1. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Why is Bella from Twilight considered such a poor protagonist?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Man in the Box, May 10, 2012.

    I don't know if this is the right place to post this topic. I'm posting it here because it involves discussion about a published series, but if the mods feel it's better to move the topic to "Character Development", I'll understand.

    I've read a few posts here about how Bella is a really poor character, the antithesis of a strong woman, etc., etc., and I'd really appreciate it if people told me why they feel this way. I haven't read the books (I only watched the first 3 movies), so I can't really judge by myself without having more experienced people tell me her flaws.

    The reason I ask is because I have a female protagonist in my story, one that's endured many hardships as a kid and becomes a shy and sort of nihilist teenager, because she rejects her powers, although she can't stop manifesting them. She falls in love with the hero, who is the person who will help her learn to use her powers and will boost her confidence, to the point where she gradually takes place as the main good-doer in the story. However, one of the strongest motivations for her actions is also her love for the hero, who happens to be a cursed being (NOT a vampire!) who wants to "cure" himself of his evil.

    So! I'm really afraid that, by making her be motivated by love, I end up writing a new Bella and therefore a boring protagonist. What are the reasons Bella is such a bad protagonist?
     
  2. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    Two words: Mary Sue.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but this makes no sense.

    A Mary Sue is a surrogate for the author in a story, to vicariously take part in the novel. The term is frequently misused to mean an annoyingly perfect character, but even that makes no sense in this context. Bella is far from perfect.

    The term Mary Sue, whether or not it is used properly, is still a dismissive label that rarely reflects any actual analysis.

    I've only read one of the Twilight books (New Moon). I did so only to see if the writing was truly as dreadful as reported, and because I was able to do so at no cost other than my time. It wasn't quite as awful as I expected, but I still found it to be pretty bad. The author spends far too much time wallowing in the teen angsty thoughts of the character, who seems obsessive and clinically depressed most of the time.

    Other than that, the writing is not unreasonably bad. However, the "that" is extremely annoying, at least to me. I had no sympathy for the character, and the "brain tap" POV is horrible.

    Having said this, I am going to set a ground rule: This thread will remain open only to the limited scope of discussing the writing as it pertains to the character of Bella. If and when it turns into a Team Bella vs Team Edward vs Team Jacob, it will be closed as has already been done with other Twilight rave/rant threads.

    If you haven't read at least one of the BOOKS, don't post here! The movies are NOT under discussion in this case, nor are characters other than Bella.
     
  4. live2write
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    I have briefly read the first Twilight book and in my own opinion it is not my cup of tea. I am in my twenties and I felt that it was focused on targeting the younger generation.

    I do not find her as a poor protagonist, more of different and "living in a bubble". There are things that we know and understand when raised. Things like "do not put your hands on the stove" "Strangers are dangerous" and "Be careful what you wish for."

    I was thrown off when the book displayed vampires as "not as evil as movies and stories betrayed them" however, with the generation of children these days, evil is dusted under the rug. I feel that she is like one of those children who is not knowing what she is getting herself into and the perspective of it is almost happy-go-lucky.

    Especially in media things have been watered down. I remember zombie movies scaring me to death and now they are viewed as funny.
     
  5. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Well, I'm not in my twenties, the shirt that I'm wearing now is older than you. And while I felt the same about this book--it's not my cup of tea, either--I think I understand why she's portrayed as she is.

    That's her job. She's the clueless outsider.

    L2W, I've read your stuff. I think your ideology and thought processes are beyond your years. In your eyes, you could look at this female lead and find an abject rookie. Or you would try to discern her influence on the plot.

    So what if you came to my city, I tossed you on the back of the bike, and took you to see my friends at the bike shop. Despite your expertise and successful ability to utilize complex themes, I would have immersed you into a world that looks like your own, but suddenly shifts on its axis to new sights, smells, jargon, outlooks on life, and a hierarchy you didn't even know existed.

    Now imagine your book on that experience. It wouldn't take long to realize that you were Bella.

    And that's her importance in the Twilight series. They need a clueless outsider to filter the story, so that the rest of the 'mortals' in the audience can view looking at a foreign lifestyle right under their noses. Consider the movie scene where she goes to meet the 'family' for dinner. One faux pas after another.

