother and if this is how she thinks of him then yuck. But before Bella can commit mental incest, Alice shows up because Bells finally managed to near-kill herself convincingly enough for it to look really real.

I guess Alice was hoping too.

Alice is disappointed, however. Bella is still very much alive and kicking (unlike the logic centers of my brain) and so they have hot lesbian sex. Okay… not so much. Ninjas come in and kill them both. No. Zombies come… I give up. (Just trying to include more potential target audiences.)

What actually happens it that Alice arrives and points out quite rightly that Bella must be some sort of ultra-dense supernatural magnet. I’ll let you decide what she means by “dense”. Then Rosalie, Edward’s adopted sister (the intelligent one in the family, since she can’t stand Bella) snitches about Bella-baby’s apparent demise to Edward and he decides to off himself. But first he calls, just to make sure that he’s got an actual reason for the vampire-assisted-death that he is about to experience. Jacob picks up the phone, because he happens to be standing in the right place at the right time, and off goes Eddie to Italy to ask the Volturi, some sort of vampire aristocracy, to kill him. To make it more convenient for the reader this contingency plan of his has been mentioned earlier in the book, so no one is confused, not even Bella.

Of course Bella saves him, meets the Volturi and goes back with Edward and Alice to Forks, where she has a lot of explaining to do. Not least of all why she believed Edward’s asinine story about not loving her in the first place and why she continues to believe it for quite a while after they are back. Yes, you heard me right. Doing what only Bella can do, she wilfully misconstrues every. single. thing. Edward says to her after their reunion. If it weren’t so exasperating it would be quite funny, I believe. Funny in a sad, Stephenie-needs-a-higher-word-count way, granted – but funny.

I can see now why the scriptwriter of Twilight: New Moon did what she did. Only way to save the story, really. Because when Bella realizes that she has been seeing visions of Edward in situations of extreme danger because she subconsciously believed that he still loved her, all realism finally goes out of the window. Preposterous, really. The idea of Bella having a conscience, let alone a subconscious… yeah… almost funny, isn’t it?

So the story ends. Bella has finally worked out that Edward still is her very own cuddly vampire and all is sunshine and happiness. There are still questions, true, like for example why no one is cross with Rosalie for almost getting her brother killed. Or why Bella’s father doesn’t put a bullet through Edward’s attractive head. Or why Bella keeps on living without writing “remember to breathe” on her palm. Questions upon questions. Maybe Eclipse will hold the answers to them, although I doubt it. It’s probably all about shoelaces.

For now my brain is safe. I’m too lazy to go out and shop and I haven’t bought Eclipse yet. Maybe a day off will give me some time to recuperate. At least that’s what I think. Best laid plans… never happen.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 2

It’s early in the morning and I’m going shopping. Cat food. We’re out and Cat needs to eat. I’ve got Twilight with me, the book that I think will be my steady companion for the next few days, if not weeks. The rules of the experiment are clear. I only read when I’m out and about, to maximize exposure. Goad the haters, if you will. Destiny is about to take a crap on my plans, but I don’t know that yet.

I’ve got a headache. I don’t think that it is caused by my reading material, especially seeing as I’ve only read for about two minutes at this point, but I can’t be sure. What I am sure about is that I am feeling uncomfortable. I’m walking down Leipziger Straße, a medium-sized shopping street near our place. In the afternoon the streets will be packed with shoppers, but right now it’s relatively quiet, which allows me to read as I walk. Later in the day something like this would be rendered impossible by the necessity of dodging people. I am used to reading as I walk; it doesn’t take much concentration to do both, and I hardly ever run into lampposts. But try as I might, I cannot pull off the trick of holding the book in such a way that no one can see the cover. You remember, the German cover looks the same as the English one, so I’m easily spotted. I remember having read about cloth book jackets aimed at grown-ups who want to read the Harry Potter books without being seen, and resolve to get or make such a device.

The book drones on. Bella is currently busy misconstructing everything in her path. Ah… Bella, what a girl.

Bella Swan: idiot, danger to herself, grump par excellence. Also, and I quote the Wikipedia here:

“Bella is described in the novels as being very pale with brown hair, chocolate-brown eyes, and a heart-shaped face. Beyond this, a detailed description of her appearance is never given in the series”

Aha. I’m on page 57 now and I know that Bella is 5 foot 4, slender but not athletic, that her lips are slightly disproportionate… I could go on for quite a bit. Who writes this shit? Just for once I don’t mean Twilight, but the Wikipedia article. What do these people want when they speak of detailed physical descriptions? Measurements in millimeters?

And Edward is very attractive. Very. Attractive. That’s about as far as Stephenie has gotten, no mention of his shoelaces though. (And I know it’s unfair to make fun of Mrs. Meyer for being called Stephenie, but… really… Stephenie? Next it will be Nychole or Makynzi. When will the mothers of this world learn that they’re not doing their children any favours?)

