Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movie Review: Christmas Double Feature

Merry Christmas to everyone.  In honor of this blog’s first Christmas, I thought I’d do something a bit different.  It’s my first double feature!  This installment will contain reviews for two different Christmas movies for your enjoyment.  But which movies would I review?  There are a lot of great movies out there to choose from.  There’s The Santa Clause, a comedy in which Tim Allen portrays Scott Calvin, an advertising executive who suddenly finds out that he has to become Santa Claus after the old Santa fell off his roof.  However, as brilliant as that movie is, it ended up falling prey to the crummy sequels, which I would probably have to address within the review, and I’m sure no one wants to remember those sequels.  I could choose one of the family favorites like A Christmas Story, or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which are both well-deserving of their popularity.  But I’m sure much better reviewers than I have had a look at these gems, and there’s not much else I can say about them.  Finally, after much thought, I decided to focus on a Rankin/Bass Christmas special.  This particular film company are famous for their holiday specials, most of which are still watched to this day.  These include Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and The Year Without A Santa Claus.  However, I decided to go with a less-well-known film, one that explores the origins of the legendary Santa Claus.  This is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, the last of Rankin/Bass’ stop motion specials and a story based on the book written by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and official sequels.
The story begins in the Forest of Burzee.  A magical figure known as The Great Ak has called a meeting with the Immortals.  These Immortals include the queen water spirit, the lord of sleep, the master of sound imps, the chief wind demon, and others whose titles I could not quite catch.  The Great Ak has called these Immortals together to try and convince them to place immortality on a mortal called Santa Claus, who is said to be dearly loved by all and is the one human who deserves to live on so he could continue his great works.
            The Great Ak proceeds to tell the Immortals of Santa’s origins.  60 years prior, the Great Ak came across an abandoned baby at the edge of the woods.  Why this baby was abandoned and what became of his parents, is never touched upon.  Since the Great Ak has enough on his plate being the supreme woodsman of the world, he leaves the baby under the care of a lioness called Shiegra.  A wood nymph called Necile, upon hearing of the baby, is instantly curious, as immortals do not age or have children of their own, as the Great Ak explains through a short song.  (Like most Rankin/Bass holiday specials, this is a musical.)  So, having never seen a child, she heads off to get a glimpse of the baby under Shiegra’s care, and upon seeing him, decides she can surely care for the boy as well as she cares for her trees.  Despite the law stating that no mortal man must ever enter the Forest of Burzee, the Great Ak relents and allows Necile to keep the baby, with Shiegra becoming their main source of protection.  Necile calls the baby Claus, which means ‘little one’ in the language of the nymphs.
             Time passes, and, through a musical montage, we watch as Claus grows from a small baby to a young boy, receiving language lessons from a sound imp called Tingler.  One day, the Great Ak takes Claus on a journey through the world, in order to give Claus a view of the world of men.  Becoming invisible to all mortals, they watch a cruel landowner telling off a family of poor farmers for not producing enough crops, refusing to accept their explanations about how the weather prevented a large harvest, two boys training to be samurai, a pair of poor beggar children who have to survive on their own, and some knights fighting to the death over some unknown cause.
            Claus decides to venture out into the mortal world to try and help put an end to the darkness he witnessed, with Tingler, and Shiegra accompanying him.  Claus settles into a place called Laughing Valley, and is immediately accepted by the human children in a nearby village, whom he is shown reading to and playing with within a second musical montage.  As this montage ends, Claus is now a full-grown adult, complete with the beginnings of his signature beard.  At this point, we are suddenly introduced to a black cat called Blinky, who was sent to them by Necile.  Immediately after Blinky’s introduction, Claus discovers a small boy passed out in the snow outside his home.  He takes the boy inside to get him warmed up.  When the boy wakes up, he introduces himself as an orphan named Winkum.  Winkum comments on how much he likes the cat Blinky, and wishes he had one just like her.  When Winkum wakes up the next morning, Claus presents him with a wooden cat he’d carved and painted to look just like Blinky: the world’s first toy.  The Blinky toy is such a big hit with the other children at the local orphanage, they announce that they all want one of their own, with the help a full-fledged musical number entitled ‘Big Surprise.’   
       This song is what inspires Claus to continue making toys for the town’s children.  The demand for his toys become so great, the wood nymphs and other denizens of the Forest of Burzee all come to help him make the toys.  However, not everyone is happy with Claus’ toymaking.  One day, Claus receives a letter from King Awgwa that threatens him to stop making toys.  Awgwas, as Tingler explains, are evil beings who can become invisible at will and delight at influencing children into doing bad things.  Claus decides to ignore King Awgwa’s threat.  Thus, Claus is immediately tied up and abducted by the Awgwas and brought to a cave where a large snake and spider threaten him.  However, Claus is rescued when he calls upon the Knooks, strange creatures who have control over the animals. (One of Claus’ friends from the Forest of Burzee is a Knook named Peter, so he knows their secret passwords.)
            King Awgwa refuses to give up, however.  Every time Claus heads off to the village, the Awgwas steal the toys, making it impossible for Claus to deliver them.  In time all of the toys are stolen.  The Great Ak approaches King Awgwa, commanding him to cease harming Claus, but King Awgwa refuses to listen.  King Awgwa’s defiance leads to an all-out war between the Immortals and the Awgwas.  In a rather anti-climatic battle, the Immortals all defeat the Awgwas effortlessly, leaving Claus free to deliver his toys without any interference.   
            Because there are so many toys, Claus cannot pull the sled that carries them.  Peter Knook solves the problem by providing a small herd of reindeer to help pull the sled, instructing Claus to have them back before dawn.  Another problem arises when they arrive at the village.  Claus finds the front door locked, and cannot enter the homes to leave the toys.  It is Tingler who suggests that Claus enters the house through the chimney.  Once inside, Claus notices that the children who live in the house have left their stockings hanging over the fireplace to dry them, and he decides to take advantage of that by leaving the presents inside the drying stockings.  When the children wake up the next morning and find their new toys, their parents refer to Claus as Saint Claus, prompting the two children to start calling him Santa Claus.
            Back in Laughing Valley, the newly dubbed Santa Claus is being reprimanded by Peter Knook for not having the reindeer back before dawn as they’d agreed.  However, for the sake of the children, Peter Knook agrees to let Santa use the reindeer again, on the condition that Santa only delivers the toys on one night each year, selecting Christmas Eve as the appointed night.  Tingler despairs to this, stating that Christmas Eve is only ten days away, and that they’d never make enough toys in time.  The day is once again saved by Peter Knook, who arrives at Santa’s home with all the toys that were stolen by the Awgwas, which were recovered off-screen somehow.  This part kinda makes me scratch my head in confusion.  We see Santa saying ‘oh, if only we had those toys that the Awgwas stole’ and suddenly, we see Peter Knook bringing them back.  It never explains HOW Peter Knook found the toys, and if it was that easy, why didn’t they bring the toys back immediately after the Awgwas were vanquished?
