Twilight Science: Taking the Saga’s Literary Science Beyond the Infamous Edward and Bella Biology Scene, by Lin Kerns
(Lin Kerns is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Memphis, where she also obtained her M.A. in English Literature; she also possesses a degree in Biology and has completed extensive studies in Paleontology and Geology. She resides in Jackson, TN where she shares a home with her “lobo poco.”)
Imagine this. You’re in a Biology lab and you just identified a particular phase of mitosis through a microscope. You’re confident that you will outshine your lab partner, as you have already had this lab in another school. You beam as you begin to remove the slide, but your partner asks, “Do you mind if I look?” His hand accidentally touches yours to stop you, but his touch stings your hand “as if an electric current had passed through us.” If you wish to study how electrical currents occur, you study science, right? But in Bella and Edward’s case above, only the written word, literature, is the means to dissect and to fully understand this quirky spark of energy.
As an aspect of the humanities, literature has been at odds with science since the first debunking of the magicians in the 17th century. Since that time, scientists declare that truth can only be learned through science, but I say literature equally reveals truth. Both science and literature are needed to understand our world more completely; more so, my belief is that both, literature and science function similarly and borrow methods of discovery from each other.
Let’s look at the scientific method–remember in Bio 101 having to learn those annoying steps one had to follow in order to determine whether an idea had any validity or not? Those steps were not requested “without cause.” For the uninitiated, the procedure is as follows: determine the problem, formulate a working hypothesis by gathering evidence, test the hypothesis-repeatedly, analyze the results of the tests, and if enough testing warrants, state a theory. This technique is the basis for all science. Hypotheses are formed using logic as proposed by a current generation, which in turn, is built upon evidence provided by previous generations.
Now, let’s look at Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight—remember when Bella tries to figure out what Edward is? Let’s follow her steps. Bella’s problem is that she must explain, in a satisfactory and reasonable manner, how Edward manages to stop a van from crushing her. Bella is highly influenced by Jacob’s story of the immortal “Cold Ones” and the casual remark of “the Cullens don’t come here” regarding the Quileute beach. Bella’s hypothesis is that Edward might be a vampire. To that end, Bella gathers her clues: Edward possesses speed, super human strength, angelic beauty, pale skin, eyes that shift from gold to black, he doesn’t eat, and he does not come out when the sun shines. Bella also compares her information against the lore of traditional vampires, but nothing matches there. Still, the “Cold One” myth echoes in her mind. Bella confronts him with her theory. Edward acknowledges that he is, indeed, a vampire and the results are that new information, or rather, a new truth regarding vampires has been discovered.
Bella thus successfully employs scientific methods, but it is through literature that we gain a full understanding, not only of vampirism, but of the real essence of Bella, the investigator.
What else do we lovers of literature use in order to uncover truth? Scientists examine a molecule many different ways, and they use many different devices: spectroscopy, calibration, and a thermometer (to name a very few) in order to discover new information. We, as literary critics and readers, have our own devices. For scholars, those accepted devices include feminist theory, grotesque theory, post-colonial theory, and psychoanalysis (again, to name a few); we use these devices in order to determine if the organization of language used in a particular book is trying to tell us something significant.
Readers of literature also look for particular characteristics in a text in order to reveal true meaning, including the type of language used, repetition of words or actions, the style of the author, and the theme of the entire story. With our opinions, insight, and interpretations, we all enter into “The Great Conversation,” with past, present, and future readers. It is a never ending and lively conversation as there is always more to know.
In Twilight, Edward remarks to Bella, “There’s a reason why I’m the best musician in the family, why – besides Carlisle – I’ve read the most books, studied the most sciences, become fluent in the most languages… Emmett would have you believe that I’m such a know-it-all because of the mind reading, but the truth is that I’ve just had a lot of free time.” If we only had enough time in our own lifetimes to do the same, but, alas, we don’t. That’s why sharing our knowledge and opinions with one another is crucial in gaining the fullest sense of comprehension.
Through language and literature, we develop our sense of community–we open our minds to the rest of the world through a vast timelessness of experience. An astronomer searching the sky for a new star is no different from a reader of literature who searches for meaning within and beyond their texts, but here is why we need both. What science discovers, literature comprehends. Science solidifies knowledge and language awakens the potentialities for envisioning that knowledge – much like Bella….