16 May 2014

+JMJ+

Reading Diary: Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

. . . The date for my transformation was tentatively set for shortly after my graduation from high school, only a handful of weeks away.

A sharp jolt of unease pierced my stomach as I realised how short the time really was. Of course this change was necessary--and the key to what I wanted more than anything else in the world put together--but I was deeply conscious of [my father] Charlie sitting in the other room enjoying his game, just like every other night. And my mother, Renee, far away in sunny Florida, still pleading with me to spend the summer on the beach with her and her new husband. And Jacob, who, unlike my parents, would know exactly what was going on when I disappeared to some distant school. Even if my parents didn't grow suspicious for a long time, even if I could put off visits with excuses about travel expenses or study loads or illnesses, Jacob would know the truth.

For a moment, the idea of Jacob's certain revulsion overshadowed every other pain.

The most insightful review of the Twilight series I ever read was by a grown man who read it because he was curious about what his daughters and his students (both male and female) were going on and on about. He made the excellent point that if you don't understand what the characters are feeling, then you simply will not understand the story. All the characters' thoughts and actions will only make sense in the light of their emotions.

I learned that the hard-but-fascinating way last week, while dealing with a crisis of power ballad proportions at work. It has been cleared up now, but while it hung in the air, it consumed me. For days, it was literally the last thing on my mind before I fell asleep and the first thing I thought about when I woke up. And though I went about my life as usual, being both adult and professional, I couldn't stop feeling the storm of emotions right beneath the surface. So when I started Eclipse last weekend, I happened to be in the perfect mood to click with the constantly overshadowed Bella Swan.

And now I think I like Twilight . . . 
Go on and hate me if that makes it easier for you . . .

"See," I explained. "I don't care who's a vampire and who's a werewolf. That's irrelevant. You are Jacob, and he is Edward, and I am Bella. And nothing else matters."

His eyes narrowed slightly. "But I
am a werewolf," he said unwillingly. "And he is a vampire," he added with obvious revulsion.

"And I'm a Virgo!" I shouted, exasperated.

The main thing to know about Eclipse is its love triangle. Bella is torn between her boyfriend Edward Cullen and her best friend Jacob Black, and because the latter are also supernatural creatures who are sworn enemies, the implications are huge. Now, I normally hate love triangles with the heat of a thousand suns--which is one reason it took me so long to get to this 2007 novel--but I find myself forgiving this one. For Bella's conflict isn't simply which hot guy to choose, but how to reconcile two parts of her life that react to each other like fire and ice. (Insert the Robert Frost epigraph here.)

But first let me undermine my own observation by declaring myself to be on Team Fire . . .

For one brief, never-ending second, an entirely different path expanded behind the lids of my tear-wet eyes. As if I were looking through the filter of Jacob's thoughts, I could see exactly what I was going to give up, exactly what this new self-knowledge could not save me from losing. I could see Charlie and Renee mixed into a strange collage with [Jacob's family] . . . I could see years passing, and meaning something as they passed, changing me. I could see the enormous, red-brown wolf that I loved, always standing as protector if I needed him. For the tiniest fragment of that second, I saw the bobbing heads of two small, black-haired children, running away from me into the familiar forest. When they disappeared, they took the rest of the vision with them.  

One thing I did like about the second Twilight novel, New Moon (which I ultimately loathed), was the way Bella tried to work through her heartbreak over Edward with some "emotional exercises" based on the new feelings she was developing for Jacob. And I loved it because what she had with Jacob was so natural: its seed was planted the first time they met as children, and despite a hundred supernatural efforts to uproot it, their love still managed to grow. Jacob makes this exact point one novel later, in Eclipse, when he says to her: "I was the natural path your life would have taken . . . If the world was the way it was supposed to be . . . if there were no monsters and no magic . . ."

And "monsters and magic" is probably the best summary you will ever get for what Bella has with Edward. There's a sense in which he was never supposed to enter her life . . . a logic in which he is just a rock in the stream of ordinary human existence. Stephenie Meyer herself helped me to see this, by explicitly comparing him to Emily Bronte's Heathcliff, who, as I argued in an old Character Connection post on the Wuthering Heights "patriarch," was ultimately never more than a ghost. The natural and the supernatural were never intended to collide the way they did when Bella and Edward fell in love and Edward's very presence turned Jacob into a werewolf. (Nota bene: Edward transforms Jacob long before the former even thinks about transforming Bella.) But now that they have, what are we to make of the result?

