The Twilight Zone: Part 1
If you've been hibernating under a rock for the last couple of months (or years), then I should probably introduce you to what could be the most exciting thing that has ever happened to the literary world since J.K. Rowling. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, a series of spectacular books, finally came to an end last weekend with the release of her fourth book, Breaking Dawn -- the conclusion to the literary phenomenon now sweeping the whole world.
Let me start from the very beginning. I admit that I wasn't even aware of Twilight until a few months back. When you live in a third world country like ours, books are not something that you can just buy on a whim. So even if I hungered for some intellectual stimulation that came in paperback form, I would just deny myself the satisfaction of going to the nearest bookstore to spare myself the trouble of going broke.
When I arrived here in the U.S., my hunger was finally satiated. Here, I could buy a book without feeling guilty, and my brain, where I feared dust motes have permanently taken residence, is now all sparkly and bright. At last, I'm giving my brain the workout it deserves. I read Twilight after my nephew lent me his copy. After reading the first few pages, I found it entertaining, not my usual read, but it was something to while away the time. It came across as juvenile, probably because of the intended readership (it was written by Stephenie Meyer to appeal to young-adults, not bored 30-something moms). The characters were in high school for God's sake, and my idea of a great vampire story had already been written by Anne Rice (and she has written not just one, but ten). But I read on, and suddenly, I was hooked. You could probably throw me in the middle of the ocean as shark bait – I was that hooked.
Of course, I've known all along that this book (as well as the succeeding three) is no Foucault's Pendulum. In other words, even a 10 year old would be able to follow the plot and not go, "Duh?" In short, there's no intellectual mumbo-jumbo here, no profound Proust-like symbolism to the narrative. But regardless of how intellectually accessible it is (meaning, anybody with a below 100 IQ can probably grasp it), I grudgingly got swept away. I'm no hypocrite, so if I enjoy a book (in this case, all four books), then to hell with my Literary Criticism professor who mouthed post-structuralism, Jacques Derrida, and Roland Barthes, in between puffs of her Marlboro lights.
In a nutshell, Twilight, which was first published in 2005, revolves around two main characters, Isabella "Bella" Swan and Edward Cullen. Bella is ordinarily human, while Edward is extraordinarily immortal, a 17 year old undead living in our world for more than a hundred years along with the rest of his "vegetarian" coven. By "vegetarian" I mean that he and the rest of his coven have shunned human blood (but with a lot of extreme sacrifice and self-restraint), opting for animal blood instead. In Twilight which is the first book of the series, the main conflict is how these two people could possibly fall in love what with their humanity and immortality creating an irreconcilable chasm between them. But of course, when one has been bitten by the love bug, vampire or not, one has no choice in the matter. Edward is torn between his deep love for Bella and his thirst for her blood, while Bella, the typical "every girl", quite clumsy, prone to bullheadedness, and perpetually unaware of her attractiveness, falls helplessly and irrevocably in love.
Well, indeed, how can one not fall in love with Edward? No woman who has ever read Twilight could stay immune to the inhumanly perfect beauty of his face and his "soul" (if he has one, that is, being a vampire and all). Even among his kind, he is unusually gifted; having the ability to read minds, as well as possessing talents that can make any woman (undead or alive) swoon. Bella, while quite infuriating in her clumsiness and stubbornness, is also a gem of a character, like the daughter that any mother would want to have, or for a guy, an ideal, non-finicky, non-wishy-washy girlfriend who could love unconditionally, as well as passionately.
Meyer knows her characters so well, weaves them in and out of the plot effortlessly, and spins a tale that is hard to put down. Let me make it clear though that Twilight is not just all about the glory of forbidden first love and syrupy, romantic declarations. It is also heart-in-your-throat exciting, and the plot expands to other characters who challenge Edward and Bella's love as well as pose a threat to their very lives.
After my foray into the first book, I then lined up at the bookstore for the succeeding two, New Moon and Eclipse. New Moon focuses the spotlight on Jacob, a werewolf who also falls in love with Bella. Complications arise, strong friendships are formed, and our hero and heroine find themselves in a Romeo and Juliet type of desperate sorrow. In the book, Jacob's pack mentality is explained, proving to readers that Stephenie Meyer's tale is not one-dimensional nor does it suffer from lack of imagination. The La Push werewolves give the story a lot of bulk (literally too, as they are impossibly huge), while the existence of the Volturi, the vampiric version of the "royal family" who enforces vampire laws, plays a crucial and chilling role in this book's conclusion.
Before I get to my review of Eclipse and my verdict of Breaking Dawn (which will be in Twilight Zone Part 2), I would like to mention that like any successful book, and in the tradition of Harry Potter (HP), Twilight the Movie will soon hit the theaters (D-day is on December 12, 2008). I don't know how to make of this, what with my, er, okay, I'll admit it, obsession with Edward and his godlike beauty. Robert Pattinson, the Brit actor who played Cedric Diggory in the HP movie will be Edward and I'm wondering if he can pull it off. If you read the book, Meyer's description of Edward's dazzling face could be summarized into two words: ultimate perfection. And so Pattinson, although not lacking in the looks department, has to fill some impossibly perfect shoes. Bella on the other hand will be played by Kristen Stewart (Panic Room, The Messenger, Into the Wild) and I think that she is fitted (well, physically, she looks like how Bella is described in the book) for the role.
Regardless of how the movie will turn out though, what's important to me is how I feel when I re-read the books – and that's with a thud-thud in my heart each time I turn the pages. And I say, no enterprising Hollywood producer can take that away from me.
(To be continued)