The time has come my little friends to talk of other things. Specifically, to begin our new segment here on Tyrant Is Terror: The Bella Wallpaper, a chapter by chapter analysis of the Twilight series as a work of horror literature. Why Twilight? Well, because I picked up three of the four books for free after helping out with a used book sale, that’s why. Also because people have asked me about it, and as a person who runs a blog that is sort of about the horror genre, it kind of feels like something I’m going to have to tackle.
This won’t be your usual sporking/riff fest, though. There’s more than enough of that concerning this series. Instead my goal is to see how Twilight works as a horror story, and how it doesn’t. I’m sure there will be some snark because I’m unable to write without being a bit of a jokester, but the aim isn’t to rip the story to shreds – it’s to dissect it, thoroughly and without ill intent.
Format wise: I’m going to take notes as I read each chapter, then elaborate on those notes a bit before posting them. So sometimes we’ll be jumping around from random quotes with small bits of commentary to longer paragraphs of more in depth analysis. It’s basically going to be a series of annotations.
So let’s dive in with chapter 1, shall we?
“When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.” ~ Stephenie Meyer, Twilight
The first book in the Twilight series begins with a short preface that shows us a scene from later in the book where our narrator is being attacked by vampires. Yep, it’s the “here’s a taste of the action, now flashback to how it began” writing device that so many people loathe, and yeah that can be a little corny. It does effectively set up some doom and gloom on the proceedings, though – we know some dark shit is going to go down from the start of the book. It establishes a foreboding tone, and even allows for some dramatic irony and foreshadowing. So all in all, not a bad start.
Then we get to the first chapter proper, and it quickly becomes clear that Bella has some problems from the outset of this book. I’m not a psychologist, so I feel kind of weird diagnosing her, but I think at the very least she has depression. Since the book is written from her first person perspective, you get everything filtered through her lens – and boy is she negative. There’s a nihilistic streak in Bella from the start – she can’t name one positive trait of a thing without immediately following with its downside, and she often talks like she longs for death. She reads like someone who’s suicidal.
I am worried for you, Bella.
There’s some good symbolism at the start: Bella is travelling from bright sunny Phoenix to gloomy Forks. In Gothic tradition, Forks is appropriately atmospheric, having a “…gloomy, omnipresent shade.” Like… that’s actually some good description? Stephenie Meyer can sometimes make a good turn of phrase. Phoenix, in addition to being a real world town name, has a connotation with rebirth and self-destruction. We know from the preface that Bella is self-destructive, and given that the plot has vampires in it, Bella is headed for rebirth as well. She’s a phoenix that is leaving the heat and the flames – i.e. at the start of a second life.
Bella has cruel thoughts about pretty much everyone, herself most of all. When talking about her mother, who is giving her a very heartfelt and teary goodbye, Bella describes her as “…my loving, erratic, hare-brained mother…” Again, for every positive trait she can think of, Bella has to rattle off at least one negative trait, if not more. And Bella is at her nicest when she’s with her mom – she has even more venom for her father, and her views on her classmates are nothing but negativity.
One of the big questions I have from this chapter: why the fuck is Bella going to Forks in the first place? Her parents don’t seem to understand the choice, and both tell her she doesn’t have to make the move, so it’s clearly HER choice to make the move despite repeatedly saying she hates the town. She claims she’s exiling herself there, but why? The book better answer this question.
Meyer comes up with some good images, but her writing can also be a bit clunky. “This I was expecting too,” for example, is something no teenager would ever say. They might write that way, but they wouldn’t talk or think that way, and as far as I know this isn’t a diary. The dialogue is generally pretty bad too – Meyer’s strong suit so far seems to be gothic imagery and the thoughts of a person overflowing with contempt and despair.
Bella looks at herself in the mirror and notes how unhealthy she looks: “Maybe it was the light, but already I looked sallower, unhealthy. My skin could be pretty – it was very clear, almost translucent looking – but it all depended on color. I had no color here.” This is pretty good gothic description – it paints Bella as doomed from the start. She almost looks like a vampire already.
