family values

I think it’s so fitting that Hades shouts something like “you were a TERRIBLE father!” when confronting Kronos at the foot of the Empire State Building in The Last Olympian. Fitting; and it’s ironic, too. As I’ve already noted elsewhere, Hades himself could probably benefit from parenting classes.

practicing safety first with parents and children

practicing safety first with parents and children

Really this war cry echoes throughout the Percy Jackson series, drives much of the plot and structures many of the characters’ personalities and actions.

Luke, Herme’s son, is completely bent out of shape by his sense of abandonment by his father who left him with his mentally broken mother. It leads him to “join the Dark Side” and thereby allows for the rise of “Darth Vadar”/Kronos. Do you think that the writer’s choice of name for this eventually-redeemed-villain was intentional?!?

Percy Jackson spends much of The Lightning Thief first figuring out who his father really is and then coming to terms with the ramifications of it. Strangely he dwells inordinately on concerns of what his father thinks of him and worries that he’s not living up to Poseidon’s expectations. This anxiety starts in book one, takes us through The Sea of Monsters, The Titan’s Curse etc. all the way to the very end of The Last Olympian. I don’t get it. Frankly, I would have been pretty pissed if my dad had waltzed into my mother’s life, had me, never bothered to get in touch until I started getting attacked by monsters, let my mother marry a complete a-hole so that she could protect me from the monsters that Daddy knew would be after me, then saddled me with this whole save-the-world business. Percy’s a hero and a saint. I’m with Luke on this one.

The other young demi-gods are all more or less in the same boat. I’ve already referred to Bianca and Nico di Angelo’s dreadful father. I feel really bad for how Clarisse’s dad, Ares, treats her so roughly. Thalia’s dad, Zeus, isn’t that nice either. He leaves her with an alcoholic mother and turns her into a tree instead of helping her out with his vast powers…a tree! It’s outrageous. Couldn’t the king of the gods have arranged something a little better for his heroine child? As bad as he is, at least Hades provided for the kids with a substantial trust fund and a private education. Yet Thalia’s embarrassed because she’s afraid of heights! The daughter of the God of Thunder can’t take to the air. It is a little embarrassing in a funny, serves-you-right kind of way. What really blows my mind is that she goes and joins up with Artemis’ ragtag adventurers to save her dad’s hyde! What does she owe the womanizing bastard?! Maybe hanging with the goddess is self-serving in part. It’s not everyone that really has taken an interest in poor Thalia’s welfare. But just like Percy, she’s a martyr for daddy’s love and affection.

Annabeth’s got some father issues going as well. Sure her mom, Athena, hasn’t been around much, but the parent that you constantly hear her gripe about is good old Dad. She runs away at seven because she feels like Pop isn’t that into her and is more fascinated by his new wife and kids. Athena, with her vast several-millennia of experience with children and their fathers, should have known that Doctor Chase was not up to the task of rearing a hero. Yet you don’t hear Annabeth criticizing momma one bit. She’s just down about Dad.

I’m very sympathetic to these abandoned and neglected children, Hades and Zeus included. It’s so unfortunate that the entire plot of the series ends up revolving around one group of kids (the gods and their children) attacking and ultimately destroying their father, Kronos (Don’t forget that Kronos is everyones father, grandfather or great-grandfather in this “happy” tale of families finding a way to just get along.)

Naturally kids want to have there parents in their lives and want to please them; but what about the parents? I think that parents really do have obligations to their children. Unfortunately, it seems so often that the parents in the Percy Jackson series reflect what really goes on in the real world. Parents make unreasonable demands of their kids; they abandon or abuse them; or they recklessly have children that they are ill-equipped to care for, or, perhaps worse, they are indifferent to. Of course the kids are damaged by this and end up doing the same kind of stuff to their own kids, and the cycle continues. It’s very sad. Too bad there’s no way for kids to hold parents accountable, the way Percy holds Zeus accountable at the end of The Last Olympian. That would be real justice.

I happened to look at the section on Rick Riordan’s web site called “books for adults.” He’s written this series about a private eye, Tres Navarre. The summary of the first book, Big Red Tequila, says that the novel is about Tres Navarre’s investigation into his father’s unsolved murder. I haven’t read Big Red Tequila or met Rick Riordan. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder about this father stuff and what it might mean to him?

