Sunday, May 25, 2008

Meyer's Twilight: second post

A few days ago, I posted passages from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Passages of the Native content in the book... I talked about the Quileute boy, Jacob, but didn't include the physical description of him. Here it is:


"looked fourteen, maybe fifteen, and had long, glossy black hair pulled back with a rubber band at the nape of his neck. His skin was beautiful, silky and russet-colored; his eyes were dark, set deep above the high planes of his cheekbones. He still had just a hint of childish roundness left around his chin. Altogether, a very pretty face" (p. 119).

A plausible description; realistic, predictable.

On page 234, Bella and Edward are in his car, in her driveway, talking. At this point in the book, Bella knows Edward is a vampire. Edward sees a car approaching. Staring at the car, Edward's expression is a "mix of frustration and defiance." Bella gets out, Edward takes off. In the approaching car is Jacob and his dad, Billy. Meyer describes Billy like this:

"In the passenger seat was a much older man, a heavyset man with a memorable face--a face that overflowed, the cheeks resting against his shoulders, with creases running through the russet skin like an old leather jacket. And the surprisingly familiar eyes, black eyes that seemed at the same time both too young and too ancient for the broad face they were set in. Jacob's father, Billy Black. I knew him immediately, though in the more than five years since I'd seen him last I'd managed to forget his name when Charlie had spoken of him my first day here. He was staring at me, scrutinizing my face, so I smiled tentatively at him. His eyes were wide, as if in shock or fear, his nostrils flared."

Another complication, Edward has said.

Billy still stared at me with intense, anxious eyes. I groaned internally. Had Billy recognized Edward so easily? Could he really believe the impossible legends his son had scoffed at?

The answer was clear in Billy's eyes. Yes. Yes, he could."

Meyer's physical description of Billy is not as well done as her description of Jacob. Cheeks resting on his shoulders? Yikes! And black eyes? Actually, there is no such thing as "black" eyecolor. Dark brown, yes, but black? No. Meyer is not alone in that error; lot of writers say Indians have black eyes. Eyecolor aside, consider the adjectives: too young, too old. Conveying... vitality? wisdom?

Update: Tuesday, May 27, 2008
A reader wrote to say that her father's cheeks rest on his shoulders. She says that is what gravity does to the face, and wonders if I'm trying to make the point that a Quiluete wouldn't have that happen to them. She's being a bit sarcastic, saying explicitly that my comment on Billy's cheeks and eyecolor are nit-picky and take away from the validity of my other concerns. In response to her.... Yes, I do know that age and gravity effect the skin tone, but cheeks resting on shoulders.... the only image I could come up with in my mind was of Jabba the Hutt! The question on eye color: I stand by it. It is not biologically possible to have black eyes. They may be very dark brown, but not black. That in itself is not a big deal. Put the remark into context, however, and it becomes important. When trying to convey the idea that Native people are scary and threatening, writers often use 'black' eye color to invoke a sense of fear. I know... Bella is not afraid of Billy and Meyer is not trying to make Billy out as a scary person.

Charlie (Bella's dad) is the chief of police in Forks. On page 236, he says to Jacob:

"I'm going to pretend I didn't see you behind the wheel, Jake,"

to which Jacob replies

"We get permits early on the rez."

That line "we get permits early on the rez" stands out to me. I wonder if the Quileutes do, in fact, give drivers permits to 15-year-olds? As sovereign nations, some tribal nations issue automobile license plates that are valid, just as any state-licensed-plate is. With a tribally issued license plate, a tribal member can drive anywhere. As yet, I don't know about driver's permits/licenses.

Update: Tuesday, May 27th, 2008
Some tribes do issue driver's permits, but the Quileute's do not. I called their tribal offices and asked. All driver's licenses held by Quileute's are issued by the State of Washington.

I'm digging into research on Meyer's novels because Twilight is being made into a movie. The part of Jacob will be played by an actor named Taylor Lautner. In this interview, he says that in preparing for this part, he learned that through his mother, he is part Potawatomi and Ottawa. It doesn't sound like he was raised Potawatomi or Ottawa. In the interview, he talks about meeting Quileute tribal members.

About his character, he says he loves the contrast in Jacob's Native American side and his werewolf side:

Lautner: His Native American side ... he is very friendly and outgoing. He loves Bella and is very loyal to Bella and his dad. But on the werewolf side, they're very fierce and just attacking, and they have this huge temper. So there's a lot of stress and things going on inside him as he's trying to keep his temper to himself. I love that part, which Stephenie [Meyer, on whose novel the movie is based] created, with the contrast between the Native American side and the werewolf side of him.

At the close of the interview, he talks about a line he likes, about being half-naked. I think he's referring to a part in the second book, New Moon, where he transforms into a werewolf. That suggests that parts of New Moon will be included in the film.


In Meyer's stories, there are white vampires that do not hunt humans. White humans, that is. But, they might hunt their natural enemies--the Quileutes who were wolves before being turned into men--who they might attack if they are in a weakened condition. To protect the Quileutes, an elder made a treaty with the vampires. They promised not to expose the vampires presence to the whites (pale-faces) and in turn, the vampires promised not to go onto the reservation.

My thoughts...

First, you have to accept the premise that the vampires and Quileute ancestors are traditional enemies. Then, you have to imagine that the elders have decided to give these enemies a chance. The elders think this particular group of enemies/vampires--because they are controlling their urge to attack humans--are deserving of a chance to co-exist nearby. But they don't quite trust them, so, the all agree that the vampires will stay off the reservation. In return, the tribe will not expose the vampire's identity to the good people of Forks.