The fact that she’s looking in the mirror at her “pallid reflection” is also very old school Gothic horror. For those not in the know: mirrors are used a lot in Gothic horror stories (and other stories as well, but the way I was taught this symbol originated, or at least gained popularity in, the early Gothic horror novels) to represent the duality of humanity. Good and evil, light and dark, that sort of thing. So, intentional or not, this is some good Gothic grounding for Twilight.
“I didn’t relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth was that I didn’t relate well to people, period.” – Bella Swan, being more self-aware than some might give her credit for.
“It was impossible, being in this house, not to realize that Charlie had never gotten over my mom. It made me uncomfortable.” Bella finds her dad’s obsession with her mother post-divorce to be creepy. I know enough about this series to find that a little ironic.
When heading out to school, Bella says, “I donned my jacket – which had the feel of a biohazard suit…” I am not kidding when I say everything she thinks has some dark twist to it. Jesus, kid, it’s just a goddamn jacket and you’re just going to a rural school. Calm the hell down. She doesn’t, though, as Bella’s first thoughts on seeing the small town high school are, “Where was the feel of the institution… Where were the chain link fences, the metal detectors?” Girl is actually longing for a prison/asylum atmosphere. It’s like she wants to be in a Gothic horror novel.
“Inside, it was brightly lit, and warmer than I hoped.” Is Bella a vampire already?
“I can do this, I lied to myself. No one is going to bite me.” That is genuinely a clever line. Good work Stephenie Meyer.
Later Bella describes one of her peers as “…a gangly boy with skin problems and hair as black as an oil slick…”, and I have to wonder: are we sure Bella went to Forks and not Innsmouth? But in all seriousness, once again Bella views other people in an immediately cruel and unflattering light. She may not be a vampire yet, but she’s not a nice person. She may have reasons for being who she is, but right now she’s the kind of person who might sorta deserve to face some peril, if you catch my drift. Bella would not escape the wrath of Jason Voorhees is what I’m saying here.
On the “I don’t wholly hate this character” side of things, though: Bella is actually a little snarky. I mean, it’s all venom and kind of unnecessarily cruel, but she gets a good zinger once and a while, and I appreciate that. What can I say, I grew up watching Daria.
Meyer’s first description of the vampires is actually really good, to the point where I doubt her claim that she’s never read vampire lit before. “Devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful…” is a good phrase to describe the undead – it’s very Lucy Westerna. I also like that the vampires all have old timey names. Emmet is at once a horrible vampire name and a GREAT vampire name. Bella even makes a note of it: “Strange, unpopular names. The kinds of names grandparents had.” This was intentional!
Bella goes on to say “’They are… very nice looking,’ I struggled with the conspicuous understatement.” Again, a genuinely good line. Meyer’s writing has its moments!
I like that the other kids are creeped out by the pseudo incest of the Cullen kids. They’re adopted, but it’s still squicky.
“Just as I passed, [Edward] went rigid in his seat.” Yeah I bet he did.
“I’d noticed that his eyes were black – coal black.” Very creepy detail for Edward.
All the boys that are trying to court Bella are annoying and kinda creepy. I can understand why she’s a bit repulsed by them. Each one is coming on too strong.
Forks has mandatory PE for all four years of high school, making Bella state, “Forks was literally my personal hell on earth.” I agree, Bella. I agree.
Overall, chapter 1 is actually not terrible. It’s got some good hooks, and while there’s a bit of clunkiness in the writing here and there, Meyer is capable of crafting some really good Gothic imagery, and even gets in a couple of pretty clever lines. Bella has abundant flaws and biases, but that actually makes the first person narration more interesting. This is a person who seems predisposed to darkness, cruelty, and self-destruction – which makes her similar to a lot of Gothic horror protagonists.
Wow. That’s actually quite fascinating. I’m very glad you’re doing this – the series may have done a fair bit of damage, in a couple of ways, but I like hearing about the virtues of things I’ve written off.