    Mary Sue? Yikes, she's a Mary Ann, a Mary Beth, The Queen Mary, and Married with Children. I do not even register her as a character or a person. In many ways, I think she is a literative POV.
     
  6. MissRis
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    Okay I'm going to preface this by saying that I am simultaneously a Twilight fan and feminist -- which may seem counterintuitive to some, but not to me.

    First off, I wouldn't worry too much about your own character. If you start overanalyzing your writing (which I myself am guilty of) you will drive yourself insane trying to make sure you have a strong female lead rather than a good character. Particularly, she's a teenaged girl. Despite not being a giggly, boy obsessed, vapid teenager -- I remember being ruled primarily by strong emotions (it was love or hate -- no middle ground). Every boyfriend was the love of my life and when he broke my heart I never thought I'd recover. I'm in my late twenties now and can now see how ridiculous this was. My point is, even though Bella was an extremely intelligent and loner type, she's still a teenaged girl. And you have to remember that your female lead is also a teenager. Also, I don't think being motivated by love should ever be seen as negative, but that's just me.

    Second, the comparison many make between Bella and other female protagonists (Katniss - Hunger Games or Hermione - Harry Potter) are that these girls (Katniss/Hermione) care more about other things than boys (Bella). However, what they fail to point out is that the love story between Katniss and Peeta (or Gale) and Hermione and Ron are not the focus of the story. In the case of Meyer's text, it is about this intense love between Bella and Edward -- with some supernatural elements tossed in. My point is, it's comparing apples to oranges.

    Third, these people who criticize Meyer for making a weak female protagonist also fail to note that Bella is human in comparison to the Vampires and Werewolves she hangs out with. She IS more vulnerable and therefore, they are clearly going to want to protect her (particularly because they love her - Jacob and Edward). Would your partner or friend just let someone kill you? Probably not. My husband would defend me to the death and he's not supernatural (that I know of.............? LOL) and I would do the same for him.

    Fourth, in each book Bella sacrifices herself for the people that SHE loves. In the first book it's her mom (James threatens that he has Bella's mom to lure her to Arizona so he can kill her), the second book it's Edward (she rushes to Italy to save him from the Volturi, putting herself in danger for him), the third book it's also Edward (Victoria, who was after Bella for getting James killed. Bella slices her hand to draw Victoria to her so she doesn't kill Edward), and the fourth it's her daughter and the rest of the Forks. Also, in Eclipse (third book) Bella tells both Edward and Jacob that they're being possessive idiots and takes off with Jacob when Edward tells her not to. She never 'obeys' Edward or Jacob -- which is how she's always getting herself into trouble and drives the story. She's stubborn as a mule (which resonates with me). If you tell me to go left, I'm going to go right.

    Anyway, that's my argument towards why Bella is lambasted by die hard Harry Potter and Hunger Games fans. There seems to be camps that you can either like Twilight or Hunger Games and Harry Potter. I like all three series and value them for their differences.

    Sorry for the long post.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I read two thirds of the first book - admittedly I could've read on, but felt no inclination to and since my bag was full on my flight back to Prague, I ditched it at my parents' place in favour of pretty clothes and such. It's a big book.

    Now Bella - it's just that she has no personality. Her stubbornness or supposed "will" is cliche to the extreme - now, the idea of dying for your loved one has been done even in good books and with good characters, but Meyer portrays Bella as someone who doesn't seem to have any strength without a man, and every situation seemed to involve life and death and everything was always very dramatic. What annoyed me most about Bella was this: she hates everything! She moans and whines throughout the story, she victimises herself to the extreme, she's the beautiful lady who thinks she's the ugly duckling, who everybody loves for no reason at all - and while she despises how awkward she is and therefore how she feels like a misfit, equally she despises attention and anyone actually trying to befriend her! She hated the sun from her original home, she didn't like the rain, and she hated snow. It's like, there's no pleasing her! And yet, she is loved by all who she knows, assuming they are not evil.

    I do remember just wanting to scream at her and slam the book shut when the line came where she moaned about snow. Somehow she has to see the negative in everything, even in ordinarily cheerful and good things - at least that's the impression.

    Whether she's a good or bad character, whatever her purpose in the book - there's no denying that she's an annoying character even to the point of being hateful. Of course she's a little like marmite - you either love her or hate her. My theory in why people love her is because she's such a blank sheet that women everywhere could fantasise about themselves in Bella's shoes.
     