            We now return to the Greak Ak’s audience with the Immortals, as he wraps up his story.  He tells them that Santa Claus has been delivering toys for many years now, and has reached a very old age.  As such, the spirit of death is almost upon him.  Meanwhile, Santa Claus, who knows that his time on Earth is growing short, has decided to decorate a tree in his front yard with toys, as a kind of memorial to his life mission of delivering toys.  Tingler vows that they will decorate the tree every year to remember him. 
However, as Santa falls asleep that night, the Immortals unanimously vote to agree to the Great Ak’s request, and bestow the Mantle of Immortality upon Santa.  And on that note, the movie ends, with the knowledge that Santa Claus will continue delivering his toys to all the children in the world every Christmas Eve.
            While this story is a credit to the collection of Rankin/Bass’ holiday specials, it is quite rushed at times.  The whole battle against the Awgwas is over in less than a minute, and they kind of gloss over Blinky’s introduction and the retrieval of the stolen toys.  Although in the year 2000, Universal Studios released their own version of this story.  
           Naturally, there are some differences between the two versions.  Peter the Knook is renamed Will.  The wood nymph Necile names the baby Nicholas instead of Claus.  Instead of the sound nymph Tingler, we get a shape-shifting pixie named Wisk.  (Personally, I find Wisk to be a much better character than Tingler, especially since Tingler’s tendency to make various sound effects and spout off the same word in different languages does grate on my nerves a bit.)  The animated version of the story also provides a bit more build up to the Awgwas, making them principle villains in the movie.  In the Rankin/Bass version, they just sorta appeared out of nowhere to add some conflict to the story, but in Universal’s version, they’re mentioned quite frequently in the beginning, so the audience knows all about Awgwas when they finally make their appearance.  There’s also an actual scene when they show the Immortals fining the stolen toys within the Awgwa’s cave.  As a whole, I admittedly prefer this animated version to the Rankin/Bass version, but if you have the chance, you should definitely see both.
            The second movie for today’s double feature involves one of the most time-honored Christmas stories.  The immortal classic, Charles Dickon’s A Christmas Carol.  Out of all the beloved Christmas stories, this one has quite possibly the most adaptations, from films to stage productions to musicals.  Even everyone’s favorite childhood icons have done their own version of the story: Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Mr. Magoo, Sesame Street, and even Jim Henson’s Muppets.  However, there are some who might overlook one particular adaptation of this popular story.  That is the version I will discuss today: the 1988 movie known as Scroodged.
            In this comedic rendition of A Christmas Carol, Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross, a cynical programming executive for the fictional television station, IBC, a parody of ABC.  The film opens in Santa’s workshop up in the North Pole, (just stay with me, because this will make sense in a moment) where Santa and the elves are busy making toys.  Suddenly, the workshop is attacked by gunmen, prompting Mrs. Claus to whip out assault riffles.  It soon is revealed that this is just an advert for one of IBC’s upcoming Christmas specials, a charming little family film entitled The Night the Reindeer Died, which stars Lee Majors.  Other commerce’s include Bob Golet Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas, and Father Loves Beaver, the latter apparently taking the concept of Leave It To Beaver and adding some rather perverted humor.  (And yes, I’m kinda surprised they did that joke here, as allegedly, the little children in this movie’s reality would be seeing this promo, but on the other hand, the joke would probably go over little kids’ heads.)  As these promos come to an end, the other IBC employees all turn to Frank for his reaction.  Frank shows no real reaction, and simply requests to see the Scrooge promo.  It turns out IBC is planning to film a live television broadcast of Charles Dickens’s story on Christmas Eve.   They’ve got a lot of big stars to appear in this, too: Jamie Farr, Buddy Hackett, and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim (who, as the promo shows, will start performing acrobatics after loosing the crutch).  The promo for this live broadcast plays up the involvement of these stars, but Frank is less then pleased with this, and is quick to announce his disgust with the promo and his irritation with his employees for making it.  One of the chairman, a timid man called Eliot Loudermilk, points out to Frank that the promo has been running for a month now and is getting a very good response, but Frank is immediately dismissive, stating that people merely wanting to watch the life broadcast is just not good enough.  According to Frank, the public have to be petrified about missing it.   
Scrooged (TV show) (L-R) Bill Murray as Frank Cross and Alfre Woodard as Grace Cooley in ``Scrooged.'' 
He then proceeds to show them his own promo for the live Scrooge show.  This promo contains horrifying images, including scenes of someone shooting up, people getting shot within their cars, and even a plane blowing up.  After the other IBC employees stagger out of the room, all deeply disturbed by what they’ve seen, Eliot tries to talk to Frank about his concerns surrounding the darker Scrooge promo, stating that the promo might be to frightening to their viewing audience.  While Frank pretends to take Eliot seriously, he then instructs his secretary, Grace, to have Eliot escorted off the building.  Grace is shocked that Frank would fire Eliot, but when she reminds Frank about it being Christmas Eve, Frank responds by simply stopping Eliot’s Christmas bonus as well.
            What follows is some other little elements that show Frank’s similarity to the character of Scrooge, such as refusing to go his brother’s Christmas dinner, stealing a cab from an elderly woman, and forcing his assistant Grace to work late, even though she had to bring her son, Calvin, to a doctor’s appointment she’d scheduled months in advance.  (He even gives Grace a towel and a facecloth instead of a Christmas bonus).  That night, Frank is alone in his office when the door is blown off its hinges.  In walks the decaying corpse of Frank’s old boss, Lew Hayward, who died seven years prior of a heart attack while golfing.  Lew, echoing the words of Jacob Marley, warns Frank that he is about to be visited by three ghosts, with the first arriving at noon the following day.  Immediately after Lew vanishes, Frank’s phone inexplicably starts dialing a number by itself.   When Frank hears the answering machine of a woman named Clare on the other end, he jumps to his feet and leaves a message for her, saying that he really needs to talk to her, despite knowing it’s been 15 years since they’ve last spoken.  As we eventually learn, Clare was once Frank’s girlfriend, but they split up for reasons that will be explained later.
            The next day, Frank learns that his dark Scrooge promo literally scared an 80-year-old grandmother to death.  Frank shows no concern over this information, and simply sees it as publicity.  He then goes down to the set of the live Scrooge show.  After an argument with the censor, who is annoyed by the presence of the scantly clad Solid Gold Dancers, he is approached by Clare, the woman he’d left a message for.  For a while, the two share awkward conversation, but it is clear that Clare becomes alienated when Frank first suggests stapling antlers to a mouse and then is particularly harsh when he comes across little Calvin, whom Grace has brought to watch the live broadcast.  However, Clare still gives Frank her contact information, asking him to call her if he needs to talk.
            Sometime later, Frank is meeting with his boss, Preston Rhinelander, who informs him that he has hired a man named Brice Cummings to assist Frank.  During the meeting, however, Frank starts experiencing alarming hallucinations, which include a bloody eyeball in his water glass, and even a man catching on fire.  These hallucinations force him to step outside for some air.  He hails a cab, only to discover that the cab driver is in fact the Ghost of Christmas Past.   
