Thursday, January 6, 2011

Twilight: A Primer

Twilight is the first book in a series about teenagers, vampires, and teenage vampires. It is one of the most popular books of the current millennium and is written at roughly the level of a poorly-edited Sweet Valley High volume. Its author, Stephenie Meyer, seems likely to have produced it in one draft.

The book's protagonist and narrator, Bella, is a perpetually whiny teenage girl who hates herself, her parents, and her friends. Readers are expected to identify with her on every level.

Bella's love interest is the vampire Edward; he is humorless, controlling, manipulative, condescending, over-protective, materialistic, pessimistic, and snide. Readers are expected to realize that he is The Perfect Man.

Edward belongs to a "family" of vampires, two of whom pose as adults and four others that, like Edward, pretend to be teenagers. (Apparently, vampires in Twilight think it is a good use of their immortality to attend high school over and over.) Edward's father, Carlisle, is a doctor; his wife is Esme. Edward's sister Rosalie is remarkable for being very attractive even though all vampires are very attractive, while her husband-brother Emmett is remarkable for being very strong even though all vampires are very strong. Brother Jasper can influence other people's emotions, which Stephenie Meyer forgets during and after the second book in the series. He is paired off with Alice. She can see the future, with the accuracy of her visions varying by current plot convenience. Edward also has a special ability in that he can read minds, except for Bella's. This causes Edward to think Bella is unpredictable, even though she is not.

The book begins when Bella moves to Forks, Washington, a place that she hates. Forks is rainy and cloudy, and Bella hates rain and clouds. Approximately 30% of Twilight is Bella complaining about the weather. Bella moves in with her father, Charlie, whom she refers to by his first name because she does not respect him. (Bella used to live with her mother, Renee, whom she thinks is stupid.) Charlie's character traits are not saying much and watching sports. (He is also the local police chief, which does not matter to the story.)

Bella whines before her first day of school how none of the other kids will like her. On her first day of school, all the other kids love her for reasons that are never explained. Bella whines about this, and treats everyone who tries to talk to her with scorn. The one exception to the rule that everyone loves Bella is Edward Cullen, who looks at her like he hates her and then does not come back to school for a week. Bella is sad and whines about this, because she misses the one person in the entire school who was rude to her. When Edward returns, he is inexplicably nice to her, which she whines about.

One day, Bella is almost killed by a van, but Edward demonstrates inhuman speed and strength to save her life. Since she was nearly killed by a van, she is put into a neck brace and taken to the hospital. Her primary concerns at this time are, in order of her priorities: 1) her embarrassment about being seen in a neck brace 2) her jealousy that Edward is not put in a neck brace 3) her annoyance that the boy who was driving the van keeps apologizing to her and 4) trying to figure out how Edward has inhuman speed and strength. Edward refuses to tell her how he has inhuman speed and strength.

After two chapters of nothing happening, Bella takes a trip to the beach with the friends she does not like. There she meets Jacob Black, a boy about her own age who is actually pleasant. The existence of Jacob proves that Stephenie Meyer can in fact write a character who is likable, but raises the question of why she so rarely exercises that ability. After Jacob hints that he knows something about the Cullen family, Bella strategically manipulates him to get him to tell her what it is. Jacob then tells of her of his tribe's legends about as-yet-unnamed, blood-drinking, supernatural creatures, which the Cullens are the said to be. Later, Bella uses "her favorite search engine" to Google vampires.

Bella takes a trip with girls she does not like but calls her friends anyway to a nearby town to shop. Bella eventually goes somewhere on her own and, because she is a girl, and therefore has no sense of direction, she gets lost. She is set upon by some rapists or something, but just in the nick of time, Edward saves her. It turns out that he knew where she was because he had been stalking her. Bella is fine with that. By the end of the evening, Bella and Edward have discussed how Edward is a mind-reading vampire who instinctively wants to kill Bella and drain her blood. Bella is fine with that. Also, Edward and Bella are now in love for some reason.

Now that they are in true love, Edward takes Bella to a beautiful meadow, where Bella tells us again, some more, about how beautiful Edward is. They talk and talk about their love and stare at each other. This is also when we find out that when Twilight vampires are exposed to sunlight, it does not hurt them. They merely sparkle as if covered with diamonds. True story.

Edward rips up some trees and runs around to demonstrate how dangerous he is. He tells Bella how much he loves the way she smells and how he is downright addicted to her stank. He tells her she's an idiot for wanting to be with him. ("You're an idiot" is a real quote. Page 274.) Bella describes how Edward sparkles and how kissing him is like kissing a cold, hard statue. This is all meant to be sexy.

It turns out that Edward has been breaking into Bella's bedroom for months in order to watch her sleep. Bella is only upset about this because she thinks she may have said something embarrassing while sleeping. Once she finds out, Bella lets Edward stay over every single night. This is not hard to hide from Charlie because Edward and Bella are much cleverer than him.

Bella meets Edward's family. Because they are better than normal people, the Cullens are very rich. Edward's parents are stoked to meet Bella, because no one can be happy until and unless they are paired off with a person of the opposite sex. After we learn about how Carlisle became a vampire and that Edward has many CDs, it is time for Vampire Baseball.