  8. Yoshiko
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    Many people feel this is the case with Bella: they feel that the author is writing out a fantasy. Even Meyer's description of Bella's physical appearance seems to resemble her own appearance somewhat:


    I personally dislike Bella because I feel she's a flat and unrealistic character. I managed to get through the entire book (and five chapters of the sequel) without ever caring about what happened to her. She just didn't excite me - although I could see potential for her to be a likable character if Meyer had worked with her more. I only read as far as I did because I liked the character who could see into the future (and the anti-determinism associated with this when the future simply "changes" as a result of the characters' actions).
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Does look like Bella a bit I must say, except for the thin nose...

    stephenie_meyer.jpg
     
  10. MissRis
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    IMO I don't feel you can adequately judge her character based on reading 2/3s of the book and not finishing it.

    Well of course it's overly dramatic -- it's a book. If it wasn't it would have been dull. Do you not think Romeo and Juliet is slightly over dramatic?

    Also, she doesn't hate the sun. She enjoys it quite a bit, which is why she complains about the rain so much while she's in Forks (AND the snow). Besides, she moved to Forks so that her mother could be happy - so obviously she's not going to be content living with a father she barely knows or in a climate that she doesn't like (I find this part the least believable. I don't know many teens who would put their parents needs before their own).

    What Bella DOES complain about is being pale that she doesn't look like she belongs in Arizona. Another character actually comments on it, something to the effect of "Aren't people from Arizona supposed to be, like, tanned?" And about her considering she's an ugly duckling, I don't know whether you are male or female, but I don't know many women (particularly teenage girls) who would admittedly call themselves beautiful - no matter how many people say otherwise. I think it would be less believable. Additionally, she's comparing herself with beautiful and flawless vampires. It's comparing yourself to Heidi Klum or Alessandra Ambrosio -- you're obviously going to think you're ugly in comparison with them.
     
  11. Lazy
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    Lazy Banned

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    You don't think Bella is the author's wish fulfillment? Are you serious?

    Anyway, there are a lot of different definitions of "Mary Sue." As far as I know, Bella fits pretty much all of them.

    In fact, she's probably the BEST example of one outside of fanfiction.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Completely serious. Stephanie Meyer is a devout Mormon who neither smokes nor drinks. She is very serious about her faith, and is very family-oriented.

    Twilight is the first story she ever wrote, so it's natural that there are some superficial resemblances b etween her character and herself. But a Mary Sue is a deliberate insertion of the author surrogate into the story. An excellent example is a character created by Wesley Eugene Roddenberry for his series Star Trek: The Next Generation. The character serves little purpose other than for his creator to vicariously live out his fantasy of growing up un a 24th century starship.
    That is sloppy thinking. All the other "definitions" are from people who never understood the definition in the first place, and slapped the Mary Sue label wherever they felt like it.

    But if you feel otherwise, state the definition you feel applies, and support the assertion with facts. Because as it stands, your post appears to be nothing more than "Twilight sucks because, well, because it sucks."

    I'm serious about keeping this thread based on the WRITING of THE CHARACTER Bella. Unsupported and vague labelling is not acceptable.
     
  13. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm, drama could be conveyed better. Bella to me was a drama queen. I mean, I can't spell out the difference, I'm not sure how I would, but there's a difference between drama, and being over dramatic. Good drama, and being a drama queen. To me, Bella was a drama queen.

    To stick to the criteria for keeping this thread open - the writing. Ok, based on the 2/3rds that I read, the writing was very very bland. In all honesty you may be right, maybe Bella was perfectly believable, but from the way it's written, I didn't get that. The tone of voice was flat. Maybe we can blame it on Meyer's writing, rather than characterisation - what's your opinion?
     
  14. Lazy
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    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue

    Bella is Stephanie Meyer's wish fulfillment. She is the teenager Meyer wishes she was. She is important to the story, possesses unusual physical traits (stunning beauty) and has an over-idealized nature (stunning beauty. among other things. by the way did I mention that she's beautiful?)

    That's the way Mary Sue is generally used and it applies to Bella.

    edit: Twilight seems to be a touchy subject here so I will stay out of this thread
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I must point out that you ignored most of the article you quoted from, to drag out the one paragraph that supported the "Mary Sue as annoyingly perfect" interpretation.