The Ghost Cab Driver takes Frank back to his childhood home back in 1955.  Here, it is revealed that Frank’s father was a harsh, unreasonable man.  On this particular Christmas, Mr. Cross arrives home from his job at the butchers and gives his son a pound of veal.  Little Frank states that he wanted a toy train for Christmas, but his father callously tells him that if he wants a toy train, then he should go out and get a job, even going so far as to dismiss the fact that Frank is only four-years-old as just another lame excuse as to why he can’t work.  The next stop on this trip down memory lane brings Frank and the Ghost Cab Driver to 1968, when Frank first met Clare, when she accidently opened a shop door in Frank’s face (which inspired Clare’s nickname for Frank, ‘Lumpy.’)  The teenaged Frank and Clare immediately hit it off and begin dating.  However, when Ghost Cab Driver brings Frank to the year 1971, we find Frank holding a job portraying Frisbee the Dog in one of those live TV shows that are filmed in front of an audience.  As they wrap up the day’s episode, Frank is invited to have dinner with his boss that night.  Frank immediately accepts, knowing that doing so would greatly help his carrier.  However, Clare shows up shortly afterwards and reminds him that they were invited to have Christmas dinner with their best friends.  This conflict, for some reason, leads Clare to suggest that they should separate.  I suppose we’re supposed to conclude that they were already having problems, because it seems a bit unreasonable for two people to break up after one disagreement.
            Back in the present, Frank leaves the studio to head off to Operation Reach Out, a homeless shelter where Clare is currently working, all the while muttering about the fact that Clare left him that night, trying, I gather to alleviate some of his guilt.  He is immediately approached by three of the homeless men, who mistake him for Mr. Burton.   
One of the homeless people is a man named Herman, who is always seen with a pocket watch (This will be important a bit later).  When she sees Frank there at the shelter, Clare is ecstatic and the two start talking.  However, when some of the other volunteers at the homeless shelter approach Clare for help with finding fuses and to inform her that the turkeys they were promised haven’t arrived yet, Clare immediately tells Frank that she’ll be back in a moment as soon as she’s gotten things straightened out.  Frank, on the other hand, immediately gives her the cold shoulder, telling her that she should learn to focus on saving herself instead of others.  With a ‘Bah Humbug’, Frank storms off, returning to the television station, where the actors are in the middle of their final dress rehearsal before the live broadcast.  Upon his arrival, he finds that Brice, the man who was brought on to assist him, has virtually taken over things at the station, the first indication that he is really after Frank’s job.  When they actors break for dinner, Frank instantly encounters the Ghost of Christmas Present, a psychotic ballerina-esque fairy who delights in abusing Frank.  In fact, her very first act is to deliver a kick to Frank’s groin.
            The Ghost Fairy takes Frank to the home of his secretary, Grace.  Frank watches as Grace spends time with her children, taking note of how everyone seems to be having fun, even though they don’t have much money.  He also takes notice of Calvin, who is shown to be rather bright as he quickly solves a marble puzzle that his older siblings were having trouble with.  The Ghost Fairy informs Frank that Calivn has not spoken a word since he witnessed his father’s murder five years prior.  The information stuns Frank, who did not realize Grace’s husband had died.  He announces that he will make sure to raise Grace’s salary.  Next, Frank is taken to the home of his brother James’ Christmas party, where he is visibly touched to see James toast him, although he is a bit irritated by the fact that James has difficulty in correctly naming the boat that took them to Gilligan’s Island.  Finally, Frank is dropped off into an icy sewer, where he finds Herman, the man with the pocket watch who we saw briefly living in the homeless shelter.  The horrified Frank discovers that Herman has frozen to death.  After Frank berates Herman’s body, shouting that he (Herman) should have stayed at the homeless shelter, where Clare would have taken care of him. Frank then notices a door within the sewer and walks through it.  The door magically returns him to the TV station, where everyone is just about to begin the live broadcast of Scrooge.  Frank is escorted to the elevator that would take him to his office by Grace and Brice.  When the elevator doors open, Frank is horrified to see the third ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Future, standing there.  Frank initially reacts in fear, but it turns out that this isn’t the real ghost.  He’s just the actor appearing in the live broadcast of Scrooge.  “That guy’s going to be a big star,” Frank comments.
            Once Frank is up in his office, he pours himself a drink as the live broadcast is filmed downstairs, with Frank watching the broadcast via the TV screens in his office. As the broadcast continues, the REAL Ghost of Christmas Future suddenly appears behind Frank, although Frank does not notice this.   
The ghost reaches out for Frank, but before it can grab him, a vengeful Eliot stumbles into Frank’s office, carrying a loaded rifle.  Eliot has been driven to near madness after he was fired on Christmas Eve, and was subsequently deserted by his wife, who also took their infant daughter with her.  Eliot chases Frank through his office, until Frank is saved at the last possible second when the elevator doors open and Frank jumps inside.
            Once inside the elevator, Frank finds himself right in front of the Ghost of Christmas Future.  At first, Frank thinks that this is simply the actor from downstairs again, but quickly realizes that this time, the ghost is the real deal.  The GoCF shows Frank the images of the possible future.  Grace’s son, Calvin, is now confined to an institution, where his mother can only see him during scheduled visiting hours.  Clare, who was once caring and loving to everyone, is now cold and callous, and even snubs some hungry children.  Finally, Frank is shown his funeral, which only James and his wife attend.  As Frank’s coffin is lowered into a furnace, Frank cries out that he wants to live, and the elevator doors reopen.  Frank rejoices that he is still alive, but this thought is short lived, as Eliot immediately aims his rifle at Frank again.  However, Eliot’s murder attempt is quickly thwarted when the reformed Frank rehires Eliot, complete with a salary increase.  The pair then team up, and as Frank walks out in the middle of the live TV broadcast to personally address the people watching the show, Eliot storms into the control room to ensure no one disrupts the broadcast.  On live TV, Frank publicly apologizes to his brother, James, and asks Clare for another chance.  He then instructs everyone who had been watching the live broadcast to spend Christmas with their loved ones instead of watching TV, and to keep the spirit of Christmas within their hearts all year round.  Frank’s speech prompts Calvin, who had been present in the TV station to watch the live broadcast being filmed, to step forward and deliver Tiny Tim’s famous line, ‘God bless us, everyone,’ thereby breaking free of his mute condition.
As the overjoyed Grace embraces Calvin in happiness, Frank happens to glance up and sees Clare has arrived at the TV station, smiling back at him.  As Frank and Clare rekindle their relationship, everyone at the TV station celebrate, including Lew Hayward, the three Christmas Ghosts, and the spirit of Herman, who have also appeared to join in the festivities (even though only Frank can see or hear them.)
            On the whole, Scrooged may not be the most faithful to the original source material, but all the important elements are there.  Every vital character in the original story is represented.  Frank Cross is Scrooge, his brother James is Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, Lew Hayward is Jacob Marley, and Calvin, obviously is Tiny Tim.  Even Scrooge’s lost love is represented in Clare.  As for the character of Bob Cratchet, his role is divided between Grace and, arguably, Eliot.  What makes this movie particularly interesting is that we’re watching A Christmas Carol in two different ways within the film.  Not only do we get Frank’s journey and transformation into a better person, they’re also filming their own version of A Christmas Carol at the same time.  The only real issue with the movie is rather small.  While Frank does do some rather cruel stuff at times, he isn’t quite as bad as some of the Scrooges in other versions of this story.  Even before the point in the story where Scrooge’s character reaches his epiphany, Frank is already voicing his intentions to make things better, and when he comes across Herman’s frozen body, he does show some measure of remorse for the man’s death.
