Twilight: The Pitiful Preface

21 Apr 2010

I’ve never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

Apparently, our nameless, faceless Narrator has not given much thought to the topic of death. This seems rather odd since Twilight is a book about vampires and werewolves.

… Whoops. SPOILER ALERT: Twilight is about vampires and werewolves.

The reason our Narrator is now thinking about death is because she is going to sacrifice herself for true love–a true love who, I suspect, is the very “sauntering hunter” that is about to kill her. But since our preface doesn’t go any further, we’re suppose to be left with an unresolved tension: Oh nose! Will our unknown hero escape? I guess the only way to find out is to read on!

You’d think that a preface of less than 150 words wouldn’t be able to aggravate me. You’d be wrong.

See, stories that begin in media res are usually done so to get the reader excited. Essentially, you’re giving them a reason to turn the next two hundred pages.  So the start of your story has to hold some tension. Meyer attempts this with our Narrator informing us that she’s about to die and, by-golly, she doesn’t regret anything. While I appreciate the sentiment, this creates a major problem for the reader: if our Narrator doesn’t care about dying, why the hell should we?

With death taken out of the equation, what other possible reasons are there for us to turn the page? Fortunately, our Narrator does give us another hook: “when life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations [blah blah blah]”. We’re supposed to read on to discover more about this incredible dream. That dream could be anything! Ahh tension! Glorious, glorious tension.

Unless, of course, you’ve read the blurb on the back: “Stephanie Meyer introduces Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, a pair of star-crossed lovers whose forbidden relationship ripens against the backdrop of small-town suspicion and a mysterious coven of vampires. This is a love story with bite.”

Our Narrator’s dream is love. With a vampire. Fair enough. I didn’t exactly pick up Twilight expecting The Life of Pi. But our Narrator immediately informs us that she doesn’t really care that her love story is about to end: “I couldn’t bring myself to regret the decision … it’s not reasonable to grieve when [life’s wonderful dream] comes to an end”.

Compare this with Michael Ondaatje. He is a master of building tension through a lack of information. The English Patient starts off with another nameless, faceless Narrator. We aren’t directly told anything about her, but we are immediately given a reason to care about her and the story: a mysterious man whose entire body has been burned. We care about this Narrator because she cares about something; we want to know more about this man because she wants to know more about this man. Meanwhile, our Twilight Narrator doesn’t care about anything! Note to all authors: apathetic characters inspire apathetic readers!

Finally, I feel obligated to point out that a preface is a note from the author, usually in which the creation of the book is discussed. Orson Scott Card tends to include these. Stephen King is notorious for using them, although he’ll often call them “Introductions” instead. A prologue provides an entrance into the story. It gives the reader a taste of what the book is going to be about, raises a few questions that will be answered, and is supposed to encourage further reading. Stephanie Meyer (and, more unusually, her editor) seem to believe that a prologue and a preface are synonymous. While this doesn’t necessary mean that Twilight is going be an awful experience, I’d like to think that the people involved in creating and publishing books put more effort into their works than just “OMG! VAMPIRES! PUBLISH!!!!111”.