But you see, just because we’ve been… dealt a certain hand… it doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to rise above — to conquer the boundaries of a destiny that none of us wanted. To try to retain whatever essential humanity we can.
Two years ago, on a random Saturday afternoon, I found myself in Borders, wandering.
If you’ve ever seen me in Borders, you’ll know that I could do it for hours. Running my fingertips over aisle after aisle of book spines with a regular vanilla latte in the other hand, wondering absently what magnificent adventures I was glossing over.
If books are your thing, then you’ll get it.
True stories, myths, legends, fireside ramblings…when push comes to shove it’s how humanity ensures the things that matter to it most are not lost in the endless maze of time and space. We want our children, our children’s children, to know who we are. Or in the very least who we wanted to be. This particular afternoon, I had walked in with a few coupons in my handbag for cheap book deals. I needed something new, something different.
Something to sink my teeth into.
Now there are some things that as a writer, but almost more importantly, as a book lover, I had pretty much prided myself on not stooping to.
- Not just buying a book because Oprah promoted it.
- Not purchasing anything that I didn’t really want to read even though all my friends were.
- Not purchasing a book written by Katie Price (I use the term ‘book’ here loosely)
- And most importantly, NEVER judging a book by its cover.
You see good books, like good men I daresay, are in every way compatible with the Christmas present metaphor. When you get to the tree, you are confronted with a plethora of choice. A myriad of both elaborate gorgeous, wrapping jobs, and ones you’d swear were done by Pete Doherty & Amy Winehouse after a night out with Keith Richards.
The wrapping though, is ultimately the great deceiver.
It can be swathed in gold paper and bows, but that matters little if the present is hideous and useless. Alternately, the one done in last week’s newspaper because the real deal was all used up on the new pair of undies for Grampa Ernie – the one that looks the least of all, contains something marvellous. Something you will love.
This however, was one case in which I was glad to be wrong.
It was on a large table at the front of the store, with a small wooden shelf divider separating each half so the display could be different either side.
Black cover, two pale hands, holding a shiny red apple.
To date, I had never even heard of this book. This apparent International Bestseller about a girl, a vampire and a love so intense it was practically a character in its own right was a mystery to me.
I turned it over in my hands a few times, intrigued. I’m a mere skip, hop & a jump from 30, I thought. This was teenage fiction. Why should such a thing appeal to me? I was past all this angsty teenagerishness, wasn’t I? Despite all of this though, it came with me on the bus ride home.
And so it was, one late weekend afternoon as I sat on the 534 from Chatswood Station to North Ryde, that I met Edward Cullen.
Now, I get this is a book.
It’s a story. Myth and made up characters on a literary ride – same as any other story in any other novel. But my writing spidey senses told me from the beginning this character would impact a reader in some way, whether for better or worse.
After all, he had everything.
Tall, pale, tousled bronze hair with a beauty unparalleled by any living man. Eternally 17.
Desperately in love with a human, and afraid of the violent creature he could become if his self control went unchecked around her.
He’s a freaking romance novel on legs (I can’t say ‘with a pulse’ cause he, um, doesn’t have one.)
Girls and women would go Lady bloody well Gaga over this one.
But still, I settled in and waited for my own opinion.
It took me two days to soak up this world of vampires and scent , self control and power, love and sacrifice, all told through the eyes of a smart, kind, no nonsense but ultimately self-deprecating 17 year old girl.
And I loved it.
Others, as it turns out, didn’t so much.
While I was out buying up one of every available volume of this series, critics everywhere had taken to stripping back the tortured soul of Edward Cullen more clinically than cheap paint off a door frame. He was too brooding, too much of a patsy, too weak, less of a man than any other character out there. Not sleeping with Bella in the first five chapters (never mind the next two books) made him pathetic, a wuss.
After all. Nobody speaks like that, nobody acts like that. No man behaves like that.
My question quickly became, since when?
Okay, okay. So strip away the supernatural element of this story.
Forget that he sparkles in the sun and could out run a bullet that’s been given a head start.
Forget that he’s apparently so beautiful it’d hurt your eyes to look at him.
Forget, too, the clichéd nature of a lot of elements within these books.
If Steph Meyer, bless her, had written these books a la Hemingway you’d have dashed off after 250 words and scoffed a Prozac. If she’d written it a la Nora Roberts, there’d have been a snowballs chance of calling it teen fiction because Edward would have had Bella in a man sandwich faster than you can say “I’m sorry, I seem to have lost my clothes”.
Why do I love Twilight?
Because at the heart of this story, things matter to these characters that should matter to us.
For one, danger and vampiness aside, Edward is honourable, and that freaks 21st century people out.
Think about it.
Honour is something we now seemingly ascribe only to things like a battlefield, not to a way of life. People who are self-sacrificing are ridiculed in many ways – because what good is self-sacrifice in a world where ‘yourself’ is really the only commodity worth investing in?
Things that used to matter to our world – like honour, or manners – just don’t anymore.
It’s not as if they don’t matter at all to us – please don’t mistake me there.
But it is as though we as a societal whole think we’ve grown out of our everyday need for them.
Unlike it once was, they are the exception, not the rule.
If you aren’t a Twilight fan of course – if you rabidly hate Twilight, that’s your choice. Nothing wrong with that at all. I can’t get into crime fiction to save my life!
One of the joys of living in the free world is just that – our freedom.
But if you are going to pass public judgement, let it be for the right reasons.
Not because it’s characters remind you of the importance of assessing your own.