            And that concludes my Christmas Double Feature.  I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and that their coming year is filled with hope and joy.  But before I sign off, I’d like to promote one last Christmas story.  This time, the story is a little known children’s book from my childhood that I feel deserves more recognition.  The Christmas Cat, written by Isabelle Holland and illustrated by Kathy Mitchell.   
 This book tells the story of a stray cat named Peter.  Because he’s a stray, he’s constantly being told that he’s not important.  However, Peter has a distant memory of his mother telling him that ‘a cat may look at a king,’ which gives Peter hope that things will someday be better.  One day, he sees a caravan passing by and overhears that the caravan is traveling to see a king.  Remembering his mother’s words, Peter decides to follow the caravan, hoping to see this king as well.  Along the way, he’s joined by Caleb the dog and Balaam the donkey, and while Caleb and Balaam are doubtful that this king will want to see animals that are as unimportant as they are, Peter continues to urge them on, repeatedly quoting his mother’s words.  In the end, Peter, Caleb and Balaam all manage to reach their destination and see the new king with their own eyes.  As a result, they each receive the happy ending they deserve.  This story has always had a special place in my heart, and it is a must to anyone who enjoys stories with a Nativity theme.  Even better is the message that even those who are seen as unimportant really do matter.  If you are lucky enough to come across this book, by all means, give it a read.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn, the concluding novel in the Twilight saga, begins on a high note.  Victoria and her newborn army have been defeated, and it looks as if the love story between the human and the vampire can finally have a happy ending.   
 As the book opens, Edward and Bella are preparing for their approaching wedding, which proves to be perfectly ideal, mostly thanks to the coordination efforts of the enthusiastic Alice.
During the reception, Edward and Bella discover they have a surprise wedding guest.  The Quileute wolf and Bella’s ‘former’ best friend, Jacob, has returned home after his long self-imposed exile from La Push.  When Edward gives Bella and Jacob time for them to talk alone, it seems as if they can part on good terms, until Bella lets slip the compromise she’d made with Edward prior to getting married, about how Edward had agreed to make love to her while she was still human.  Jacob becomes enraged by this knowledge and has to be dragged of by some of his packmates, who had been lurking nearby just in case Jacob started to loose his composure.  Bella and Edward are both deeply shaken by the nearly-disastrous confrontation, but they manage to push it aside and enjoy the rest of their day.
After the wedding, Edward brings Bella to Isle Esme, a private island located off the coast of Brazil, which Carlisle had given to Esme as an anniversary present, presumably a long time ago.  It is here that Edward and Bella consummate their relationship for the first time.  Bella wakes up the morning after to find Edward in super-ultra-angst mode.  It turns out that Edward’s lovemaking had left Bella’s body extremely bruised.  Being true to his nature, Edward declares that he refuses to continue risking hurting Bella like that, and that he won’t make love to her again until after she’s changed.  Despite this promise, Bella eventually wears him down, leading to their discovery that is safe for them to have sex, because Edward now knows what to expect beforehand and can better channel his vampire strength.
Meanwhile, Bella has been experiencing a series of strange dreams, which had begun almost immediately after their arrival on Isle Esme.  In addition, her appetite starts to increase, with a strong preference for eggs.  Things cumulate when Bella begins getting sick to her stomach.  At first, she blames her upset stomach on food poisoning, as some chicken she cooked for herself tasted ‘off,’ but after her second bought of sickness, Bella tries to look for some Pepto-Bismol in her first aid kit and discovers an unopened box of tampons.  Upon finding the tampons, she realizes her period is five days late, and when she starts examining her stomach, she even finds that there is a definite bump growing there.
Now this is obviously a very big deal.  For starters, even though she’s only been sexually active for about two weeks, Bella’s body is already displaying the symptoms of pregnancy, such as food cravings and morning sickness.  Plus, she’s even started sporting a baby bump.  Anyone who has taken Sex Ed in school can tell you that normal human pregnancies just don’t develop that quickly.  In addition, the child growing inside Bella is half vampire, and there is no telling how Bella’s body will be able to handle carrying a child with that particular parentage.  Out of fear for Bella’s safety, Edward makes arrangements for an immediate return to Forks, where Carlisle will be waiting to have the pregnancy terminated.  However, Bella is deeply opposed to this plan.  Despite her earlier insistence that she wasn’t interested in being a mother, she develops an instant love for the half-vampire growing inside her.  In desperation, she secretly calls Edward’s sister, Rosalie, for help.  Rosalie had always dreamed of having children, but was robbed of that possibility on the night Carlisle had found her close to death.  For that reason, Bella knows that Rosalie will be willing to help her protect the child.
At this point, the story shifts gears, and we now see things progress through Jacob’s eyes.  Ever since the wedding, Jacob has been waiting for Edward and Bella to return, convinced that Bella will either return as a vampire, which would terminate the treaty between the Quileute wolves and the Cullens, or she would not have survived the honeymoon.  When  he receives news that they have returned, and that Bella is supposedly in quarantine at the Cullens’ place after being infected with a rare South American disease, he immediately heads over to confront them, believing that the whole disease story is a cover-up for Bella returning to Forks as a newborn vampire.  Upon arriving at the Cullens’ place, however, he finds that the disease story was indeed a cover-up, but instead of being a newborn vampire, Bella is already heavily pregnant.  When Jacob returns to La Push and informs the rest of the Quileute wolf pack about Bella’s unexpected pregnancy, the pack’s Alpha, Sam, decides that the half-vampire child poses too great a risk and has to be eliminated, even if it means killing Bella in the process.
Upon hearing Sam’s plans, Jacob balks.  Despite his earlier eagerness to take the Cullens out, he now understands that he didn’t truly want to kill them, and he certainly doesn’t want to harm Bella.  However, with Sam being the Alpha, he is unable to defy the command to fight with the rest of the pack, until he willingly embraces his birthright.  Back in Eclipse, we learned that Jacob was supposed to be the pack’s Alpha, since he was the direct descendant of Ephraim Black, the Alpha from the last Quileute wolf pack and the one who originally made the treaty with the Cullen clan.  However, at the time, Jacob had refused to step up, and allowed Sam to assume the role.  But now, Jacob willingly accepts his Alpha status, and is no longer bound to Sam’s authority.  Upon being freed from Sam’s leadership, Jacob sets off alone to warn the Cullens about what Sam is planning to do, being joined immediately by Seth, the young Quileute wolf who had worked alongside Edward in Eclipse to take out Victoria and Riley, and thus formed a friendship-of-sorts with the vampire.  From here on in, Jacob and Seth form a second Quileute wolf pack, which Seth’s sister, Leah, eventually joins out of her desire to get away from Sam, whom she still harbors feelings for despite the fact that he imprinted on someone else.  Throughout the second portion of the book, Jacob’s pack continues to stand guard over the Cullens’ place, waiting to see if Sam will send his pack to attack the Cullen clan after all. 