That is, now that we understand that the entire Twilight saga should have been Bella and Jacob's love story (and in a way, still is), how should we see Edward? Again, Meyer herself guides us here, with her imagery of nature being overshadowed . . . or rather, the sun being eclipsed . . . by "something so strong that it could not exist in a rational world." While I'm not totally on board with her choice of words, I get what she means. For it was while I was grappling with the pettiness of vampires and werewolves calling each other cheap names that it occurred to me that they weren't merely feuding neighbours, but believers whose doctrines were in direct opposition. Edward and Jacob are not just rivals for Bella's heart, but also for her soul.

"Jake, it doesn't have to be that way."

His teeth ground together. "It
is that way."

. . . "Will you never forgive me, Jacob?" I whispered. As soon as I said the words, I wished I hadn't. I didn't want to hear his answer.

"You won't be Bella anymore," he told me. "My friend won't exist. There'll be no one to forgive."

If I were in Jacob's place, dealing with a best friend's determination to convert to a religion whose adherents have historically threatened ours, I'd refer to them as "bloodsuckers," too. And if I were in Edward's place, in love with someone from that religion who desired to become Catholic as much as he desired to be married to me, I would be so smug around the members of his old community that they'd want to kill me as well. =P Either way, I can no longer hold the wide-ranging effects of Bella's "selfishness" against her any more than I'd say that the Virgin Martyrs were "selfish" for choosing a higher reality over what would have made their families happy.

It's not a perfect parallel, of course, but that's only inasmuch as Edward is not a perfect Christ figure. And it doesn't change the fact that he's the Christ figure.

You may need a moment to process that. 
I know I did . . .

* * * * * 

Now for the reason I decided to read Eclipse last week . . . While writing my Reading Diary entry on Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran, I brought up an old idea of mine that Twilight is so popular among young girls because it has given them a "language" for talking about sex in a way that wasn't coarse or vulgar . . . but romantic and even chaste . . . when it suddenly occurred to me that another group has benefited from these new codes as well. If you've ever even sniffed at Edward and Bella (Mea maxima culpa, obviously!);then you know what I mean. Like the Virgin Martyrs before them, today's young girls are still hated for their innocence . . . and mocked when they reveal a longing for a love that can last for eternity.

Young girls don't have the best reputation these days, and there is much about them that is stereotypically silly . . . but I think that there is also something about them which is archetypally good. And I don't want to continue speaking a language that holds that good in contempt. From now on, whenever I "speak Twilight," I want my accent to be romantic.

Last year, in response to the Twilight movies' wonderful depiction of Charlie Swan, I changed all Twilight-related posts' "Team Jacob" label to a "Team Charlie" label. Now I'm considering making another big change . . . to "Team Twilight." Stephenie Meyer, you have won me over at last.

* * * * *

Finally, I don't usually link back to a blog I call "That Place," but I thought these two old posts might be interesting to Amy helpful in tracing the "development of my thought" on Twilight and the Virgin Martyrs . . .

From 2008: Vampires vs. Virgins; Twilight vs. Light

From 2009: Because It's St. Lucy's Day

Image Source: Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

4 comments:

Sullivan McPig said...

I can't say I agree with everything you say (Edward a Christ figure... Ehm, nope! Not for me.), but I can see where it's coming from.
And you're thoughts on Eclipse are a lot more worked out than my review I can tell you ;-)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

My thoughts on Eclipse were about six years in the making! It would be worrisome if they weren't worked out by now! ;-)

DMS said...

How interesting! I love that you enjoyed this one and that it took you by surprise. :) It is always fun when books do that. I have recently been considering reading these books, because I don't think I gave the series a chance when I tried the first one many years ago (I was comparing everything to Rice's vampires). Sometimes- our mindset can make all the difference.

Loved hearing your thoughts and I am closer to reading the whole series now. Thanks!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

"Surprise" doesn't quite cover it. "Shock" would be more accurate! LOL!

When I think about why I didn't like Twilight the first time around, I realise it had a lot to do with a friend who asked me to tell her the story before I was through with the novel. She reacted really negatively to Bella and Edward, and I think her reaction rubbed off on me a bit. That embarrasses me a little, because I like to think I know my own mind better than that, but I'm glad I got a second chance with this series. =)