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Twilight Science: Taking the Saga’s Literary Science Beyond the Infamous Edward and Bella Biology Scene, by Lin Kerns

October 8, 2010

(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….

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2010 7:58 pm

    Another thing I observe while reading is mannerisms of the author. I remember going to a book signing and one of the readers asking me, “Why do all of your characters cock their heads to the side or roll their eyes?” Then another person asked me the same question. I never realized I’d used those descriptions so much, but I became more conscious of my own body language and realized it’s ME that does that. I think the same holds true for Stephenie Meyer. Every other page somebody was pursing their lips. And it wasn’t just one character. ALL of the characters pursed their lips, and that seemed a little odd for guys to do. Does that sound sexist? Dunno. I don’t see guys do that with their lips though. But through all five books, including “Midnight Sun,” somebody was always pursing their lips when they were thinking, when they were mad, when they were nervous.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      October 8, 2010 8:09 pm

      Shamontiel,
      That’s a great point – all the lip biting and lip pursing drove me crazy in the saga (and the movies!) but maybe it does come from Meyer’s own physical tendencies…
      I have seen guys purse their lips — but I don’t think it is usually described as such at it sounds “too feminine.” Check Kurt on Glee — he is definitely a lip-purser. And there are hetero guys I know in real life who do this too — I think it is a non-gender specific action but is characterized as feminine in texts/movies…

  2. October 8, 2010 9:56 pm

    this is a wonderful comment for someone who studies media and cultural studies – or probably everyone involved in the oh-so-abstract humanities and social sciences in its widest sense – because we so often question the use of our field of study. “what is the um-teenths interpretation of whatsoever helping the world? we should be inventing stuff, finding cures, etc.” but yes, in a world growing more complex and fast and incomprehensible each day, there is a great need for those to explain it all – including the emotional level that a society like ours is so easy to forget about…

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      October 9, 2010 8:31 pm

      D,
      Great point! Reminds me of when my dad’s best friend told me getting a degree in English was a waste of time and I would never use it….
      And I agree that contemporary society desperately needs MORE of this type of study. Alas, in a consumer driven society, our work does not “sell” as it doesn’t have the potential to generate profits for pharmaceutical companies nor invent techno gadgets for people to waste more time on (so they have LESS time to think/read)…

  3. October 8, 2010 10:03 pm

    I like this comment. Many people don’t recognize Bella’s intelligence and deductive skills, but she indeed unwrapped many of the mysteries on the sage using just logic.
    Even Edward mentions it quite often how deductive she is. I also loved that quote of Edward how he used all his free time to educated himself, like most of the Cullens and Bella herself. If anything that can be read as one of the positive message of the saga, using our free time to learn new things.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      October 9, 2010 8:33 pm

      Ana,
      I agree that Bella is an intelligent character and that this often gets overlooked. I do wish though, that she, like Edward, would be associated with higher learning and a lifetime devoted to studying/learning new things — instead, in the closing book, we see her worried about Renesmee’s outfits and how many times she can bonk the new hubby…

      • October 10, 2010 6:46 pm

        She is also associated with reading: she was reading Tennyson to her daughter and she also had her books and favorite paintings on the new cottage.

      • natalie wilson permalink*
        October 11, 2010 12:41 am

        Ana,
        Good point! And all those designer clothes from Alice… Seems the books pale in comparison to those and that her being a book lover kind of recedes into the background after the first book. Would you agree?

      • K (aroline ^^) permalink
        October 11, 2010 12:12 am

        Yes, literature and art, fashion, childcare, marital obligations, self-sacrifice, defending the family, holding a crucial position in the background…. very nineteenth century, our Isabella Beeton, I mean Cullen.

        I agree with D about the fact that our capitalist society is increasingly questioning the humanities’ right to existence by denying their use for society. But instead of trying to convince people that the humanities are useful, I would question the criterion of usefulness itself, which is an inherently capitalistic one. I think that a subject can be interesting and worth studying without having any use at all. I do not want to express that the humanities are useless but that maybe sometimes things should be regarded independent of their use.

  4. natalie wilson permalink*
    October 9, 2010 8:35 pm

    Lin,
    Great post! Literary study is indeed a science, and a very important one. Alas, the idea those of us who undertake such study are “reading way too much into things” or that “it’s JUST a book” still abound. I so wish people would begin to recognize how profoundly texts and popular culture shape us individually and collectively!!!

  5. October 11, 2010 12:53 am

    Well I would say that IMO having Bella making so much parallels to her life to the books she holds dear constantly through all the books show how much her reading passion is something she lives on a daily subconscious basis along with her love. I mean constantly comparing Edward to classic art instead with the hottie new pop culture idol or a hot actor or supermodel do show that her world is a cultured one. Also the fashion is something that Alice imposed on her so when she is thinking about cutting Reneesme curls and thinking of Alice is because she knows how much her sister enjoys fashion and not because she is competing with other parents for the pretiests kid prize. Also

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