Meanwhile, Bella’s pregnancy continues to progress, and it is constantly shown that the rapidly growing child is much too strong for Bella’s human body to handle, as every movement the unborn child makes causes Bella to feel pain, with some movements even resulting in bruises forming on Bella’s skin.  Things start to take a positive turn, however, when Edward discovers that he is able to hear the baby’s thoughts.  Not only does this discovery help vanquish all of Edward’s previous fears and misgivings about the nature of the child growing inside Bella, it also indicates that the baby might be developed enough to survive outside the womb.  As a result, Edward makes plans to have Carlisle help deliver the baby once the Cullen clan’s patriarch returns with more donated blood for Bella.  (It was discovered earlier that, due to the baby being half-vampire, Bella could maintain her strength through her unusual pregnancy by drinking the blood Carlisle was able to borrow from the hospital’s donated blood supply.)  Before Carlisle can return, a sudden move on Bella’s part results in the placenta detaching, forcing Rosalie to perform an emergency C-section to save the baby, with Edward taking over when the smell of exposed blood becomes too much for her to handle.  In the end, Edward successfully delivers the baby, which is revealed to be a girl who is promptly named Renesmee.  However, the physical stress of the delivery proves to be too much for Bella’s mortal body, and her heart suddenly stops beating almost immediately after she glimpses Renesmee for the first time.  While Jacob begins performing CPR to get her heart beating again, Edward goes to work at getting enough venom into Bella’s bloodstream to begin her transformation into a vampire, even going so far as to injecting some straight into her heart.  While Jacob looses hope and decides that Bella is well and truly gone, Edward refuses to accept this and continues to focus all his efforts into ensuring Bella’s heart keeps beating throughout the transition, even if it means forcing it to do so manually.  His efforts eventually prove to be successful, as Bella’s heart suddenly begins beating on its own again, making it possible for the vampire venom to spread throughout her body and begin the transformation process.
            The story now returns to Bella’s POV, just in time for readers to experience her first forty-eight hours as a newborn vampire.  Much to the Cullens’s surprise, Bella, thanks to how she was well-informed and prepared for vampire life beforehand, proves to have good control over her emotions and instincts, even though newborns are usually known for being extremely volatile.  Throughout these forty-eight hours, Bella is able to discover she now has everything she wanted and more.  She can now be with Edward forever, and they also have Renesmee, the daughter that they never thought was possible.  In addition, she is even able to keep her best friend, Jacob, in her life, due to the fact that Jacob involuntarily imprinted on Renesmee while Bella was in transition (something that both Edward and Bella are thoroughly irritated by.)   However, even though it appears that Bella and Edward can finally have their happily ever after, there is still a dark cloud over their lives.  Renesmee is still growing at an unnaturally fast rate, and at one point, it’s stated that she grew two whole inches in a single day.  This unsettling fact leaves the Cullens and Jacob with understandable fears about what the future will hold for the rapidly-growing Renesmee.  They decide to head off to Brazil, where there are legends of half-vampire children like Renesmee, hoping that they will find some much-needed answers.  Unfortunately, before they can leave, Irina, an old friend of the Cullens and a member of the only other known group of vegetarian vampires, decides to pay the Cullens a visit.  On her way to the Cullen clan’s home, she catches a glimpse of Renesmee hunting alongside Jacob and Bella and mistakes the half-vampire girl for an Immortal Child.
            Now, Immortal Children, which is a term for babies or small children who are changed into vampires, are strictly forbidden in the vampire world, and the creation of one means an instant death sentence for both the Immortal Child and the creator.  Since Irina and her two sisters, Kate and Tanya, were forced to watch their own mother and creator being executed for creating an Immortal Child centuries ago, Irina is a purist when it comes to that particular law.  As a result, she heads straight to Italy to inform the Volturi that the Cullens have ‘broken’ the law and created a forbidden Immortal Child.  The Cullens, who are pre-warned of this because of Alice’s visions, know that the only chance they have of surviving this accusation is by calling on all of their friends and acquaintances in the vampire world to stand as witnesses that Renesmee is not what the Volturi think she is.  But even then, there is the chance that it won’t be enough.  Seeing as how Breaking Dawn Part 2 is still in theaters at the time of this post, I’m not going to discuss the ending for those who don’t already know how it ends (even though I don’t see how you can really call yourself a Twilight fan if you only watch the movies and haven’t even attempted to read the books by now), particularly since I know people who hate spoilers.  Even that friend of mine who first introduced me to the Twilight saga, who was mentioned in my review of the first book; if she reads a book or sees a movie before I do, she refuses to tell me anything about what happens.  She won’t even tell me if it’s going to be raining in the next chapter/scene.
            Now, even though there are numerous mixed feelings about this book, even among the people who were already fans of the Twilight saga, I have to say that Breaking Dawn is probably my favorite book in the entire series.  Thus, I’m going to start out by discussing some things I’ve seen fans complain about.  First off, there is quite a stink about how Edward could even father a child, since he is technically not even alive and lacks the necessary ability to produce sperm and such.  When it comes to these people, I wonder why they are getting technical about vampires.  Like I said back in my Twilight review, vampires are fictional creatures, and you can make them do whatever you want as long as they still drink blood.  And besides, the entire saga is, when you think about it, a modern day fairy tale story.  If you’re going to get technical about every little detail in a fairy tale, why not start asking how the wolf could communicate with humans in Little Red Riding Hood, or how it is at all possible that the princess could feel a stupid little pea under all those mattresses, or how Cinderella managed to obtain a fairy godmother, or even why a family of bears would want to eat porridge?
            On the other hand, if people still insist on harping on that fact that male vampires can father children while female vamps are barren, I personally ascribe to what I call the Groundhog Day theory to explain it.  I’m sure that, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few decades, you’ve at least heard of the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.  In that movie, Murray’s character, Phil, experienced the same day over and over again.  Now, what if the main character in that movie was a woman?  Generally speaking, since she was experiencing the same day repeatedly, she probably wouldn’t be progressing in regards to her menstrual cycle, would she?  In other words, if she wasn’t menstruating on her first time around on the day that keeps repeating, she probably wouldn’t be menstruating at all until the day stopped repeating.  Men, on the other hand, unless I misread the biology textbooks, can produce sperm anytime, anywhere.  Thus, it can probably help if you utilize the Groundhog Day theory in regards to the TwiVamps.
            Secondly, there is quite an uproar about Jacob imprinting on Renesmee.  I’ve seen quite a few people accusing Stephenie Meyer of promoting child grooming and stuff like that.  Where I’m standing, it’s clear that these people aren’t really grasping the concept of imprinting.  It is stated more that once that there is nothing at all romantic about Jacob’s feelings for Renesmee at this point.  (And as Jacob states, there is no way Edward would have let him live if that was the case.)  As it stands, Jacob is only concerned about keeping Renesmee safe and happy, and I’m sure that if you ask around, you’d find that those are exactly the feelings that loving parents would have for their child, or a good brother would for his younger sibling.  And yes, it is possible that Jacob and Renesmee could one day end up in a romantic relationship, but until that day comes, Jacob will simply be something between Renesmee’s closest friend and devoted older brother.  As for the infamous issue about how disgusting it is that Jacob was in love with Bella and then imprints on her daughter?  Well, I might be alone in this, but I personally feel that Jacob was never really in love with Bella.  To be honest, I tend to think that the imprinting impulse is so strong, Jacob was being unknowingly drawn to Renesmee before she was even conceived.  Since neither Jacob nor Bella could know that Renesmee’s existence was even possible prior to Bella’s pregnancy in Breaking Dawn, Jacob reasonably misread the signs.  I’m sure others will disagree with me about that, but that’s how I interpreted the whole issue.
