Eight years ago I was perusing the offerings at my local Chapters when I came across a hardcover novel in the YA section with a singularly captivating cover. That novel was Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, the story featured a star crossed love affair between a teen-aged girl and vampire. It is an innocuous enough plot done many times previously in popular incarnations such as L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries and Charlaine Harris‘ Southern Vampire Series among others, and both published before Twilight. However, there must have been some unfathomable chemistry between readers and the story that the author accredits to a dream she had about a vampire and girl in a meadow centrally featured in the plot. This relatively pedestrian offering has spawned a five a part movie franchise, a best selling erotic novel trilogy and served as inspiration for countless works of fiction, fan and otherwise.
Twilight commences when Bella Swan moves to Forks, WA to allow her recently remarried mother the freedom to accompany her new husband on the road with the farm team he plays with and ostensibly to spend some time with her father whom she has only seen annually since her parents separated in her infancy.
Shortly after her arrival she becomes fascinated with a classmate and solving the mystery of his incomprehensibly odd behavior. Over the course of her first weeks at school Edward Cullen is in turns standoffish to the point of hostility and then ingratiating. Following an ice storm his secret is revealed when Bella is almost hit by a car in the parking lot and Edward displays inhuman strength and speed in preventing the catastrophe. Despite repeated warnings to stay away (classic reverse psychology anyone?) Edward finally capitulates and reveals that he is a vampire albeit he and his family are “vegetarians” resisting the lure of human blood and subsisting on the blood of animals instead.
As much as I liked Twilight, and I did like it though it pains my inner book snob to admit it, I have always had conflicting feelings about the underlying message it conveyed. It wasn’t until years later when I was talking books with a friend and she mentioned that her eleven year old daughter was reading the series that I identified the source of my disquiet.
Considering that vampires are make believe one might wonder why I would concern myself with the impact of a fictional novel on the average teenage girl’s psyche? This is a question that I have struggled with as well, as one could further extrapolate it to quantifying the influence that media has on the development of our personalities and decision making abilities. A topic that has been hotly debated for decades and to which there is still no clear cut answer.
Throughout the series Bella repeatedly displays behaviors that are extremely disturbing if one was to consider that they might act as the model for impressionable young women. In Twilight, Bella declares her love for Edward stating that she would rather die than not be with him. Later in the series when Edward and his family move away believing that they are a threat to Bella, she is literally suicidal, repeatedly risking her life in dangerous behaviors so she can “hear” his voice. In Eclipse, the third novel Edward refuses to “change” Bella unless she agrees to marry him despite the fact that she has not yet graduated from high school!
I believe it is self evident that the behaviors displayed by both characters is not in keeping with contemporary expectations of women. Nowadays the norm is for most to seek some sort of post secondary education and then build a career usually while simultaneously marrying and then immediately having children. Which is perhaps where the mass appeal lies to immerse oneself in the fantasy of having a fabulously rich, handsome man who finds the clumsy, blushing wallflower irresistible. However incomprehensible the idea may seem to the rest of us, it is nevertheless irresistible in print, provided that we remember that this is fantasy and do not start expecting the captain of the football team to abandon the head cheerleader for the geeky, and sadly lacking in self esteem, girl who would gladly do their homework for them ala the John Hughes classic film Sixteen Candles. Furthermore having enjoyed reading some of the wonderful work that this story has inspired who am I criticize?
- Love ‘Hunger Games’? Thank ‘Twilight’. (forbes.com)
- The Twilight Saga: Great Books But Not Great Literature (fangswandsandfairydust.blogspot.com)
- Twilight: The Ripple Effect (theoctoberlily.wordpress.com)
- Beautiful Bastard… Here begins the beautiful (kerecb.wordpress.com)
- Review: Beautiful Bastard(Beautiful Bastard #1) (reviewsbyjudy.wordpress.com)