A confession: I have seen Twilight the film, and have read the series of books. The film was so very bad that I couldn’t bring myself to watch the rest of the saga, but the books managed to keep me reading in the way that a trash romance novel may occasionally. Essentially I enjoyed it, but in a ‘I am fully aware that this not high-brow literature’ kind of way.
However, there are several problems I have with Twilight, particularly Edward’s stalkerish behaviour (Edward confesses that he snuck into your room and watched you sleeping on numerous occasions, and you think this is romantic, Bella?! What the hell?) – but the one I’m going to discuss in this post is the watering down of the vampire myth.
Almost every vampire book or TV series has their own take on the ‘facts’ about what vampires are and how they behave – for example, in Buffy the vampires burst into flames on contact with sunlight, while in Stoker’s Dracula the Count is able to walk around perfectly well outside in bright daylight although it is suggested that his powers decrease during the day. So, I’m not upset that Stephanie Myers has her own take on the vampire myth, but, in my opinion, she has handled two major things pretty badly.
Vampires don’t sparkle:
There have been a lot of vampire stories where the vampires are able to tolerate sunlight – Dracula and Being Human among them – but the premise that vampires can’t go out into bright sunlight because their skin shines like “diamonds” and would expose their existence is, well, ridiculous.
There are a lot of ‘sparkly vampire’ jokes out there on the internet, and I think this speaks volumes for how well the idea has gone down among the
geek online community. I hear that this is partly due to the special effects used in the films (which were so good, I can’t even remember Edward sparkling in the first film – apparently he did).
The Count from Sesame Street - I'd trust his number skills if I were you... (Image from icanhascheezburger.com)
The thing is, this could have worked – if the writing had been better and the characters had more depth, I may have been able to suspend my disbelief a little more. But as it was, the sugary (and repetitive) descriptions of Edward made me think ‘oh, now he’s super perfect and he sparkles like a beautiful diamond too – yeah, right‘.
Which nicely leads me on to:
Vampires are supposed to be scary:
Even when Bella is almost killed by James in the first book, the character of James is not really scary (it’s pretty obvious that Edward and friends can and will take him out without much problem – Bella only gets herself in any trouble at all because she is monumentally stupid). Also, the Volturi, the main antagonists through the latter half of the series, are a distant threat for the most of the story – more looming politicians than real ‘bad guys’.
There was only one incident in which I remember feeling any of the threatening edge of vampires in Twilight. In book two (I think), when Bella runs across the vampire Laurent unexpectedly in the woods, and suddenly realises that he has not, as she thought, become a nice non-human eating vampire since she last saw him. Here Myers manages to actually build a little tension before the werewolves come along and take Laurent out. But, one memorable scary moment in four books is just not enough, and the final ‘conflict’ was a massive anti-climax – any tension that was built up fizzled out very quickly.
Compare that with Being Human, the British TV series in which a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf share a flat. Here, they also have a modern take on the vampire myth. One of our three main protagonists is Mitchell, a ‘likeable’ vampire – he has rejected drinking human blood and is generally a charming guy. He tries to redeem himself from past deeds, but carries a very obvious darker edge and is on several occasions drawn back into a world of blood, sex and evil power games. And he’s one of the good guys.
Now that’s scary!