Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why all the Breaking Dawn hullabaloo?

I’m unashamed to admit that I loved Twilight. I stayed up till 4 a.m. finishing it the day I got it back in 2005. Sure, it’s verbose, and not the most elegantly written book, but Bella’s voice is compelling, and there’s something addictive about the love story. I liked that it stayed a very personal story, rather than being about Bella and Edward fighting some Great Evil. Because, let's face it, a vampire and human being in love is complicated enough without Great Evil looming.

I did have my concerns about Bella. She so readily gives up herself, her loves, her dreams for Edward. I wanted to reach into the story and shake her, tell her that she had to be her own person, too. But even as I wanted to do that, I also thought it was a very honest representation of first love for a teenager, so I could see girls finding themselves in Bella. And Twilight ends on the ambiguous note of her butting heads with Edward over whether or not he would change her into a vampire. Because of the ambiguity, you could imagine for yourself a future in which Bella would find herself again and not let Edward be so suffocating and bossy, in which they would be true partners.

But then, with New Moon and Eclipse, Bella was put in the middle of a choice between Edward and Jacob, her best friend who nurses a crush for her. I was a little irritated that Jacob and Bella had to cross that line into romantic because I thought it would be more interesting if a friendship was represented as just as powerful as a romantic relationship (because friendships are!). I thought that it might be what spurs Bella to stand up to Edward and come back into herself. She needed her friends and her life, and she wouldn't give them up for him, and they had to learn how to have both. But it became a choice between two romantic loves instead.

So readers went in to Breaking Dawn expecting Bella to have to make the choice--between Edward and Jacob, between mortal and immortal. They were waiting to see how she would do it, and what the consequences would be for everyone involved, and how she would deal with both the good and the bad fall-out of such a hard choice. Someone was bound to be hurt, and there were sacrifices to be made and dealt with. And then...Bella didn’t have to make the choice. Circumstance neatly made it for her. No one got hurt; everyone got what they wanted; happily ever after. I think that’s what has caused the fan backlash. Yes, we all wanted a happy ending, one with hope, but what does happily ever after mean if it hasn’t been fought for? Happily ever after is only satisfying when there’s been work and even pain involved, when the characters have been active in achieving it, when they’ve had to strive, not when it’s been handed to them. (Um, Bella had her backbone actually broken, and then healed by Edward. Metaphor, anyone?)

Another point to consider is whether Breaking Dawn is still a teen book. I think it may have crossed the line into adult. Sure, sure, Bella is still a teenager, but her concerns are no longer a teen's concerns. Teens are questing--they're trying to find their places in the world, and make choices, and are going. In Breaking Dawn, Bella's found her place, and is settled. So, unfortunately, I think that many teens just couldn't relate to her as strongly anymore.

In the end, this is Stephenie Meyer's story, though, and she had to write the one she wanted to write. And now that it's out in the world, readers can decide for themselves whether or not they want to accept it in the way they've accepted the previous three. That's one of the great things about art--we don't have to like everything, but there are readers (or listeners or viewers) for everything.

For more, here are some of the eloquent, sometimes snarky, and sometimes very funny articles and blog posts about Breaking Dawn that I've enjoyed:

Gail Gauthier's blog
Washington Post Article
Salon Article
An amazing (but quite long), snarky play-by-play of the BD reading experience

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