I get back home. My headache has swollen to inhuman proportions, just like Bella’s stupidity, and I am beginning to suspect that the book is to blame after all. In a desperate effort to save my life I down two paracetamol tablets, lie down on the couch… and continue reading. I never said that Bella had a monopoly on the idiot thing.

Thanks to my extended sicktime I read the entire book in one day. That is, the entire book minus the thirty-odd pages that I got done on the day before. My brain doesn’t ooze out of my ears, so the physical side effects aren’t as bad as I feared.

But my mind… my mind is hurting from deep down in the logic centers.

Bella Swan. Bella. Swan. You see… Bella is sullen, antisocial and clumsy. These are, I swear to God, her dominant character traits. Her only character traits, actually. A real charmer, our Bella. And the two worst things about her are that a) she’ll always, no matter what the situation may be, assume the worst about her fellow human beings and their opinion of her and b) that the woman shouldn’t have lived past her first year given how clumsy she is.

Hypothetical situation: Bella comes home to Phoenix after a long stay in Forks. Her mum is overjoyed, throws her a surprise party, refurnishes her room and gifts her a car. This doesn’t happen in any of the books, but I swear that if it did, Bella would come to the conclusion that her mother didn’t like her anymore. Why? Go figure. But this girl spends about half the book alternately moping or crying over the latest, absolutely imagined insult. And yes, I know, we’ve all been teenagers at some point, and stuff like that can happen in real life, but not that much. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that Mrs. Meyers is only trying to push the word count, but I get the bad feeling that she actually thinks teenage girls behave like this. If that were true then it would be a miracle that the human race hasn’t collectively committed suicide yet.

As to the clumsiness charge: yes, you heard right, Bella should have died of dropping a piano on herself at the age of fourteen months and three days. The world would be a happier place if she had.  But she didn’t, and so we get Twilight. And a scene where she hits herself in the face with a badminton racket. Herself. Face. Badminton racket. For those of you who are just asking themselves what my problem is: please, pretty please, go to the garage, or the attic or wherever your family keeps sporting equipment, and get a badminton racket. Everyone has one of those lying about somewhere. Softball will do at a pinch; ask the neighbours if you must. Hold it in your hand… and try to hit yourself in the face with it. You’ll see that it is a lot harder than you think. Bella must be some kind of contortionist genius. For someone who seems to take unearthly delight in minutely planing and describing every movement needed by Edward to scratch his perfectly attractive bum, Stephenie Meyer could have put a little more thought into that one. And I’ve had enough phys ed classes in my life to know that there are a lot more creative, not to mention likely, ways to do yourself harm.

But it’s not only sports. Bella also breaks into a sweat when she is faced with walking off the beaten track, literally this time. A short, five-minute hike through the forest and the girl is all bruises and cuts. Which makes the idea that she faints if she sees so much as a single drop of her own blood even more ridiculous. There are some sights that even the excessively squeamish will get used to after the two-hundredth time. But I suppose it’s just so funny to have a protagonist that is afraid of blood and falls in love with a vampire. Hahaha.

I won’t go for the feminist angle here because… I just don’t care. Bella is weak and stupid and deserves to die, but I would feel the same about a male character like that. And I don’t care that this is an often-propagated stereotype that gets overapplied to the fairer sex. Don’t. Care. Just saying that. In case you’re wondering.

It’s late now. Past midnight, and I’m getting closer to the end. Bella has finally gotten all the myriad misunderstandings that were keeping her from her favourite hematophile out of the way. Everything is peachy except that she also is being chased by a tracker named James. A tracker, as we learn, is a vampire that specializes in finding people and won’t give up until he has found, killed and eaten them. And Bella’s got a dinner invitation from him. She’s the main course. Edward Cullen doesn’t want to tell us why his family of seven strapping vampires won’t stand watch over Bella’s house until the creep shows so that they can kill him; I suspect his reasons can be summed up as: because the author said so. And because Mrs. Meyer said so we get the extra bitter-sweet parting scene and Bella gets whisked away to Phoenix, because getting her away from her (vulnerable) father and closer to her (vulnerable) mum makes, like, sense. In Phoenix, Bella lays on the sullen extra thick because her favourite Cullen isn’t there, and because that’s not embarrassing enough she also gets it into her head (let’s be fair here, yes, I know, she actually gets tricked) that James has her mum and the only way for Bella to save dear old mum is to go to James alone for a hostage exchange. All because James has been such a reliable and trustworthy fellow all along. Bella is full of great ideas…

… can anyone explain to me why she doesn’t tell anyone? I mean Alice can, like, see the future, maybe she can help

Oh, I get it. It’s because the author said so. Sorry. My bad.