Vampire Baseball can only be played during thunderstorms because the sound of a super-strong vampire hitting a ball with a bat is so loud. Vampires pitch and hit the ball so hard that Bella can't even see it, but even though the ball travels so far after being hit, there aren't many home runs because vampire outfielders are so fast. Vampire Baseball is so stupid.

After Vampire Baseball, on page 372, the plot finally shows up. Some evil vampires show up, and one of them decides he wants to kill Bella for some reason. It is decided that Bella should leave town, but first she needs to "pretend" to be incredibly cruel to Charlie so she doesn't have to tell him the real reason she's leaving. She then goes with Alice and Jasper to Phoenix.

Twilight somehow becomes more boring at this point, with pages and pages describing Bella hanging out in a hotel room being bored and sad. (She is not sad because someone is trying to kill her, but because Edward isn't there.) The evil vampire lures Bella away from her protectors by telling her he has her mother and must come alone to a ballet studio. Once Bella gets there, the evil vampire reveals that he does not have her mother. He also reveals his entire backstory, thought process, and evil plan in an endless monologue. A climactic fight finally occurs when Edward et al. track them to the ballet studio, but we the readers do not get to see it because Bella has been knocked unconscious.

Bella wakes up in a hospital. Her family has been told that she's injured not because of Vampire Violence, but because--wait for it!--she fell down the stairs. Imaginative! (People believe this because Bella is very clumsy. I know I haven't mentioned that yet but don't worry; if you read the book Stephenie Meyer will remind you of it on every other page.)

In the end, Bella goes back to Forks, and Edward tricks her into going to prom. As she does with parties, presents, all forms of attention, and joy, Bella hates prom. Bella tells Edward she wants to become a vampire, and as Edward does with all of Bella's hope and initiates, he says no. After almost 500 pages, the book mercifully ends.

The bad news is that there are three more to go.

For more information on Twilight, please consult these sources:
Reasoning with Vampires: Dana is grammatically editing the Twilight books with grim determination, just like someone should have before allowing them to be published.

Mark Reads: Mark provides a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the heartbreaking insanity that is the Twilight saga. I irrevocably and unconditionally love Mark.

LDS Sparkledammerung!: This is a very hilarious Twilight summary/explanation of Twilight's semi-hidden Mormon propaganda. Helpful Bjork-as-Alice jpegs!

Cleolinda's Thoughts On Twilight: Cleolinda is of the "Twilight is stupid but I still loved it!" school of thought which I respect if disagree with.

The Cracked Guide to Twilight: A good primer for all four books.

Finally, there's Alex Reads Twilight. Have you ever wanted to hear a cheeky English boy tell you all about Twilight as he reads it? Of course you have.
Click here to read more . . .

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Harry Potter Thoughts: Order of the Phoenix

I maintain that Goblet of Fire is my favorite of the Harry Potter books, but Order of the Phoenix is also way up there. Yes, it's angsty, but it's also very, very funny. It's our introduction to Luna Lovegood, so how could it not be?

I love Luna.

1) Speaking of Luna, I think the choice of Evanna Lynch is probably the second-best casting decision in the entire Harry Potter film series. The casting overall is very good--how lucky were they that Daniel Radcliffe turned out to be so talented?--so that's high praise. I say it's second because Robbie Coltrane is so perfect as Hagrid. I have my own mental version of most of the characters when I read the books, but book Hagrid and movie Hagrid are identical to me.

2) I love how Harry's escape from Privet Drive in this book is mirrored in the final book. The key to it is how everybody mocks Moody this time for being overcautious and acting like somebody might die, whereas in the last book, well, you know.

3) It must be said--all of Dumbledore's decisions vis a vis prefects are stupid. Except for making Hermione one. Why would he make power-mad weasel Draco Malfoy a prefect? Why would he do that? Why would he make Ron a prefect? Ron shows us over and over again that he's not willing to stand up to his house's biggest troublemakers, his brothers, and why would Dumbledore expect him to? I have a higher opinion of Ron's testicular fortitude than most, but I still think making him a prefect was dumb. Most of all, why would Dumbledore wish he could have made Harry a prefect? And would Harry expect to become one? He breaks rules all the time! And not just to fight Dumbledore or whatever--he breaks rules to chill out in Hogsmeade or hang out at Hagrid's hut all the time. There's no higher purpose there; it's just for fun. Seriously, why didn't Dumbledore chose Dean? Dean was clearly the way to go there.

I can't argue with the choice of Hermione, though. I guess that was an OK decision.

4) I don't particularly care for Ginny (J.K. quite often fell into the trap of "telling" instead of "showing" us why Ginny's supposed to be great), but I give her this: she's good to Neville.

5) Everyone but Harry and Ron are right: Hagrid is an awful teacher. Just execrable. Why did Dumbledore hire him for that?

I like Professor Grubbly-Plank. Also, she and Professor Sprout would probably make a pretty cute couple. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

6) The part where Harry has a conversation with Ron and Hermione about just having kissed Cho is pretty much my favorite scene in the entire series. Again: this book is funny. ("Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have," has, at multiple times in the past, caused me to laugh and laugh and laugh.)

