Sunday, March 07, 2010

Stardust and Twilight

No, not a companion blog to Kenyatte's sterling Tweed And Velvet (do go there, if you are a man and have a liking for proper dress, for his wisdom is boundless and highly accessible): nope, this is an attempt to resolve two conflicting positions - Stardust is my comfort read (and comfort watch, in DVD form), whereas Twilight is the favoured retreat of a friend of mine.

Twilight - at least, in its cinematic guise - is a film I have spoken of before, and not ungladly. It's dreadfully modern, of course, despite it's well-worn tropes, but no poorer for it, and deals with the concept of young love with a kind of serious purity that only Americans can really do, and not often enough, these days. (Not sure that Stephanie Meyer's Mormonism has anything to do with it. All the Mormons I've met have been rather more fun, actually)

Stardust is, on the surface, a very similar prospect - a fantastical love story between (bad pun incoming) star-crossed lovers (ow) that works out in the end against all the odds and makes everybody feel happy, provided they brought a date. And it's Neil Gaiman, of course, which renders it holy and cool.

As with so much in life, there are provisos.

One important thing to remember is that the discrepancies between the book and film versions of Stardust are more marked than those of Twilight. The book was a rather darker and more grown-up affair, with an ending that was not so much pessimistic as... well, realistic, insofar as a fairy tale can be. I actually like both versions, depending on my mood, but the book ending works better for me, and I will soon explain why.

What strikes me about these two stories is that they illustrate how very differently men and women fantasise about love. Both have remarkable similarities: the protagonist is a normal human being in both cases, falling in love with an extraordinary creature - both the vampire and the star manifest some visual representation of their otherworldliness, sparkling and shining respectively. Both are stories of love against all odds (and a rival - Victoria in Stardust, Jacob in Twilight, albeit not in a significant way until the sequel). In both tales the lovers-to-be don't get on at all well to begin with, either.

What differs is the way our human protagonists deal with their situations.

Twilight is all about Bella adapting to the prospect of love with a vampire: she never takes control, never really decides she's in love, but just accepts it as something that has happened at her. All her actions and decisions with regards to Edward are mechanisms for coping with her feelings: at no point does she seem to question them. Love, for Bella Swan, is an inevitability, a circumstance that must be coped with.

Stardust, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite - it shows a loveless situation (in fact, one of great enmity between Tristan and Yvaine) growing and changing into a mutual friendship, respect and eventually love. It shows Tristan growing up, realising his infatuation with Victoria is an illusion and making the decision to give himself to Yvaine instead. Their love is the result of effort, of work, of action: Tristan strives for his love.

Where Bella adapts to circumstance, Tristan seeks to conquer it. Bella wants to make her love with Edward (a naturally fleeting, temporal thing when dealing with an immortal) into something everlasting and eternal. Tristan doesn't: he knows that Yvain is immortal, that they can't have children, that he will one day die and she will go on... but he still gives her his heart, knowing it must inevitably end.

I am talking about the book ending of Stardust here, which differs from the film - the latter has a nice happy-ever-after everyone's-immortal-after-all vibe, which is nice, but the book sees Tristan and Yvain marry, love each other for as long as Tristan lives and then be separated by his death. Yvain goes on to rule Stormhold in perpetuity, never able to return to the sky from which she fell. Every now and then she climbs to the highest peak in Stormhold and watches the stars above with sad eyes, never able to rejoin her family and her people. But it was worth it, for love.

(That bit at the end of the Epilogue still makes me cry every time I read it. Fuck you, I'm sensitive.)

One other notable difference is the sequence where Yvain is about to cross the Wall in pursuit of Tristan, erroneously believing he will marry Victoria: in the book, she knows this will kill her. And she doesn't care any more.

Yep, dark. But that's the beauty of it. Stardust shows that love has a price, that love requires sacrifice and great deeds to create and to maintain. Because it was written by a man, and this is what men do. Men act. Men do stuff. Sometimes stupid and pointless stuff, but at any rate men are driven to change our circumstances to suit our needs.

Twilight shows love as something that just happens, a deus ex machina that must be adapted to, accomodated: Twilight shows that love has a price, that love requires great sacrifice to keep alive. Because it was written by a woman, and this is what women do. Women adapt. Women can take anything, any punishment, any misfortune, and turn it into something good and positive. Sometimes they tolerate too much and put up with crap they really shouldn't, but at any rate women are driven to change themselves to suit their circumstances.

Men and women are both, let's face it, fucking idiots. You can't control everything, guys, you can't fix everything. You can't adapt to everything, girls, you can't force every situation to somehow work out by itself. That's why men and women need each other so badly.

There's one thing that Stardust and Twilight have in common, though. Both show true love as something that doesn't just occur fully-formed and perfect - it's something that must be worked at, whether through adaptation or change. And it's worth it. It's worth the effort, no matter how insane and unrealistic it might seem.


Kavey said...

Wood be a great post were it not for the extrapolation of how men and women fantasise about love from a sample set of exactly one (atypical) man and one (perhaps somewhat more typical) woman!

I adore Stardust, the book even more than the film (for the very same reasons you mention). I love it for the wonderful, gradual growth of the two protaganists' love, for the searing pain that can sometimes come with such deep love, for the bitter sweet ending...

Twilight does absolutely nothing for me. The fantasy of a pathetic girl with nothing of any substance about her who, as you say, passively lets the entire episode happen to her, without any real get-up-and-go on her part and the absolutely unlikely scenario that a vampire who has lived and seen the world change would eventually fall for such a vapid and whiny school girl... uugh.

Maddox Kent said...

I don't agree that she's pathetic. Adaptation takes great strength, especially to difficult and extraordinary situations where there's nobody to turn to...