Friday, December 25, 2009

Twilight: New Moon by Stephanie Meyer

Fall in love with someone, and you fall in love with them in time. Whatever they experienced in the past makes up who they are. The present is wrapped up in the life of the other. The future, presumably, is about the constant renewal and tending of that love. Even a temporary relationship entails a marriage of sorts - circumstances and ambitions bound together, for whatever reason, for however long.

Having spun out a love story in "Twilight," Stephanie Meyer then has to necessarily expand the universe she created into a larger world. Simple stories, like simple organisms, must at some point grow in order to survive. A love affair between a teenage girl and a vampire caught forever between his teen and adult years may go on, but for how long? When Bella, the teenage narrator of "New Moon" asks early in the novel, "What's so great about mortality?" she is angry that her love, Edward Cullen, will not transform her into a vampire, presumably to share immortality with her. Her ambition is that the love she feels for Edward go on, and not be tainted by age or circumstance.

But an unwelcome reminder of Bella's humanity drives Edward to leave - for her sake - and unwittingly triggers the next step in the story: Bella's association with Jacob, the werewolf guardian. Jacob appeared briefly in "Twilight" and planted the seed of the enmity between the werewolves and the "cold ones" - the Cullen vampire clan. Bella, caught between Edward and Jacob, of course chooses Edward. But this sets in motion her meeting the Volturi, an ancient group of vampires who require that she eventually become one of the undead.

Confession: I did not enjoy "New Moon" as much as "Twilight," frankly. Bella's birthday party, cut short by the accidental spilling of her blood, seemed forced, in light of "Twilight's" climax when Bella's blood was everywhere. The extended period during which Bella sleepwalks through life after Edward's departure went on much too long, and was wisely cut short by the makers of the movie. (They also introduced an e-mail correspondence between Bella and Alice which helped move the story forward.) The writing also seemed rushed - it would be nice if Stephanie Meyer could find some other word to describe Edward besides "beautiful," over and over and over. Word choices are often overwrought and overly dramatic. I also was put off by the almost camp attitude of the characters toward their supernatural surroundings. "Sure, I had a lot on my mind - revenge-obsessed vampires, giant mutant wolves..." Bella observes, before asking:

"What kind of a place was this? Could a world really exist where ancient legends went wandering around the borders of tiny, insignificant towns, facing down mythical monsters? Did this mean every impossible fairy tale was grounded somewhere in absolute truth?...Wasn't one myth enough for anyone, enough for a lifetime?"

It's in the best interests of a writer of the fantastic not to ask a question like this, not to point to the zipper down the monster's back and ask the audience not to notice.

Having said that, there was many things I enjoyed. As I said, for this story to go on, it has to grow. And Meyer gives us a higher vampire hierarchy and the idea of something even beyond immortality. When Bella and Carlisle begin to speak of the hereafter for vampires, she reminds us of why we were originally spellbound by Edward - his fallen angel character, the idea that he might be redeemed, presumably by Bella's love. We also have Jacob, a reluctant (teenage!) werewolf who takes on the guardianship of his people, and presumably, Bella.

Reading these books, the phrase that pops to mind is courtly love - and it probably comes from the inspirations for these two stories - "Pride and Prejudice" and "Romeo and Juliet." Passion burns sweetly, but only so long as it is passion and nothing more. Bliss is eternal, if not confused with the day-to-day business of love. Anyone can look like a god as long as you don't have to watch him pick his teeth after a meal. Which is why these books have attained their status in culture - they're safe. Vampires who hunt animals and only attack other vampires, werewolves who attack vampires and not humans, and a woman caught between the two of them. "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds..."

It is also a mark of the author's ambition when she tackles the eternal, as she does in the words of Carlisle. "But never, in the nearly four hundred years now since I was born, have I ever seen anything to make me doubt whether God exists is some form or the other. Not even the reflection in the mirror."

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