The rest is easily told. Bella almost gets killed. Edward comes to her rescue at the last possible moment (probably waiting in the wings until James has his teeth in her, for maximum dramatic effect) and everyone lives happily ever after. Everyone except me, because I know now that I will have to read the other three books as well.

Call me a glutton for punishment. Call me a woman of science. Call me an idiot. But, to quote Babylon 5: Never start a fight, but always finish it. Stephenie Meyer started it. I will finish it. And besides I really, really want to know how that whole demon-baby thing will work out.

The Twilight Experiment: Day 1

I slide the book over the counter, cover down, and look at the cashier. A middle-aged woman – very short red hair, glasses, and the distinct air of a book-snob about her – looks back at me. My ruse hasn’t worked. She knows immediately what I’m buying. My mind is racing, imagining that the only thing that’s keeping her from saying something is the fact that the copy of Twilight that I’m about to buy is in English while she is German. I want to blurt out that I’m buying this thing, this literary abomination, for the sake of an experiment. For the sake of science, so to speak. Really quite self-sacrificial of me. But in the end I don’t say anything, not even hello/thank you/goodbye. Better to let her think I don’t speak German.

Outside of the bookstore I don’t have much time to look at the slim paperback that I just bought. I need to meet someone and I’m in a hurry. Also I’m not that keen on actually starting this little experiment of mine. Someone could get hurt.

My brain, for example.

Rewind… I’d seen Twilight: New Moon a while ago and thought that it had possibly set a new record for storyline-atrocity. But only just possibly, there’s always Bloom. Looked good though, can’t deny that. And then there was the thing with the other readers, sane people one and all, people whose judgement I trust, people who seem to have taste (you know who you are). And they had read Twilight. And New Moon. And the rest. Not only had they survived the experience, they had also said things like “reads well” or “it’s sort of fun, in a guilty pleasure kind of way”. And that planted the seed of doubt. Twilight, scourge of high fantasy, read by millions upon millions of teenagers. Was it really that bad? Did I have a right to participate in the ongoing Twilight discussion trashing without having read a single word of it? Does Bella Swan have a single redeeming feature? I don’t believe in guilty pleasure, at least not very much. If someone says something is a guilty pleasure he or she usually means that it is good, but doesn’t want to admit to thinking that in the company of others. Here in Germany Harry Potter is a guilty pleasure, see?

We have a saying in Germany which roughly translates as “eat shit, millions of flies can’t be wrong”. It doesn’t translate very well, but still serves to illustrate what is at the core of this little experiment: What if millions of flies aren’t wrong?

Back to Day 1: I meet the person I was going to meet and get a very disapproving frown when I mention what I have just done. Twilight, well actually fantasy literature as a whole, has a bad standing in Germany. Escapism, nonsense, childishness, these words are spoken much quicker and with less kindness here in the country of sheep. Intellectual people read suspense novels, because when the gardener kills Lord Adolfstein by shoving him into the paper shredder that’s, like, real, you know.

I’ve heard all of it before and gotten inured to the attacks of the literary elite by now. Still I try to explain. “It’s because I finally want to have an informed opinion. I don’t want to be talking out of my arse all the time.” Only three days later I will be ready to launch into a well-rehearsed speech on the subject of why reading Twilight was such a spiffing idea.

In the train on the way home, I open the book for the first time. I keep it on my lap, bending over in order to still be able to read. The cover of the German edition is identical to the English one; if I hold the book up like I normally would, people might notice what I’m reading.

I only skim the acknowledgements. Usually not my style, I tend to assume that authors have put some thought into whom they thank, but Stephenie Meyers’ acknowledgements are longer than some books I’ve read. It takes Jonas to point out that she thanks her “online family” at fansofrealitytv.com. That explains so much.

“I stared without breathing across the long room, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and he looked pleasantly back at me.”

It’s not the first sentence of the book, that honour goes to something bland and incredibly convoluted, but if it were it would easily win the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, probably for several years in a row. It’s just that kind of sentence. I can’t even begin to describe what is wrong with it, there’s just too much, although the part about “pleasantly looking back” certainly makes up a good deal of the overall horribleness.

Two paragraphs down, 434 pages to go. Suddenly I’m not sure if I can do this. Yet I turn the page and read on. Once I’m in the flow it isn’t too bad. The atrocities keep coming, but they somehow get drowned out by all the filler. And there’s a lot of that. Mostly descriptions of how Bella hates the world in general and human beings specifically. Such a charming, vivacious personality! I already want to adopt her. Still, the filler isn’t thick enough to submerge the very, very frequent descriptions of Edward’s attractive voice. And his attractive skin. And attractive hair. He probably also has attractive shoelaces, but before I get to that part I need to stop reading in order to get off the train. I’m glad to stop – this book is so full of attractiveness that it makes my brain ache.

I have done my scientific duty for today. It doesn’t make me feel great, but at least I don’t feel too dirty.