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Lately I’ve been looking at some of the fun home videos of other Twilight ranters as well as some of the written comments that people have been making about the series. A lot of this stuff seems to be complaints about the crazy fans, complaints that Steph has totally cashed in on the whole series, moaning that the series doesn’t offer good advice for kids or that the writing has stylistic problems and therefore is not worth reading. I think that these other writers are funny, particularly for the last comment. How can you complain that all of the books after the first, “Twilight,” are badly written and boring and have any credibility when it’s obvious that you’ve read them all completely and in great detail?!?

sometimes Bella does seem hard to love

sometimes Bella does seem hard to love

I do agree with that one ranter, nuttymadam3575. She attacks some of the others who bash down “Breaking Dawn.” She’s right, the book is unexpected but it’s also pretty cool. As to issues related to sexism, appropriate messages for younger people and Steph’s financial empire, I’ve already written about those elsewhere. But in summary, I’ll say that I believe that these concerns are misplaced. About the other fans, I could care less what they’re doing, so long as they keep reading what I’m writing about the series.

One of these video ranters, Rachel, is very intriguing. She goes by basketcase23 on U-tube where she narrates a series of at least four videos called straightforwardly enough: Twilight Rant, New Moon Rant, Eclipse Rant and Breaking Dawn Rant. (Originally I had links to these videos but in March 2011 they were removed from U-tube. Sorry that you cannot seem them as they were classic.) Basically she tells the plot of each book over about ten minutes apiece while making a lot of commentary. It’s especially delightful in the “Eclipse” version when she uses little plastic action figures to represent the various characters. Rachel is like some of the other critics in that she trashes the books while showing acute awareness of their content and nuances. That makes me think that she’s just saying these things to be melodramatic. I have the feeling that she’s very into it, just like me.

My point in bringing this up though is that I noticed that throughout her comments, basketcase23 is persistently down on Bella though more erratic in her negativity towards other characters. Occasionally she’ll criticize Edward (objectifying him here with, “Edward’s sperm’s good. Makes good babies”) or Rosalie (“I don’t like Rosalie”) or maybe some of the others too (“Jacob puts the moves on Bella and that’s date rape and date rape is wrong”), but pretty much the whole time “it’s all about Bella.” “Well, that was ‘Twilight’ in a nutshell. It sucked, sucked, sucked. It did not swallow but it sucked.” “New Moon is worse because it’s all about Bella!” “Bella’s just not worth the trouble. Just punch her in the face and she’s done.” “Renesme is super intelligent which I don’t get because she’s Bella’s daughter.” What’s all of this Bella hating about?

Do people out there in the Twilight Universe really think that Bells is a pathetic wimp?

Well, she is a klutz. And compared to other kids, let alone the werewolves and the vamps, she’s not particularly athletic. I admire her for trying things, though. She did learn to ride a motorbike for instance. That takes some dexterity and strength. She also managed to successfully cliff dive, something that I’m sure that I would never do. What I like about her is that she’s so stoic in the face of constantly getting hurt. In every book, she either trips, breaks her bones, cuts herself, falls off stuff, gets attacked or what have you. For the most part, she hardly complains, is more concerned with others being upset and she even refuses more analgesia in the hospital. After the very painful transformation into a vampire, she cheerily tells Carlisle that it wasn’t that bad, clearly downplaying the sheer agony. Not everyone could be that tough.

I don’t have the feeling that Rachel is talking about the physical side when she calls Bella “stupid” and keeps having her Edward telling B to just “shut up!” It’s her emotional state that’s the “problem.” It is true that she’s head-over-heels for Edward and that probably does affect her judgment here and there. I get the sense that it’s mutual. Eddie seems to act like a fool in love a lot too. Naturally there’s a bunch of squishy feelings that get expressed throughout their romance. That seems kind of normal though could be tiresome to others, particularly if you’re inexperienced with these feelings yourselves, as I imagine a lot of the fan base might be because they’re very young.

Rachel seems more intent on bashing Bells down not so much for that, either, as for the ambivalence and inconstancy of her moods, expressions and decisions. In “Eclipse” Rachel’s Rosalie tells Bella, “You’re not pretty. You’re whiny; very, very whiny.” Bella is “so stupid” to get herself “in this situation” with James. When describing Bella’s anguish with the loss of Edward in book 2, Rachel rolls on the floor in mock despair, clearly dismissing the very idea that B could be upset. “Bella…she’s the paragon of self control in every aspect of the book…not!”

I get it that B’s changeable. But in her defense, look at her background. Her parents split up shortly after she was born. B must have heard endlessly from Renee about the dangers of romantic relationships as her mother licked her emotional wounds over her failed marriage to Charlie. And not only that: Bells was subjected to the ongoing chaos of her mother’s absurd life and regular dalliances. No wonder she skips town as soon as Renee is in the semblance of a stable relationship!

Her father is really not better though for the opposite reason: he’s too emotionally withdrawn. Charlie takes a radical hands-off approach to parenting possibly bordering on neglect. But look at it from his perspective for a moment. Bella is already 17 years old when she shows up on his doorstep, so virtually a woman; and he’s had no experience until just then of being a father aside from brief summertime visits which are more like vacations than parenting.

