Comparison-Shop Your Teenage Vampires: Twilight vs. NightlightS

Nightlight, the Harvard Lampoon's send-up of that other novel about undead high school students, has been getting some good press lately. But how does the parody stack up against the original? Maybe these bullet points will help.

Recently, I conducted back-to-back readings of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight and the Harvard Lampoon's Nightlight. I was curious: Would the parody deconstruct the original with biting wit, until all that was left was emperor-style nudity? Or would Meyer's kajillion-selling novel brush away the satirists like horseflies, and stand on its own merits?

Below, some findings. The uninitiated should know that spoilers for both novels lie ahead. (In the interest of transparency, I ought to note that I know one of the authors on the Harvard Lampoon staff, though I have no idea which parts of Nightlight she had a hand in writing.)

Plot-Per-Page Ratio

Twilight is 498 pages long and contains approximately three events. There's a car crash that almost happens, and an exposition-heavy showdown in a dance studio. Also, some vampires play baseball. Reading Twilight with an eye for plot markers is a bit like driving through rural flatland with the radio on: every now and then you'll hear a snatch of something interesting, but for the most part it's just static.

Nightlight is only 154 pages, and manages to squeeze in a cockeyed version of almost everything that happens in Twilight, plus a blood-soaked prom and a scene where a vampire menaces a young couple in a graveyard. Advantage: Nightlight.

Characters

After spending five hundred pages in the company of Twilight protagonists Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, here's what I know about them: Bella is clumsy and prefers bookstores to dress shopping. Edward is handsome, and attractive. Lest you think he's one-dimensional, though, Meyer is careful to note that he's very easy on the eyes.

Nightlight offers parody counterparts Belle Goose and Edwart Mullen. Written less as characters than joke-clotheslines, these two are nevertheless more memorable than Meyer's swoony couple. Belle may be delusional, but she's also headstrong and sure of her own personal magnetism, a distinct improvement over passive, self-doubting Bella. And Edwart Mullen isn't actually a vampire — he's an undersocialized gamer with pronounced hypochondria. But he's not prone to inscrutable smirking or blink-and-you'll-miss-it mood shifts, like some immortals we could name.

Prose Style

Only you will know whether you want to read 498 pages of Stephenie Meyer's dialogue-attribution verbs. Lines are "said" and "asked," but they're also "encouraged," "warned," "admitted," "breathed," "nodded," "urged," "gasped" and "coaxed." This isn't the only thing that matters about a work of fiction, of course, but it's such a basic point that it's worrisome when an author can't get it right.

Not every joke in Nightlight hits its mark, but the dialogue tags are knocked down early and brilliantly. From page 11:

"So what's Phoenix like?" he beseeched.

With one word, the authors of Nightlight show they're paying more attention to what they're writing than Stephenie Meyer does in the course of a novel.