            I also have to address the issue of some people claiming the Twilight saga is anti-feminist because of Bella doing all the cooking and cleaning when she’s living with Charlie, how she doesn’t go to college and get a career, ends up being a wife and mother, etc.  Well, maybe my knowledge of history is flawed, but I thought the whole feminist movement happened because women wanted a choice.  In those days, if you were a woman, you couldn’t vote or hold a political office, and you didn’t have many options outside of becoming a mousy little housewife and being subservient to your husband.  The feminist movement came about because the women of those days wanted to be allowed to choose the course of their lives instead of having their futures chosen for them since birth.   Perhaps I’m wrong, but isn’t that what Bella does again and again in the books?  She CHOOSES to become a vampire, she CHOOSES to build a life with Edward, and she CHOOSES to not terminate her pregnancy, even when the people around her are trying to tell her otherwise.  So how is that anti-feminist?  It’s like people are saying a woman is anti-feminist if she chooses to be a stay-at-home mom instead of becoming a big CEO or accepting a respected position in a law firm.
            One last thing some people complain about is how the book ends.  Like I said before, I won’t give anything away to anyone who doesn’t already know how Breaking Dawn ends, in honor of the above-mentioned friend.  But I will say that some readers seem to feel cheated by the ending.  If any of those people are reading this, I ask you to look at the cover of Breaking Dawn.  It’s a chessboard, right?  Well, isn’t chess essentially a battle of wits?  Try to keep that in mind when you reread the ending.  It might help you feel less cheated.
            I do have a few very small complaints about this book.  The first of these complaints is the sudden absence of the meadow.  Throughout the Twilight saga, there was a small, almost magical, meadow located in the woods surrounding Forks.  It was initially the site where Edward and Bella put an end to their metaphorical dance and officially confessed their love for one another.  That meadow continues to play a part in the next two books and becomes Edward and Bella’s secret spot.  At the end of Eclipse, Edward even refers to the place as their meadow.  I’m a bit put off by the fact that Edward and Bella don’t even mention that meadow in Breaking Dawn.  Did their new cottage wipe all memory of the meadow from their minds or something?  (Although, from what I’ve seen from the movie trailers for Breaking Dawn Part 2, they at least remember the meadow in the movie version, so I guess that counts for something.)
            Apart from the meadow issue, I had one other minor grievance, and even though I know it’s not completely Stephenie Meyer’s fault and it wouldn’t have made much sense otherwise, I still feel a bit cheated.  I am talking about Garrett, one of the nomad vampires that come to Forks to aid the Cullens in proving that Renesmee is not an Immortal Child.  I can’t help feeling slightly irritated that we didn’t meet him until almost the very end of the Twilight saga, because I cannot see how anyone would not be able to like Garrett, particularly when he presents his speech during the battle with the Volturi in the last few chapters.  To be honest, he’s quite possibly my favorite vampire outside of the Cullen clan, and I wish we were allowed to see more of him.
            Breaking Dawn also puts the final nail in the coffin (no pun intended) in regards to the Volturi’s true nature.  When they first appeared in the saga, they were portrayed as the necessary evil charged with making sure the vampires of the world kept their existence a secret from the humans.  In Eclipse, those honorable motives are put into question with the possibility that they might have an underlying agenda.  This time around, the Cullens and their allies are able to gather enough evidence to leave them with proof that the Volturi leaders, particularly Aro, are only concerned with maintaining their position of power, and whenever they feel that a certain coven might eventually threaten their power, they will go out of their way to find a reason to accuse that coven of breaking Vampire Law in some way, which will give the Volturi the excuse to eliminate the perceived threat.  (This is one of the reasons why I enjoyed the Twilight saga so much.  We got the love story between Edward and Bella, a secret and elaborately-constructed world hidden within our own, and a vampire government that presents a beneficial front to the common folk when its true nature is actually corrupted and crooked.  Combine those three elements into one saga, and I’m sold.)
            On that note, I conclude this review and Twilight month.  I hope you enjoyed my explanation about why I liked the book series, and my attempts at addressing the typical complaints about Twilight that many haters seem to bring up.  Don’t get me wrong, people are free to dislike Twilight.  It simply gets tiring to see people complaining about the same things over and over again, and never seeing any original reasons for the hate. (Sometimes, I can’t help wondering if people only hate the franchise so much because it’s considered cool to bash Twilight.)   And thank you for visiting Tome and Flick corner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Eclipse

            When we last left the world of the Twilight saga, things were looking rather bad for 18-year-old Bella Swan and her vampire lover, Edward Cullen.  Not only was the nomad vampire, Victoria, bent on getting revenge on Edward for the death of her mate, James, by killing Bella in return, but the Volturi, the ruling class of vampires, have also decreed that Bella must either die or become a vampire herself on account of her knowing too much about the vampire world.  To top it off, the delicate treaty-bound peace between the Cullens and the Quileute werewolf pack is hanging by a fraying thread, and a war between the two families is seemingly imminent.
             As Eclipse, the third novel in the Twilight saga, begins, Edward and Bella have almost picked up where they left off before Edward’s failed attempt at protecting Bella by leaving in New Moon, but with one difference.  Prior to Edward leaving Forks, Bella hadn’t developed her friendship with the Quileute werewolf, Jacob Black, and now that Edward has returned, Bella now finds herself in the difficult situation of sharing a connection with vampires and werewolves, two species whom nature decreed to be eternal enemies. 
Edward, likewise, has great difficulty in allowing Bella to visit Jacob, due in part to his protectiveness of Bella and his fear of the Quileute werewolves’ allegedly volatile nature, as well as his insecurity with the fact that Jacob also harbors romantic feelings for Bella.  For a while, he tries to prevent Bella from seeing Jacob, by either disabling her car or having his sister, Alice, hold Bella ‘hostage’ while he is away hunting.  However, after Bella manages to slip away to La Push not once, but twice, Edward becomes willing to compromise, and allows Bella to visit Jacob occasionally, on the condition that she carries a cell phone with her at all times, so she’ll be able to call him if anything happens.
Meanwhile, the city of Seattle is being plagued by an extensive series of violent, unsolved murders.  While the newspapers and police blame the murders on gang activity and eventually a serial killer, the Cullens are able to discern enough to conclude the truth, and recognize that the murders are really being caused by newborn vampires.  As the human deaths escalate, indicating a staggering increase in the number of newborns in Seattle, Jasper realizes that someone is actually trying to create an army of newborn vampires.  While there are various speculations as to who is creating the newborn army, no one is able to agree on a culprit. While this is going on, the Cullens are faced with a second mystery when an unknown vampire sneaks into Bella’s room while she is over at the Cullen’s home and steals some of her clothes.  It is Bella who eventually manages to link the two situations together, realizing that the vampire in her room had stolen her clothes to bring her scent to the newborn army, meaning she is their target.