In any event, neither parent has properly prepared Bella for the emotional whirlwind that she enters in Forks. I’m not trying to blame them. They’ve tried their best. It’s simply that people learn from what they observe around them, and Bells has learned some unusual ways of coping with things. As a result, at times she can seem a bit wishy-washy. There are numerous examples of this but I‘ll just mention a few.

First, she recognizes right away that Jacob is more fond of her than she is of him, yet she seems to selectively tune into this and almost encourage his attachment with mixed messages until the final resolution in “Breaking Dawn.” This leads to the much talked about ‘Edward versus Jacob’ plotline in the novels. Why does she allow this very awkward state of affairs to continue? I think that it’s quite simple really. Bella is used to loving two very different people, with almost opposite temperaments, who have an intense though somewhat antagonistic relationship with one-another: her parents, Renee and Charlie. This Jacob/Edward thing is very similar.

I’ve wondered about Bella’s easy acceptance of Edward’s abrupt departure at the start of “New Moon” and her difficulty at the end of that novel in recognizing on the plane trip home from Italy that he was back in her life to stay. Rachel noticed this peculiarity as well. But why?!? Well, isn’t this sort of like her parents? Charlie is always off at work or fishing. Renee is always doing her various and sundry hobbies. Both abandon Bella on a whim and a moments notice. How could she expect Edward and his crew to be any different? And if experience is her guide, then just because he returns with her to Forks at the end doesn’t mean that he won’t up and vanish later.

The third somewhat persistent Bella criticism that comes up a lot throughout the series is her tendency to apologize to others, particularly Eddie and Jake, and focus on their feelings while ignoring her own when she’s placed in dangerous situations by them. Sometimes this can be quite witty: for example when Ed invites her to meet his family for the first time. Instead of being alarmed by entering a house of vampires, she’s more concerned about whether or not they’ll like her. More disturbingly, in “Eclipse” to hold onto Jacob just a bit longer, she consents to kiss him though it’s clear that he’s blackmailing her with his own threats of suicide via newborn murder. This certainly is risky business with a jealous vamp boyfriend hanging around the campsite. Shockingly, she feels bad that Jake’s upset. Instead she should probably be outraged by the whole thing. It happens everywhere in the series so two instances of it should suffice.

What does this pattern mean? Steph has already set the stage for the answer. Bells has been raised to be a parental figure to her wacky parents. Parents frequently take on the feelings and problems of their charges in an attempt to help instead of expressing their own anger and frustration with the problem situations. Of course, Bella takes on a parenting role with Edward and Jacob. That’s how she’s most comfortable. Maybe it’s not appropriate, but it does make sense. In fact, I would say that’s a very important role that Charlie, Renee, Carlisle and Esme could learn more about.

Finally, on-line critics seem outraged that Bella gets married, has sex and a child, all while quite young. Rachel even refers to B’s first sexual encounter with Edward on their honeymoon in Brazil as “date rape.” I really cannot agree. Bella and Edward were nervous it’s true. But both were consenting adults and married to one-another at the time. Neither of them had any sexual experience so of course it was hard to predict what would happen. That’s hardly rape in my book.

I touched on the saccharine yet satisfying series ‘happy ending’ last week but it seems relevant here. To me this criticism appears to be the opposite one of Bella as a spineless, dithering wet blanket like we were just saying. Bells pulls her shit together by the series close as all classic romantic heroines do. She becomes more decisive; she sticks to her decisions when tested; she rises above her circumstances and ultimately prevails. Bella achieves what few of us ever do: she moves beyond the limits imposed on her by her upbringing.

I think that B is made of tougher stuff than most folks give her credit for. Sure, she messes around for a while and she is a bit silly about some things. But she really manages well especially given her limited role models. I applaud her!

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Grief can make you do crazy things.

Bella really goes through it when Edward and the Cullens blow out of town at the beginning of “New Moon.” She becomes almost completely dysfunctional to the point that months and months go by without her notice. She gradually recovers a bit when she starts hanging around with Jacob more but, let’s face it, she’s still a mess. It gets so out of control that she starts to hallucinate Edward’s voice.

smile no matter how you feel inside!!!

smile no matter how you feel inside!!!

It first happens when she’s stressed out by those strange men in front of that Port Angeles bar. They reminded her of the guys that tried to rape her in “Twilight.” Unexpectedly, she gets closer to these threatening men because she enjoys the hallucinated voice! I think that a non-depressed person, like Jessica, for example, would have responded more appropriately and gotten out of there ASAP. Jessica is right to be irritated with Bella. She is not displaying good judgment here at all. Fortunately nothing happens.

