Monday, May 26, 2008


In drafting yesterday's post, some information on treaties dropped out, so I'm posting that now.

Treaties are agreements between state entities, generally called nations. When tribal leaders enter into a treaty, it is with a state entity, not a small group that operates in a way that is different from the rest of its group.

In TWILIGHT, Meyer has Quileute elders making a treaty with a group of vampires. Elders are esteemed in Native communities. Their counsel is highly valued. When they are leaders, they are in a position to negotiate treaties. Otherwise, they cannot. Perhaps Jacob's great grandfather was a leader. She doesn't say.

She also uses 'truce' to describe the agreement made by Jacob's great grandfather and Edward's pack. That could be a more apt term for this agreement, but it implies these two groups had been fighting, which is not the case.

Using 'treaty' gives vampires the status of a nation. I wonder how much Meyer actually knows about treaties? Does she know tribes are sovereign nations and that is necessary for a treaty? Or, does she really think that any member of any group can enter into a treaty?



jpm said...

Where’s the “Doctor Greene’s”? There’s a native-symbol-appropriation problem here!

Meyer is un-original at best in her imagining of the physical features of Jacob and his father. As you point out, the "black" eyes are physiologically impossible but a key part of the literary stereotyping of Native people. And as for the boy character's hair, Meyer’s clearly playing to the romanticized vision of the long-haired young warrior-type: oh-so-aesthetically pleasing on the silver screen (on a character who is of course played by someone whose mom told him he might have conglomerated indigenous ancestry, NOT Quileute).

What is this teenage girl character doing, referring to a tribal elder by his first name? She hasn't seen him for 5 years, which means she was even younger when she started calling the senior Mr. Black "Billy". Seems overly familiar & even disrespectful. But then, the entire project in which Meyer repeatedly misrepresents Quileute life isn't respectful, either, no matter what she imagines her goal to be. Why would I be surprised that her character is clueless about respect for elders? Or that her main teenage Native character speaks dismissively about violating a treaty?

Everything you are sharing with us about her book and the movie gives me the creeps, and not just because it’s about deadly/undead fantasy creatures. Meyer is acting as if Quileutes have no history or identity of their own so she can manufacture one for fun & $$$$.

"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. " Thanks for the link to the actual Boldt Decision document. Complex issues are affecting the lives of real Quileute people today. Rather than address those in a meaningful way, it’s WAY more profitable to write vampire-vs-werewolf stories set in a distant (for much of the North American population) and “exotic” locale. After all, what else is there to say about werewolves and vampires in London, Paris, New Orleans, etc., if you’re trying to make a niche for yourself as a horror writer?

It almost sounds like this author saw that 1980s movie "Wolfen", in which a few members of the Native community in some big city (New York?) shape-shifted into wolves -- NOT werewolves -- and decided she could take it a few steps further. (That was another movie in which at least one key role should have gone to a Native person, but didn’t.)

Shanahan said...

According to the Random House Collegiate Dictionary Revised Edition (1998), which happens to be the one I have on hand right now, while the 1st 2 definitions remark on international agreements, the other two are as follows, "3. any agreement or compact. 4. (Archaic) negotiation with a view to settlement"
With those two in mind, I would say that Meyer is still in the right as to her chosen word.
I'm just also wondering, what is wrong with just enjoying the story? Sure, there are points to argue, but if I spent all my time arguing over all the stereotypes about my ancestors (mostly Irish), or my husband's (French and African), I would never be able to just read a story for the fun of it. I understand the need to make facts clear, but IMHO this should not be the kind of thing that gives a person "the creeps". And, hopefully, rather than just reading someone else's words and getting those creeps, I would hope that people would read ALL the books before making a decision to be creeped out.
While I know that the author of these pages is an expert in many areas, I am of the opinion that sometimes you just need to let things go and relax. I never drink, but do I get all worked up over the stereotypes about Irish people being drunks? No. Why? Because I know that MOST people understand the difference between stereotypes and fact. Those who want to know more, will seek it out. Those who don't, won't care what I say one way or the other. And, once again IMHO, those who make assumptions are not worth getting worked up over.
Just saying, is all.

jpm said...

Some thoughts in response to the comments here, which I read while polishing up a handout for my students on "reading against the grain" -

first, it's the LEGAL definition of treaty, not the dictionary definition, that Debbie's referring to, which makes quite a bit of difference. It seems likely that Meyer relied on a dictionary definition much like the one Shanahan quotes, which suggests lack of understanding on Meyer's part of the import of having a character diss a treaty.

Second, There's also quite a bit of difference between stereotypes of drunkenness and the willful misattribution of beliefs to a group of people.

Maybe a more apt comparison would be if, say, a writer decided to portray an actual semi-isolated European village as a place where lycanthropic Roman Catholic priests and nuns had made a pact with a group of vampiric Anglicans -- and THEN that writer didn't bother to get some key details about Catholicism right, and completely left out a long history of tensions (and perhaps some oppression) among the real-life groups. I suspect that more than a few readers familiar with the real history, and with Catholicism, would be turned off (and maybe even annoyed) by that writer's lack of concern -- fantasy or not. Why choose a real setting if you're not going to get key details right? Blech. It just means the author didn't care enough to create an authentic experience for the reader, or didn't take the time to find out what would constitute authenticity.

It's true that reading against the grain, much as Debbie is suggesting that we do, has changed the way I evaluate the quality of a book. If an author is clearly using shortcuts (and exploiting a culture he/she's not part of, in the process), then I won't read it for fun. I'll read instead on the "efferent" end of the continuum Rosenblatt described -- reading in order to analyze or get information (in this case, to detect and contest mis-/disinformation).

Critical reading enables us to save time for books that meet somewhat different criteria for quality -- it's a good book if it's well-written and engaging, and "well-written" means that the author has made a point of portraying other people's lifeways consistent with reality. This can be done, should be done, IMHO, even in fantasy works! Things that matter to authenticity include lived experience, research -- and in some cases, the wisdom to leave some things alone because one knows one can't do them justice.

Shanahan said...

How about a compromise:
people can read a book for 1-2 reasons... Either 1) because it is simply an enjoyable story; and/or 2) because it is a quality work written with authority and accuracy. If a book happens to be both, then great. But I would hope that a person wouldn't consider a book to be bad simply because of inaccuracies, just like I wouldn't automatically characterize a book as good just because it is the most accurate representation ever. There should be allowances made both ways.
You could also think of it this way... how many people even knew that this tribe existed before these books? Now millions of people know the tribe and its location and many will be inspired to find out more. Isn't that something good?
Also, I don't think any characters are dissing treaties. The agreement between the tribe and the Cullen family is not one set in stone or even written down, but rather one made as the Quileutes sought to avoid conflict and violence when it was not needed. And, yes, in the story Jacob's great-grandfather was the leader of his tribe during his time.
Btw - has anyone asked Meyer how much research she did? Or asked the Quileutes how offended they may or may not be? Because, if she did do serious research and/or they are NOT offended by the books, wouldn't that eclipse any other person's arguments?
If a number of Catholics became upset over a book that they thought to be insulting and un-informed (much like with The Da Vinci Code) when it turned out that the author had done the research and that the Catholics in that area really did worship in that manner, then who's in the wrong? The author? Or the people who are up in arms even though the author did his/her research and gave and accurate depiction?