I haven’t in a while, but once upon a time I used to read fan fiction. I actually read a lot of fan fiction. I would keyword search on my favorite characters and read whatever came up on my screen, which meant I read some of the worst drivel ever mashed out on a keyboard. On the other hand, I read some amazingly well-crafted, engaging fan fiction that made me totes happy and, in the case of After the End, kind of confused me once the actual canon came out and it didn’t match up.
So, when I say that the Twilight series is on par with that former category, know that opinion comes from a place of experience.
Which is not to say that I didn’t read them. I did. I admit it. I read them all in a few days, ravenously, like a little kid who finds herself alone with her Halloween loot and goes to town. And I kind of felt the same afterward, too – overfull and nauseous, but with that tinge of regret that comes with knowing you blew through it so fast, and there isn’t anymore left.**
So, I’m torn between two interpretations concerning Bella. 1st, obvious interpretation: Bella is an inanimate object, like a tennis ball, being volleyed back and forth between two men who do nothing but seethe with hatred at one another when the ball’s not in their court. This is shitty from a feminist perspective, because CHIVALRY, and, Bella makes virtually no active decisions in the entire series. Even when vampire-types want to kill her dead, it’s not because of something she did (her personality didn’t attract Edward [her smell did, not something she can control], she didn’t actively provoke James, she didn’t kill James, she didn’t choose to be pregnant, and jeez, even her vampire superpower is passive and keeps her from fighting as her heinous newborn self).
The 2nd, more complicated interpretation: Bella as a Mary Sue. This should not be complicated – everyone knows that Mary Sue stories categorically suck.*** BUT WAIT, there’s a great discussion happening on Mary Sue policing. There is a dearth of strong female characters in source material so what the hell is so wrong with writing a few in? “It’s wish fulfillment!” shout the self-proclaimed Serious Writers of Fan Fiction. “It’s lazy writing! Stop trying to include characters you can relate to in worlds where they do not belong!”
As Margaret Lion points out in comments, Captain Kirk and James Bond much? I’m pretty sure Gene Roddenberry and Ian Fleming wished HARD that they could be the womanizing, action-hero characters they invented, rather than their lackluster, everyday selves.
Yes, Bella’s not strong or bad ass or interesting. The few traits Stephenie Meyer emphasizes (clumsiness, ho-hum run-of-the-mill talent, “plain” in a culturally lauded [thin, blemish-free] way) are easy to relate to, and familiar, and desirable, and make her a placeholder for girls who live in a patriarchal culture and wish their life was fantastical and exciting and dramatic and tragically beautiful.
The solution to this conundrum, I think, is not demonizing young girls for being “Twihards.” It’s working to change the culture that dictates the only thing a woman can be is attached to a man, and writing fiction with interesting female characters that do more boulder-crushing and lightning-zapping and puzzle-solving and battle-winning and awesome-being. There’s nothing wrong with throwing a few sparkly immortal men in there too, if that’s your dish, as long as they don’t mansplain ass-kicking.
*even though there isn’t an eclipse in the movie and I know that the book titles are supposed to be clever plays on daylight and all that but the plots are so thin that the “moon cycle” series metaphor doesn’t even work, y’know?
**I have a history of liking source material that sucks, and picking out the few meaty bits to elaborate on myself: the characters of Rosalie and Jasper intrigue me, and Carlisle is just damn hot. Can someone with more talent than me write some backstory for these folks?
***I wrote a Mary Sue character series. Over 240 pages of it. No, you can’t read it it is gone forever THANK GOD.