    That's the problem with a lazy label - if it means whatever the one who uses it wants it to mean on a particular occasion, then it means nothing at all, and should not be used at all.

    I don't buy your assertion that Bella is vicarious author insertion, but you're entitled to that opinion nevertheless.
     
  16. Boriol
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    Fortunately, I read the first book before I heard all the hate about it. I think I managed to avoid going into it with the "it's gonna suck" mindset. At the end, though I had no intention of reading any more in the series. To me, it felt like Bella was just too important without the right qualifications. She's got some kind of special blood that Edward can smell, and I completely forgot why Jacob was interested in her.

    I suppose it doesn't help that I just don't like angsty teen romance, or angsty teen anything for that matter.
     
  17. MissRis
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    My overall opinion, based on reading other YA paranormal/supernatural books, is that it's pretty much par for the course. I honestly didn't find it any worse than Suzanne Collins or JK Rowling's writing. My only complaint was that certain books were longer than they should be (particularly the last) and the final book was slightly anticlimactic. What does bland writing mean exactly? You didn't like imagery or tone? I'm just trying to understand your point a bit better. I agree that her dialogue wasn't always the best, but I found Bella's internal monologue to be well written. However, I do prefer first-person narratives to third-person.
     
  18. Mckk
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    I just didn't believe any of Bella's emotion, except for how utterly miserable she is. But a character who is ONLY miserable is, well, not a very good read really, especially as she has little reason to actually be miserable - she's more or less just being an angsty teenager moping around. If I were 14 I think I would've loved it, but now, not so much. I'm afraid I don't have the book on me and it's been a good year since I last read it, so I don't remember exactly.

    I do, however, remember 2 lines - one about how much she loved her truck, which to me, sounded like she was bored out of her mind but her words were "I loved it" - the words and the tone didn't match. Imagine someone saying with a straight face and a flat tone of voice, "I'm so excited." And the other line was "oestrogen rush" - I don't care which writer actually uses this, it's a BAD line.

    I'm a huge Hunger Games fan and I found Collin's writing absolutely beautiful. Maybe it's also the issues at stake - Bella's "I hate everyone and I think everyone hates me" is simply emo, whereas Katniss is actually fighting for her sister and even as she prepares herself for death, she doesn't worry about feeling sorry for herself. Ok, saying it like this, Bella seems more realistic than Katniss (I imagine most of us would feel sorry for ourselves in her shoes) - but with Katniss, it's something I wanna root for. With Bella, I had no sympathy for her issues.

    And with Collins - in the third book there's an absolutely beautiful bit of prose after the thing that happens to Prim (didn't wanna put a spoiler here). Katniss drifts from the present, to dreams, to unconsciousness, to reality absolutely seamlessly - using all symbols that have been established throughout the three novels. The Girl on Fire, now an ignited bird, flapping with wings of fire as she's literally set on fire. And then to finish, after all the very dream-like prose, that she's someone with no fire, at all - I loved the utter destruction that is conveyed in basically 3-5 very, very simple words, and all because Collins has managed to establish enough with the reader beforehand for us to understand the imagery. Her foreshadowing and establishment of symbols were excellently done.

    I also loved Collins' skill with changing the reader's mind. She made me hate District 13, and then decide it's not so bad. Hate the Capitol, and then sympathise with them. Above all, I rooted for Gale and in the end I fell in love with Peeta. The transition was done so smoothly I could not pinpoint any particular moment that could've changed my mind. It was seamless.

    Of the 2/3rds that I read of Twilight, the same could not be said for Meyer... I always re-read a good paragraph even up to 10 times - I'd remember if something struck me. Nothing did. Oh wait, I lie - the 2 lines that I mentioned struck me, but for the wrong reasons.

    So yeh, that's me :)
     
  19. MissRis
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    Now I'm seeing where you're coming from :)

    We can agree to disagree. I just think people are quick to lambaste Meyer's characterization when, like you said yourself, it's perhaps more believable but you don't necessarily want to root for her. But perhaps you want to root for the relationship? (at least I did).

    I can't deny my love for Katniss and that she's a bad ass, but I also found her character slightly one dimensional. Collins portrays her as a martyr of sorts, but I guess that's sort of the point of the book? She sacrifices herself for her sister, Peeta, and the rest of Panem really.
     