But that’s not the end of the problem. Bella longs to hear Edward’s voice again. She’s so strung out by her grief that she repeatedly endangers herself for this stress-induced psychosis. First there’re the motorcycles, then the chance encounter with Laurent in the glade in the woods and finally the impulsive leap from the cliff in a growing storm. What is she thinking!?! The answer is, obviously, that she is not thinking at all.

Bella becomes so wrecked that she even contemplates getting romantically involved with Jacob, I suppose so she won’t be alone. Jacob would have probably gone for it too. He’s so love-sick for her that he even helps her endanger herself, no-questions-asked. She never confides her distress in Charlie or Renee, who might have been able to offer support and/or refer her for professional assistance. More troubling still, her parents fail to recognize that she needs their help at all.

This book is painful to read. I got depressed myself in a kind of sympathetic reaction to Bella. I too was shocked by Edward’s absence. And her insane acting out behaviors also seemed believable. But what is the message here?

Bella never suffers any real consequences from these problem behaviors. She’s not killed or even seriously hurt. Sure, she went to the ER with Jacob after a particularly bad spill off the bike but it was just a few stitches. By the end of the novel, Edward is reunited with her as if nothing had happened at all. Charlie and Renee are none the wiser. The Cullens come back to Forks and we’re all a big happy family again.

Doesn’t this give impressionable readers the wrong ideas for coping with loss? I think that the take away points from “New Moon” are these:

1. Risking your life over the end of a romance is acceptable behavior.
2. The potential consequences of dangerous behavior are irrelevant.
3. You should not seek support from adults to manage sad feelings.
4. You’re better off in any relationship, no matter how inappropriate.
5. You can’t make it alone.

Bella is young and inexperienced. I don’t blame her for this mess in which she finds herself. The adults around her, though, have clearly been screwing up. This includes her parents, her teachers and Dr. Snow. Probably we should include Dr. and Mrs. Cullen as neglectful parental figures in this scenario as well. They seriously miscalculated letting Edward go off roaming alone and then to Volterra to commit suicide because of his grief. They probably should have considered Bella’s need for help too. Could this really be the message that Steph intends, or is the book supposed to be read more as a cautionary tale, like “Wuthering Heights?”

“New Moon” does not offer good advice for the lovelorn. Wouldn’t a better message be that painful feelings can be tolerated and overcome; it’s normal for relationships to end sometimes; and that you as an individual can have a meaningful, enjoyable existence whether or not you’re romantically involved?

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Charlie is such a dad. Pretty cool, but still, you know, he’s dad-style. He doesn’t really bug Bella much when she first moves in and litters the bathroom with her hair care products and whatnot. He seems positively unconcerned about her massive injury on the night of her eighteenth birthday after Jasper attacks her. He wants her to go to college but doesn’t shove it down her throat or get all bummed out when it isn’t NYU. On the other hand, he does meddle a lot in her dating and social life, clearly showing a preference for Jacob over Edward and pushing her to hang with other friends. And he puts her on a rough curfew after she jets off to Europe for the weekend without telling him. (Actually that may be an example of Charlie being pretty cool. Harry Clearwater had just died and Bella completely blows off the funeral and everything and all she really gets is a slap on the wrist. My dad would have been pissed!) Charlie is a nice mix of easy going and protective.

But how does Edward compare?

three generations; two dads

three generations; two dads

He’s got a lot of this Charlie-stuff going on, too. Nobody could accuse Edward of being easygoing (I love it that Alice describes him as “melodramatic”). Edward does have an intense generosity; that reminds me of an easygoing, live-and-let-live kind of person….on speed. He refrains from murdering Bella for one. That’s pretty significant I think. Plus he gets her nice stuff. Just that diamond heart charm must have cost a fortune! He doesn’t wish her “happy birthday” when she’s pouting about being “so old.” He prevents his brother and James and the Volturi and Victoria from killing her; also, pretty important. He takes a more serious interest in her education than even Charlie, sitting through endless videos of Romeo and Juliet and forging college applications for her. I’d be stoked in her place.

He does kind of meddle a lot though. He’s constantly getting Bella protective gear: motorcycle helmets and leather bike jackets, nuclear bomb proof cars, bandages and doctor visits. He dictates to her who she can see (or not). This is not just about Jacob either. Edward makes his whole family leave and refuses Bella any contact. He is perversely preoccupied with the lame idea that Mike Newton is somehow still in the picture. He nags about things that she “should” do: go to prom, Bella; go to college, Bella; don’t become a vampire, Bella. Really, Edward seems pretty dad-style to me, just with more intensity. The fact that he also makes out with Bella a fair bit just sends the comparison over the edge into the psychoanalyst’s office.

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