Now, with the knowledge that the newborn army was created to target Bella, the Cullens know they must fight the newborn army to protect Bella and the entire town of Forks.  But since they are unable to call upon their allies from other vampire families and covens, and with the Volturi taking their own sweet time in stepping in and stopping the newborn army from running wild, they are faced with the inevitable and terrible conclusion that, due to the newborns outnumbering them, some members of the Cullen family would not survive the battle.  However, just when Alice receives a vision of the newborn army moving in to lay siege to Forks, Jacob and the rest of the Quileute werewolves step up, stating their willingness to set aside their natural feud and join forces with the Cullens to take out the newborn army together.
As the formerly-feuding families start working on their game plan, Edward, thanks to Alice’s visions and Bella’s tendency to talk in her sleep, realizes that Bella is planning to purposely place herself in harm’s way in the hopes that doing so would help the Cullens and the Quileute wolves fight the newborn army.  After a brief argument about the matter, Edward realizes that the only way Bella would willingly stay away from the battle is if Edward sits out of the fight to remain with her.  He agrees to this and promptly starts making arrangements.  It is decided that Edward and Bella will stay at a makeshift campsite up in the mountains, miles away from the designated battle site.  To ensure that none of the newborns would catch Bella’s scent trail and follow her, one of the Quileute wolves would accompany her in order to mask Bella’s scent.  (It’s stated more than once that vampires find the scent of the Quileute wolves repulsive, and vice versa.)
 On the day before the battle against the newborns, Alice arranges an alibi for Bella, by giving Charlie the false story that Bella will be having a slumber party with Alice while the rest of the Cullens go on one of their periodic camping trips.  In truth, Alice and most of the Cullens will be out hunting, to ensure they’re all at full-strength for the battle.  Edward, on the other hand, since he would be sitting out to remain with Bella during the battle, did not need to hunt.   Meaning that Alice has ensured that they will have the whole house to themselves that night.
By this point in the story, the events that have been occurring have forced Bella to truly think about what becoming a vampire would mean for her, and completely grasp what she would be giving up by entering into immortality.  While she’s no longer jumping blindly into her decision, she still wishes to become a vampire to remain at Edward’s side forever.  However, there is one human experience she is reluctant to sacrifice before giving up her human life, and she decides that this night alone with Edward would be the perfect time to undertake it.  While she and Edward are settling into their night alone, she attempts to iron out the details of the compromise he’d presented to her back in New Moon, when he said he’d turn her into a vampire if she married him first.  Bella tells Edward that she’ll agree to his terms on one condition: if he agrees to make love to her while she’s still human.  Edward initially balks at the idea, fearing that he would seriously hurt or even mortally injure Bella because of his vampire strength.  Bella soon gets him to agree that they’ll at least try, but Edward insists on waiting until after they’re married before consummating their relationship, on account of his turn-of-the-century moral code.
The next day, Edward and Bella make their way to their designated camp site, with Jacob stepping up as the Quileute wolf charged with masking Bella’s scent-trail.  After a whole mess of love triangle shenanigans that would take too long to explain happens, Jacob leaves to participate in the battle with the newborns, with Edward using his mind-reading ability to keep tabs on what’s happening.  However, in the middle of the battle, Edward realizes that Victoria has came across his own scent-trail and followed it, knowing that he would be where Bella was.  Thankfully, after a vicious battle, Edward comes out on top and defeats Victoria for good.
The final moments of the book are basically used to wrap things up.  Bella visits La Push for the final time to visit Jacob, who was injured while protecting a fellow pack member who got a bit too confident and foolhardy while trying to take down a stray newborn alone.  During her visit, she attempts to part ways with him on good terms, still wishing to stick with her original decision in joining the Cullen family.  The following day, she gives Alice the job of wedding coordinator, allowing her to oversee the plans for Edward and Bella’s upcoming wedding.  In the final pages, Bella is left trying to muster up enough courage to announce her marriage plans to Charlie.
Eclipse racks up some major points in my book for some long-awaited character development.  It is in this book that we are finally told the full back stories of Rosalie and Jasper.  Prior to this book, Rosalie was just this annoyingly vain character who spent almost all of her time either glaring at Bella or pretending she didn’t exist, and Jasper was the enigmatic vampire who seemingly stayed with the Cullens only because of his devotion to his beloved Alice.  Finally, readers are able to understand the reasons behind Rosalie’s bitterness and are even able to sympathize with her, and we also discover that Jasper is a battle-worn veteran who has never known peace and happiness before finding Alice and joining the Cullen family.
In addition, Eclipse was the book in which I gained a new appreciation for the relationship between Alice and Jasper.  The scene that made me a follower of this pairing occurred right after Alice has her vision of the newborn army arriving in Forks.  In the scene in question, Jacob demands to be let into the loop, and pretty much gets in her face about it.  Then, out of the blue, Jasper is right there, ready to defend Alice.  I have no idea why I enjoyed that scene so much, but the fact that Jasper appears out of nowhere to protect his mate just stuck with me.  To me, this spoke volumes of their relationship, and indicated that Jasper is always very aware of where Alice is, especially considering he can appear so suddenly the instant she is being accosted by a werewolf.  (Then again, it also might have been Jasper’s ability to feel the emotions of the people around him that alerted him to the confrontation, but even so…)  In any event, from that point on, my eyes were immediately drawn to every singe one of Alice and Jasper’s interactions, and they have became my absolute favorite secondary relationship in the Twilight saga.
            This book also gains honorable mention for introducing the concept of imprinting.  In the society of the Quileute werewolf pack, imprinting is a strange phenomenon that occurs to some of the wolves.  When a Quileute wolf first meets the object of their imprinting, that individual immediately becomes the focal point of their entire world.  In the scene when Jacob tries to explain this phenomenon to Bella, he alludes it to gravity no longer being what holds the Quileute wolf to the ground, but rather the object of their imprinting, and from that point on, nothing matters more to the Quileute wolf then the safety and happiness of the one they imprinted on. The Quileute wolf will willingly and gladly do whatever it takes to ensure that safety and happiness.  This phenomenon can result in the formation of an unbreakable romantic bond that is not too dissimilar to the bond between vampires and their mates (such as is the case with Sam and his fiancĂ©e, Emily) or becoming a completely devoted nanny/older sibling to a child (such as the Quileute wolf, Quill and two-year-old Claire.)  This concept of imprinting proves to be extremely vital as the Twilight saga progresses, but I’ll cover that in my next review.