  20. Mckk
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    The relationship - I must say, I don't remember much about it :D Not such a good sign, but then again if the writing didn't engage me, that is to be expected I guess!

    SPOILER for Hunger Games
    Oh yeh Katniss was a bad ass - loved her. But I didn't find her one dimensional - she changes so much throughout the books. She didn't want to sacrifice herself - remember in the 2nd book she's actually trying to appease Snow? There's some integrity in her that prevents that, but consciously she didn't want to be a hero. All through Book 3 - she didn't want to be the Mockingjay. Her relationships were a lot more centred around the people she actually loved - Prim, Gale and Peeta - remember how she fought Gale over running away, because Katniss would much rather run than face the war? She was the coward there. And then at the end - Katniss, of all people, was one of those who SUPPORTED the Hunger Games as revenge, after all the struggles and all that they fought for. It is Peeta who remains the genuinely good, pure character. She admired Gale and then drifted away from him - the thing I loved most was the romance - I loved it that Collins celebrated what a good man, a good husband, actually should be like, that Katniss didn't go for the "typical male" that is celebrated all over Hollywood. She went for the gentle, artistic Peeta, not the fiery, impulsive, masculine hunter Gale. She matures from hating her stylists to having sympathy for them, to the point of defending them. She changed as a character most definitely. She doesn't just "recover" - she never really recovers. Peeta neither - I loved it that there was not a single moment you could pinpoint when he got better - only a gradual transition, which is how it would have been in real life.
    SPOILERS END

    I digress... I shall stop talking about Hunger Games on this thread now but you can PM me if you want :D
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Reminder: This is a limited topic. Hunger Games/Katniss is off topic.

    Sorry, but it's necessary to keep the focus narrow if we are to leave this thread open.
     
  22. Man in the Box
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    In Lazy's defense, Robert Pattinson himself has said the books creeped him out because they seemed like they were just Meyer's written fantasy with a sexy vampire. I was actually going to sig his quote because I thought it was too funny the way he plays Edward and still speaks bad about the book. :D

    Also, I haven't read the books, am I not allowed to post in my own thread? :(

    So, basically, what I could gather was that she is devoid of any personality unless when Edward is around telling her what to do. This is something I want to avoid as much as possible! I want my MC to be likable, if flawed. I admit I created her with the intent of being an idealised woman but over time I've been detaching myself from the characters in my story. The fact she (my MC) is sort of an ordinary person that gets suddenly thrown into a world of supernatural creatures makes it difficult for me to make her really independent, because she doesn't have a good idea of what's going on until towards the end, and her powers aren't developed enough to defend her from the other creatures.

    Also Cogito, if you want you can move this to "Character Development", because I'd like to discuss my MC in relation to Bella and perhaps it would give other posters more freedom to talk about other stuff.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, this belongs here in Book Discussion. A discussion of your own character is a separate thread. Why would you relate your character to another character you haven't read?

    As for Pattinson, he's an actor, not a writer. For all I know, he could be repeating something someone else said after hearing it from yet another person, etc.

    If you have concerns about how you are developing/can develop your character, then perhaps you should start a thread in Character Development. But please try to ask it in a way that could be relevant to other writers, e.g. how to deal with a character who has certain difficult characteristics. The idea is to ask questions that lead to a writing process, rather than to answers for you alone.

    IS there a good reason to keep this thread open?
     
  24. The Tourist
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    Why can't this subject just be a case of Occam's Razor? Why can't there just be a simple explanation?

    I have a similar character in my story. I use her character for comic relief, and to provide info, supposedly from elsewhere in the story where my lead cannot or will not be present.

    Her use is quite simple. It's better to show than to tell. So I don't tell the reader anything, I let this female character "show" them info they need to know.

    Same with Bella. The author and the director have created a world of vampires and werewolves living among us in the present day. 'Insiders' like Bella become the conduit to advance the plot. She's a vehicle, a storyteller. As she learns about this world, so do we.

    Without Bella you'd have vampires and werewolves telling their life stories, ala Interview With a Vampire.
     
  25. Pythonforger
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    Bella, I think, is not exactly flat. I would say she changes somewhat over the course of the books.

    However, she does display an unhealthy obsession with Edward that completely ruins the books. I know I wouldn't allow anyone to climb through the window without first getting castrated with the knife I keep under my bed for this very purpose.
     

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