In telling Bella about the identity of the vampires, Jacob laughs that he has violated the treaty.


Tension between vampires and Quileutes, but no tension between the white people in Forks and the Quileutes. Because it is fantasy, we've got to suspend disbelief and accept the vampire/Quileute tension. And, because it is fiction, we're encouraged to believe that the people of Forks and the Quileutes get along. But, relations between whites and Quileutes have been complicated. In the 70s, the northwest tribes were engaged in legal proceedings to have fishing rights based on the treaties honored. Here's a line from this document: "
More than a century of frequent and often violent controversy between Indians and non-Indians over treaty right fishing has resulted in deep distrust and animosity on both sides. "

A treaty between the vampires and the Quileutes, but no mention of treaties between Quileutes and the federal government. Is Meyer assuming her readers know about such treaties and reservations?

A Native laughing about violating a treaty. Possible, but not likely. Particularly unlikely for a reservation-raised Native. There's always an exception to every generalization, but I doubt that an actual Quileute teen would say the things that Jacob does.

I've got the second book on order...


Anonymous said...

Thank you Debbie. I'm going to point my students to your blog. This conversation should carry on when the movie is released.

Anonymous said...

I don't pretend to be an expert, but I had a friend who was a teacher on a Native American reservation at a Middle School. She (who did not get her permit till sophomore year in high school) was a little shocked to see 13 year olds drive past her. Admittedly, I wasn't sure if she meant that they were given permits, or if the Native cops simply didn't care because everyone lives far away from each other, so these 13 year olds need to be able to drive to socialize.

Anonymous said...

When I read the book I wondered how accurate Meyer's depiction of the Quileutes was and had several specific questions. For example, I was wondering about the pack members cutting their hair after they phased the first time. I was expecting something important and symbolic -- mourning their humanity, mourning their lost youth (since they age to @ 25 within the first few months as a werewolf, although they may stay @25 indefinitely) -- something like that. The answer, when we finally got it, was that "it was more convenient."

But a couple of things you mentioned here I interpreted differently. When Jacob makes light of the treaty, he doesn't believe its real. He doesn't know about the werewolves, and he doesn't believe in vampires. He thinks his father is kind of crazy when it comes to the whole vampire treaty thing.

Also, when Jacob talks about getting licenses early on the reservation, I thought he was joking around.

Anonymous said...

There is a medical condition that can give you 'black eyes'. It's called 'Aniridia', wherein the irises don't develop leaving someone with what looks like black eyes.

What you're saying though is correct, short of the aforementioned medical condition it is impossible to have black eyes.

Student said...

Personally, as I read your blog, I feel kind of annoyed. You are taking Meyer's writing style and butchering it. On the comment you made regarding her physical description of Billy and Jacob, I dont think by her saying they have black eyes she literally means the color black. This is merely a description in order to make the reader envision their eyes. Saying in text that Billy and Jacob had "really dark brown eyes" doesnt flow as nicely and sounds horrible. I don't think her intention was to stereotype American Indians by giving them black eyes and i would love to find a Native who is personally offended by that statement. Another thing i noticed was your comment about her description of billy being too old yet too young. What's wrong with describing someone like that conveying that they have wisdom? isn't wisdom a good thing, what we look to our elders for? And again, American Indians put a lot of emphasis on oral story telling, when they look to the elder members of their tribe for wisdom and what not, so what's wrong about implying that Billy had that wisdom? This book is a fantasy, and when dealing with vampires against indians, how can anyone take some of your comments seriously? the point of the book is not to finish saying "hmm i wonder if 15 yr olds really can get permits on the reservations" or "how disappointing was Meyer's knowledge of treaty making?" In truth, i most likely will not visit this blog again as it frustrates me.

Kateyed said...

I became curious after seeing that the New Moon actors were intentionally picked from American Indian actors, what American Indian individuals and communities felt about the Twilight series portrayal of the an actual tribe, the Quileute, as werewolves. Although, in some cases, I am with other people's thoughts on the language simply being for dramatic reasons ("flashing black eyes" have been a description for ages, whether they actually exist or not.) But I appreciate that you explore how some of the portrayals and omissions highlight stereotypical images, long struggles, and cultural issues face by American Indian people. I'm no expert on American Indians (and never will be since I'm not one), but I've spent a year doing an internship at a social service agency run by and for American Indians. I've learned a lot in the past year about unintentional racism- the insidious thoughts and behaviors that many well-meaning people are not aware that they ascribe to. The student, who claims that the suggestion of "wisdom" should be taken as a compliment hasn't walked in the shoes of real people who have to face that stereotype. I know that at my internship, they avoid picking interns who think that they have come to the community with this stereotype, because stereotypes always stand in the way of truly appreciating a person for who they are and the life they have lived. I recently heard that American Indians in the military were expected to be great soldiers because of the stereotypical image of the "warrior", it seems that this stereotype is also being played out in the Twilight series. Another, racial/cultural issue is what my supervisor calls Pan-indianism, or ascribing certain things to all indians like teepees, fry bread, and dream catchers, when truly there is a plethora of differences among all the different tribes. The "totem animal" aspect of this indians as werewolves story has a bit of the Pan-indianism feel to it. Could you speak to whether wolves or totem animals have special meaning to the Quileute Indians?

Anonymous said...

Hi! If I remember correctly, I think that after Jacob says that they get their permits "early on the rez," Charlie laughs knowingly, like Jacob was joking but Charlie wasn't going to push the issue. I could be wrong, but if I'm not, you're really taking a quotation out of context there. Just thought you should know. :D