I consider myself relatively well read, or at least knowledgable regarding current phenomena and popular culture type thingys. That said, I didn't really know anything about the Twilight Saga (books) until earlier this year when the 2 stars made the cover of Entertainment Weekly. I still didn't pay it much mind. It's actually very similar to how I was totally in the dark about Harry Potter. I only vaguely knew it existed until right before the 4th book was released, and then suddenly it seemed to be everywhere.
How I Came to Read the Saga
So I was in the dark regarding Twilight (ba dum bum), and then I went to dinner with my friend Jill and she mentioned that I should check it out as it would make good reading for the long plane rides to Rome and back. So... I bought the first book (Twilight), and started reading it lightly before the trip, finding myself really enjoying it, and also realizing that despite it's girth, it was a quick read. I'd clearly be finished with it way too early into the plane ride. Jill then loaned me the second book (New Moon) right before I left. Surely, I thought, that would be enough to get me through. I packed both giant books and headed to Rome.
Well... about 2 hours into my 6 hour layover in New York (on the way) I was more than halfway done with book 1, and I decided to buy book 3 (Eclipse) at the airport. Now I have 1700 pages worth of Vampire fiction to satiate me on my trip to Italy (featured in book 2, oddly enough). Hard to say that I was wrong, exactly, as I plowed through book 1 on the plane, and most of book 2. I finished book 2 completely during my stay, and I got about halfway through book 3 before even heading for the airport home. because of that, I had to borrow book 4 (Breaking Dawn) from my sister's roommate (Thanks Sarah!). I actually almost made it through that before getting back to Cincinnati as well.
The last portion of the Saga is, of course, Midnight Sun. Stephenie Meyer started re-writing Twilight from Edward's point of view and stopped writing after the first 12 chapters were leaked. It's available on her website, and I killed the remaining couple of days before the movie's release by reading that. I liked it more than I liked any of the others, so of course it stands to reason that she'd just stop writing it.
The Books... a question and answer.
Are they actually GOOD?
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that they ARE good. Not just addictive in that same way that a showing of Cat People on AMC will suck you in, despite it's general shittiness. That's not to say that I think it's particularly well written, but if you look at the 4 books as a whole, I think the story is strong.
Sounds like I don't like them, but basically it amounts to me being more interested in plot and character than I am about the cadence of the prose. In fact, I almost think that too creative a narrative voice would have distracted from the flow. I certainly can't complain about the readability. In that the plot is the driving determiner in whether I think a story is good, Twilight is good.
Oh...and hey... The books are not meant for me. I read a review of the book that called it "Essentially professional fanfic." and that's not far from the truth. She's writing a mash letter to these characters. That's allowed. It's a good read.
What bothers me about the books?
Well... There wasn't a lot that really bothered me, but there are a couple of things...
1) Edward is portrayed as being pretty much perfect. Supermodel looks, a genius (or just someone with a perfectly sharp mind and 90 years to gain knowledge), amazing will-power, extra super-powers, all that. That's not what bothers me... Stephenie Meyer didn't really give him any flaws at all, except that he's possibly overprotective...so... why create the conflict within Bella that flows all throughout Book 3? I mean... I get that Jacob was there for her in Book 2 and I get that for some reason she loves him. I also think that the outcome was sort of a foregone conclusion, so why prolong this "triangle" when the time could have been used to flesh out backstory.
2) The love between Edward and Bella is great and all, but jeebus was it fast. It went from confusion to outright "forever yours" in like 16 seconds. I can't recall what chapter it was, but it was after the dinner in Port Angeles...they've been in eachother's company for like.. 2 hours and she's saying she's "completely and irrevocably in love with him." I mean... yikes. So intense it kinda creeps me out. And it never really waivered at all. In the second book, the girl literally puts herself into dangerous situations just to hallucinate his voice. God. On the other hand, I again realize this book was written for people who would find that sort of blind, blazing love to be romantic and they're not wrong.
Who's my favorite character?
That's a tough one, but I think I'll have to go with Jasper Cullen. Personally, I'd prefer to just read about the Cullens anyway, and he seems to be the most damaged. Damage is interesting to read. He's also one of the more fleshed out of the vampires. (No pun intended). His backstory is interesting. And I think Alice is the one I'd most like to hang out with, and they're all soul matey and stuff.
Are the Harry Potter comparisons apt?
While I see what people are saying... I'm gonna say they're not really that comparable. Except that they are both these huge deals with teens, and there is that magical element to both. The main differences are along those same lines.
-- Where Harry Potter has a much more universal appeal.. it's grander in scale, it takes place over a larger number of years and places. The story is more adventure and less romance.. Twilight is very focused in who it was written for and who it most appeals to. I mean... My DAD read and enjoyed Harry Potter, and while he'd probably read Twilight just because he reads constantly, and there are vampires, I'm not quite as sure he'd like it.
-- The writing in Harry Potter is better, generally. Rowling was pretty raw at the beginning, but you sort of get the feeling that she gave herself time to grow. There were 10 years or something between Book 1 and Book 7. On the other hand, Stephenie Meyer wrote all 4 Twilight books in a 3 year period, so she didn't have a lot of time to self improve.
-- The magic in Harry Potter is more... magical. The magic in Twilight is more incidental. In fact, there's rarely even mention of "magic" itself, and it's more of a thing that isn't really understood.
Really I think that Harry Potter has some real cultural staying power. The movies are huge. The books are all enormous best sellers. It seems to have permeated the lexicon a bit more completely.
The Movie... Yay or Nay?
I liked it well enough, but I think they REALLY have to put more money into the next ones. I really liked the casting (Edward and Bella specifically). They did a great job with an average script. The biggest issue was definitely the special effects, and well.. they weren't good. There are basically 3 truly important effects in the whole movie. The car crash where Edward saves Bella, the running through the woods, and the "sparkle Edward".
The car crash was done well enough. In fact, really well.
The running is just weird. I don't know how to make it look better, but it looked blocky. I don't know how else to describe it. Maybe it's just the mechanics of this exact type of effect, because one of the very few effects in Lord of the Rings that I didn't like was when Merry and Pippin were being carried on the backs of the Uruk-Hai. You could tell that it was a combo of dolls and tiny stunt people. I dunno... It's gotta be fixed
The "Sparkle Edward" is such a HUGE deal in the book. I mean... Stephenie Meyer describes the "diamonds" over and over and over and over and over. And poor Robert Pattinson just looked like he'd put on some glitter. It was bad bad bad.
I think the larger budget that's been promised for New Moon will be helpful, but I'm still worried. The effects in New Moon are way more difficult. You have werewolves. You have to do chases through Italy. And the Volturi stuff... it's all just MORE. Harry Potter made huge strides between movie 1 and movie 2 in terms of effects. Hopefully so will Twilight. I don't know if it has the power to hold the audiences otherwise.
Okay... I'm done talking about this. There's a lot more I could say. I tried to keep less spoilery. Let me know what you think.