Eclipse also provides a proper introduction of my favorite character outside of the Cullen clan in the saga, Seth Clearwater.  In this book, Seth has officially joined the Quileute werewolf pack, becoming one of the youngest wolves in the pack.  (I say one of the youngest because there are two other wolves, Collin and Brady, who are implied to be rather young themselves.  But since Collin and Brady are only mentioned in passing occasionally and they never actually do anything at all, they are simply nothing more than placeholder characters, and there is very little I can say about them.)  Anyway, I personally find Seth to be a very likable character, despite the fact that he only appears in human form one time in this book, when Bella accompanies Jacob to a Quileute bonfire party where she and the entire Quileute wolf pack are told various tribal legends based on the Quileute wolf packs of the past, starting with how the ancient Quileutes first gained the ability to become wolves and continuing up to the wolf pack’s first encounter with the Cullens back in the mid-1930s.  However, Seth ends up playing a very important role in the book’s climax, and even though he spends the duration of said climax in his wolf form, you still are able to appreciate his personality as a human. And in the final book in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn, I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t be able to like Seth even more.  Obviously, I’ll discuss that in more detail when I review Breaking Dawn.
In addition to Seth, Eclipse also sheds a bit more light on his older sister, Leah, who, it turns out, also ended up joining the wolf pack.  This is apparently a big thing in La Push’s secret society, because prior to Leah joining the pack, it was firmly believed that only males could become wolves.  Leah’s claim to fame isn’t just being the only known female wolf in existence, however.  It turns out that some time before the Twilight saga began, she was romantically involved with the Quileute werewolf pack’s Alpha, Sam, but that all changed when Sam underwent the above-mentioned phenomenon of imprinting, with Leah’s cousin, Emily, being the object of Sam’s imprinting.  Thus, not only does Leah have to deal with being the only female wolf in a long line of solely male wolves, she also has to spend every day with her former boyfriend, who was forced to break her heart.  Understandably, Leah is left feeling rather bitter about the hand life has dealt her, and her frustrations often lead her to being purposely spiteful towards the other wolves in the pack, but it’s not until Breaking Dawn that we begin to truly understand her.
However, I didn’t completely enjoy this book.  For starters, the whole vampire/werewolf prejudice got old really fast, especially when it combined with the Edward/Bella/Jacob love triangle.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that vampires and werewolves are born enemies, and that the love triangle had to be resolved after the conclusion of New Moon, but even so, that love triangle was the main focus of the first half of the book.  Never mind the innocent people dying in Seattle.  Never mind that Victoria’s still on the prowl, we have to focus on the whole vampire vs. werewolf/Edward vs. Jacob angle.  In the Drew Barrymore movie, Ever After, there was this one particular line: ‘What bothers you more, Stepmother?  That I am common or that I am competition?’  This line pretty much sums up the whole relationship between Edward and Jacob in Eclipse, only in this case, the line should be: ‘What bothers you more?  That I am your natural enemy or that I am competition?’  Personally, I think it’s a bit of both.  With Edward, he’s mostly worried about Bella seeing Jacob when she tries to go to La Push, using Jacob’s status as a werewolf as his excuse in preventing her from going, and yet, he never brings up the fact that La Push is home to an entire werewolf pack.  Instead, he simply is trying to keep her from seeing one particular werewolf.  Thus, his main issue here is most likely that Bella wants to see Jacob, who is evidently in love with Bella, too.  At the same time, he’s not exactly going out of his way to keep her away from people like Mike (who actually still tried to ask Bella out again while Edward was away ‘camping.’  Wow, that boy is persistent.)  As for Jacob, he sure goes out of his way to use every vampire-slur imaginable to talk trash about Edward.  Meanwhile, you don’t see anyone else in the wolf pack being so openly hostile to any of the Cullen clan   Thus, I’m pretty sure Jacob’s main malfunction about Bella being with Edward stems from the fact that he’s essentially a vampire bigot at this point in the saga.
Basically, I blame this book for that Team Edward/Team Jacob stuff that’s going on.  I really don’t know who started up that stupid team thing, but good grief, it’s really annoying.  It would be one thing if Bella wasn’t dating either one of them and was still single, but she is in an established relationship with Edward, and it’s pretty much implied again and again that vampires have only one predestined mate. (Refer to my New Moon review for my discussion on vampires and their predestined mates.)  So what gave anyone the idea that Bella, who was permanently bound to Edward though the unbreakable vampire/mate tie, would possibly be able to leave him for Jacob?  I simply cannot fathom it.  Thankfully, we had plenty of sweet, romantic scenes thrown in to help alleviate the pain brought about from the vampire vs. werewolf fueled love triangle, not to mention my rage brought about from the accursed team thing.  For example, the infamous ‘leg hitching scene’ after Bella returns from her second ‘unauthorized’ trip to La Push in chapter 8. 
Moving on, there was one point in Eclipse where I got so upset, I very nearly threw the book against the wall.  And from what I’ve read from other people’s reactions to the book on online message boards and discussion threads, I see I’m not the only one who got angry at this part.  For that reason, if you’ve already read the book, I’m quite sure you already know what part I’m talking about.  If not, allow me to refresh your memory.  At one point in the book, Jacob decides it would be a brilliant idea to declare his love for Bella, and then, without giving her a chance to refuse him, he forcibly kisses her.  While Jacob’s annoyingly unyielding confidence that he was in the right during this scene is rather irritating, I can almost overlook it, considering that he’s still a hormonally-challenged teenage boy, mentally speaking. (Even though that’s not really a valid excuse.  Key tip to any male/dominant female who might be reading this: ‘No’ means ‘no.’)  Actually, the thing that annoyed me the most about this part was how Bella’s father, Charlie, reacted when he heard about it.  What does he do when he finds out Jacob forcibly kissed his daughter without her permission?  He practically pats Jacob on the back!


           Really, Charlie?  Really?  This is your daughter, Chief Swan.  Your only child!  Yeah, I get that you don’t approve of Edward, and would like it more if Bella chose Jacob instead, but honestly!  If someone kisses your daughter without her consent, you are required, as a father, to side with your daughter and throw the kisser out of the house, and possibly threaten him with your gun, just for good measure.  Seriously, when I read this part, it felt as if Charlie would have cracked open the champagne if Jacob had sexually assaulted Bella.  By siding with Jacob, and practically scolding Bella when she continues to voice her fury with Jacob for the forced kiss, Charlie has not only violated all the time-honored unwritten laws of fatherhood, but he officially made me loose all respect for him.  Prior to this incident, I merely saw him as the dopey dad, and the worst criticism I had for him was ‘turn off the TV, put down the stupid fishing pole, and bond with your daughter while you still can.  But after this?  I’m sorry, Charlie, but I no longer have any sympathy for you, and there’s nothing you can ever do to get that sympathy back.  (I had to get that rant off my chest, and boy, does it feel good.)
            Before I end this review of Eclipse, I think I should say a few words about the Volturi.  In my New Moon review, I mentioned how the two books that followed it would shine a much harsher light on the Volturi as their true nature is slowly revealed, and Eclipse starts doing just that towards the end of the book.  As mentioned earlier, the Volturi seemed to be taking their time in dealing with the newborn army in Seattle.  At one point in Eclipse, it is theorized that perhaps the reason the Italian vampires hadn’t dealt with the problem right away is because they were possibly hoping that the newborn army would end up reducing the size of the Cullen family.  In the end, even though it is not stated straight out, it is implied that Edward, due to his mind-reading gift, has discovered that this theory was spot-on.  And while I’m not going to go into it too much just yet, that fact will be important in the final book in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn, which I intend to review quite soon.