7) OK, fellow Potter Hindsight Detectives, take-a look-a this passage from page 470 (just after Harry tells Dumbledore that he's had a vision of a giant snake attacking Mr. Weasley): "Dumbledore now swooped down upon one of the fragile silver instruments whose function Harry had never known, carried it over to his desk, sat down facing [Harry and Professor McGonagall] again, and tapped it gently with the tip of his wand.
"The instrument tinkled into life at once with rhythmic clinking noises. Tiny puffs of pale green smoke issued from the minuscule silver tube at the top. Dumbledore watched the smoke closely, his brow furrowed, and after a few seconds, the tiny puffs became a steady stream of smoke that thickened and coiled in the air. . . . A serpent's head grew out of the end of it, opening its mouth wide. . . .
" 'Naturally, naturally,' murmured Dumbledore apparently to himself, still observing the stream of smoke without the slightest sign of surprise. 'But in essence divided?'
"Harry could make neither head nor tail of this question. The smoke serpent, however, split itself instantly into two snakes, both coiling and undulating in the dark air. With a look of grim satisfaction Dumbledore gave the instrument another gentle tap with his wand: The clinking noise slowed and died, and the smoke serpents grew faint, became a formless haze, and vanished."

So . . . what was that thing? Do we ever find out? Does it tell use anything we didn't already know by this point in the narrative (that Harry's seeing into Voldemort's mind, duh)? What's "in essence divided?" Is that a Horcrux hint? Why does Dumbledore need a snake-vision-confirmation machine?

8) When Mrs. Weasley comes home from the hospital after Mr. Weasley passes the crisis point, she says that Bill is with his father now, having taken "the morning off work." The morning? Your dad gets 85% killed by an enormous evil mind-meld horcrux snake and you don't use up a whole sick day?! C'mon, Bill!

9) I like the hints J. K. drops (which you might miss the first time around) that Kreacher has left Sirius's house for a while. That's how you foreshadow without just giving away the plot in advance, Stephenie Meyer.

10) Hermione skips skiing with her parents over Christmas to hang out with Harry and the Weasleys at Grimauld Place. This continues the books' minor theme that Hermione really, really could not care less about her parents.

11) One of my favorite illustrations of the wizard/Muggle divide is when Mr. Weasley hesitantly tells his wife that he's been experimenting with Muggle remedies for his snake bite wounds: "Well . . . well, I don't know whether you know what--what stitches are?"
"It sounds as though you've been trying to sew your skin back together," said Mrs. Weasley with a snort of mirthless laughter, "but even you, Arthur, wouldn't be that stupid--"
And then Harry hightails it out of there in anticipation of a major Mrs. Weasley conniption.

12) Does Dumbledore ever do anything more awesome than when escapes his office out from the Minister of Magic's nose? ("Well--it's just that you seem to be laboring under the delusion that I am going to--what is the phrase? 'Come quietly.' I am afraid I am not going to come quietly at all, Cornelius.") I submit that he does not.

13) Harry's dad, as we learn from Snape's worst memory, was a horrible human being as a teenager. Is that what Harry would have been like if his parents had lived, and he'd been a regular, rich, talented kid instead of a poor grubby orphan? . . . Maybe his mom's influence would have prevented it.

14) This book also contains Hagrid's most awesome moment: when, Hulk-like, he beats down a half-dozen Aurors. Go Hagrid.

15) Unfortunately, this book also contains the stupid Hagrid development, Grawp. The worst thing about Grawp is not that Hagrid is stupid for trying to keep his giant brother in the woods like some particularly horrible pet, but (as Neal as pointed out to me) that Grawp has no bearing on any plot developments in the future. What was the point of Grawp, J. K.? What was the point?

16) When Dumbledore finally spills the beans about the prophecy that foretold that Harry would have to kill Voldemort or vice versa, Harry asks what power he could have that could enable him to beat Voldemort. As we know, the answer is love. (No, really.) The weird part is that Dumbledore introduces this answer by saying "There is a room n the Department of Mysteries . . . that is kept locked at all times. It contains a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature. It is also, perhaps, the most mysterious of the many subjects for study that reside there."

Really? I mean, I believe love is powerful and all, but . . . there's a room? Of love? The Love Room? I assume they don't call it that, as it would probably give people the wrong impression, but still.

17) Finally, here are some more quotes that I think are funny:

"How do you remember stuff like that?" asked Ron, looking at her in admiration.
"I listen, Ron," said Hermione with a touch of asperity.

[Re: Ernie Macmillan, the pompous Hufflepuff kid (a minor character I enjoy more upon each re-reading)] He looked around impressively, as though waiting for people to cry, "Surely not!"

"Dangerous?" said Hagrid, looking genially bemused. "Don' be silly, I wouldn' give hey anythin' dangerous! I mean, all righ', they can look after themselves--"

[Hermione thanks the boys for her Christmas presents:] "Thanks for the book, Harry!" she said happily. "I've been wanting that New Theory of Numerology for ages! And that perfume is really unusual, Ron."
"No problem," said Ron.
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