This week is the 10th Anniversary of the publication of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, which I think means it’s time to do the post I’ve been threatening for a while: I love Twilight. Please, let me continue to love it.
I first read the Twilight books when I was fourteen or fifteen, and reread them about six months ago. For the purposes of this journal, I’m going to ignore the films and focus on the books, because … well, this is a book blog.
Believe me when I say that I know Twilight is flawed. I’ve had those flaws thown in my face (usually with a tone of frustration and disbelief) any time I’ve mentioned I enjoy the books. But I also recognise the flaws in Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, and if I’m still capable of loving those books, then goshdiddlydarn it, I can still love Twilight, too.
I think a lot of people come to Twilight with the idea it’s meant to be a horror story, because there are vampires in it – thus the cries of ‘real vampires don’t sparkle!’, to which my response is, ‘when you find a real vampire, you can show me what they actually do, then’.
Years ago, I read this essay by Megen de Bruin-Molé, in which she likens Twilight to a gothic novel, and it clicked for me why I liked it.
Because that’s exactly what Twilight is: a story about a helpless-but-goodhearted-heroine, saving the Byronic hero from his inner darkness, while he saves her from external danger – all set in a spooky, otherworldly setting, like the moors in Wuthering Heights. Just look at the way Meyer describes Forks: in lavish detail, describing it as ‘too green’ and ‘an alien planet’. Edward eerily advises her in the first book, ‘Don’t go into the woods’.
This is also why the story is slow. The intrigue is not in a fast-paced plot, but in a slow, creeping feeling that something isn’t right, and then in the worry of how to deal with the unknown once it is known.
I actually find it a shame that the blurb tells us Edward is a vampire. Admittedly, it makes the blurb interesting, but it spoils the mystery of the novel. Like Rochester’s insane wife in the attic, the fact that the Cullens are vampires could have been an incredible plot twist.
Oddly enough, though, I find that a lot of the complaints about Twilight sound like people have misread or simply forgotten the vampire lore Meyer set up. The argument that Edward is too old for Bella would be compelling, if it weren’t for the fact that Meyer’s vampires remain whatever mental age they are when they turn into a vampire. It doesn’t matter how many years Edward lives, in his body and his mind, he is always going to be seventeen. This is what set up child vampires to be so dangerous in the later books. They’re killing machines with the mental age of a toddler.
(I said I wasn’t going to talk about the films, but this clip gets a horrible cackle out of me every time.)
The argument that Edward is abusive becomes hand-wavy when you take the lore into account, too. I’m not going to say his stalking Bella and watching her sleep was okay – good grief, it creeps me out, too – but many of the things people point out just make me think, ‘Well, yeah, he’s a vampire, trying really hard not to be a vampire, while trying to keep a human girl alive. Whatcha gonna do?’
One person argued with me that he was controlling for trying to prevent Bella meeting with Jacob in the later books. But Jacob, at that point, is a werewolf – a species with so little practise at self control, their leader shredded his own wife’s face in a fit of temper. I wouldn’t blame Edward for doing eveything in his power to keep Bella away.
Besides, Bella in the books has backbone. She snaps at Edward and tells him off when he’s being cryptic or annoying or controlling (admittedly not enough in the infamous watching-you-sleep scene, but still). She has a sense of humour, too. The famous line about ‘You’re my personal brand of heroine’, so moodily delivered in the film? That was a joke, in the book. Bella was making fun of Edward.
Bella is self-depreciating to the point of being infuriating. But, honestly, I know plenty of real people who are like that. It’s a character flaw, along with her shyness and social awkwardness. It makes me chuckle when people think Bella is a jerk because, in reality, people who are shy and awkward often do unintentionally come across as jerks, simply because they’re not great at being sociable. But Bella’s also brave, and protective, and has her aforementioned sense of humour. She’s not Katniss Everdeen, but she doesn’t have to be. She’s her own character. I like Bella.
The moral panic, by the way, that teenage girls would fling themselves into dangerous situations and abusive relationships after reading Twilight, is absurd. It uses the same logic as the idea that playing violent video games will make children act violent – something that’s been disproved more than once. As Doug Walker said, we’ve had panics like this before and we’ll have them again.
I honestly think that Twilight‘s greatest flaw is that it got too popular. It was a fun, but ultimately silly, romance story for teenagers. But when it got big enough, it was everywhere. I remember the posters and t-shirts and mugs and various other merchandise, in every single shop on the high street. If it wasn’t your cup of tea to begin with, I can see why it’d be frustrating. And when enough people kick up a fuss, even the people who initially liked it jump on the bandwagon. I’m seeing the same thing happen with Frozen and Game of Thrones right now!
The little counter at the bottom of my screen says I’m coming up to 1000 words now, and I haven’t even covered half of what I’d like to say about Twilight. I’m looking forward to reading Twilight: Life and Death, Meyer’s reaction to people insisting her books were misogynistic by switching Edward and Bella’s genders around. I’ve seen a lot of hatred flying around for that, too, though.
I’m going to end on a John Green quote, because I think he deserves some love after I wrote a post saying I don’t like his books (I’m sorry, John, I really do like you):
‘Twilight is fun, it distracts me from the pain and brokeness of the world, and it argues that true love will triumph in the end – which may or may not be true, but if it’s a lie, it’s the most beautiful lie we have.’