The Twilight Series: Terrific or Troublesome?
It seems that every which way you turn these days you cannot escape the Twilight series phenomena. The fourth book in the Stephanie Meyer series, Breaking Dawn will be released next week. The Twilight movie covering the first book in the series will hit theaters in December and people are discussing the teaser trailers all over the internet. And what can I say other than I'm a bit smitten with the Twilight series myself.
Spoiler alert: This post covers things that happen over the course of three books in Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series. You have been warned.
I wrote a review of Twilight, the first book in the series, here on BlogHer almost two years ago. I proceeded to devour the second book, New Moon, and eagerly bought the third book Eclipse when it was released. As the release of Breaking Dawn looms ahead I'm on the waiting list at my local library for it - I'm number 524 on the request list for the book, 43 for the audio CD and 16 for the downloadable ebook. I'm clearly not the only one on the hunt for it. You are probably wondering what the it is all about.
The series follows the story of two teen-aged star-crossed lovers. Bella is an ordinary girl. She's just moved to town to live with her father. She's pretty and smart and seemed surprised to find herself with a group of friends. The guy that catches her eye is Edward Cullen. He's dark, mysterious and looks at her like he's interested in her but is often downright rude to her in person. Until Bella figures out his secret - he, and all the Cullens, are vampires. They, and the series, plunge into a caste love affair (there's kissing, but no sex...yet). The second and third books bring a love triangle into play as Bella's good friend Jacob takes a bigger role and we discover he is not exactly unsupernatural himself - like Michael J Fox before him, he's a teen-aged werewolf. Jacob and Edward are not only both in love with Bella but are, of course, sworn enemies due to their different..erm, natures. There is drama, teen angst, forbidden love and it's surprisingly addictive.
Meyer's prose isn't the best that is out there but readers find themselves completely drawn to her stories. She's created two characters (ok, three since some of you are die-hard Jacob fans) that leave readers screaming, "More! More! More!" But we can't explain why.
In all honesty, I don't even know why I got so sucked in to this book. Artful prose? Not so much.
I'd sit down, thinking, "I'll just read to the next good stopping point and then go to bed," and suddenly it was 45 minutes later and well past my bed time, still no satisfying stopping point on the page in front of me
- Stefanie Says
It perhaps doesn't hurt that there is something about Edward that has grown woman, well swooning. Take delta sheets. She's an adult, married, with a house full of pets and a professional career in drug research. She's not immune to Edward. This is how she describes her reaction to him.
Butterflies and everything. I swear I feel just like I'm in high school again. I'm actually giggly.
Um yeah, I get that. I'll confess that I'm a Team Edward girl - with some reservations (and even if the if movie is likely to ruin if for me - sorry to the fans but I still see Cedric Diggory, not Edward when I look at Robert Patterson). And those reservations are a large part of a common criticism regarding this series - in real life Edward would be a creepy, controlling, scary stalker.
I get that these books are fantasy. So do the rest of the adults that are reading them and most of the teenagers. They are fantasy and fairytale and in that frame of mind we understand that Edward watches and holds Bella at night (again chastely) all night to protect her. And the fact that he won't have sex with her until they are married is sweet (and a bit practical seeing as if they did have sex he might accidentally kill her and not in an "undead" way). But in the real world someone watching you sleep without you knowing it is beyond creepy. And the no marriage or no turning you into a vampire and having sex thing is a way of Edward exerting his power over Bella. I don't believe that Meyer meant to portray it that way - she's Mormon and as part of her faith does not believe in sex before marriage. But on the page it comes off as a you give me what I want (for Edward that's marriage) and I'll give you what you want (for Bella that's to become a vampire and eventually having sex with Edward while spending the rest of their lives together).
And Bella? I spend a lot of time wanting to kick her in the ass. No, seriously. I want to shake and her tell that she doesn't need Edward in her life to be special. I want to tell her that she's only 17 and that she needs to go off to college someplace far, far away and find herself before dedicating her life to someone for eternity. I want to tell her that Edward is wrong to force her to marry him. And that filling out all her college applications for her and watching her sleep without her knowing it (and so many other things) is creepy and she ought to get a restraining order against him (shouldn't be that hard seeing as her dad is a cop and all). I want to tell her not to choose Jacob either. Jacob is as emotionally stable as she and the world can't handle that much self-indulgent moodiness in a single couple. I want to say that she doesn't need a man to complete or protect her.
(As you can see, even when being critical I'm a wee bit attached to the story and characters.)
In an article called The Virgin Goth Girl Gail Collins had a few things to say about the series. I'll admit, when I first read it I went a bit on the defensive. I've since listened to the voices of wiser and rationale women and realized that everything that Collins is saying is stuff that I said above, just in a slightly different way. And it's no different that what Chigau, who thought the books were ok but not great, had to say.
Although I did want to slap Bella in the face repeatedly (especially in “New Moon”) and scream “ASSERT YOUR INDEPENDENCE AND GET OVER HIM YOU WEAKLING!!!!!” And I’m not exactly pro-feminist (and adore chivalry), but sometimes the way Edward treated Bella (or, correction: how Bella LET herself be treated by Edward) was very very irritating.
Or what BlogHer member Flourishes had to say in a post called The Trouble With Twilight.
It's easy to justify his behavior in the overarching themes of the book, namely, that Bella insists on becoming a vampire and needs protection from any number of enemies who exist in that world. But if the supernatural element is removed, that relationship would raise a number of red flags.
She goes on further to say that as adults we can separate this but can we expect teenage (or tween) girls to do the same? I think that she has a point. And while I'm hoping that Meyer will, in future books, have Bella grow a spine and some self-confidence. But, and this perhaps where I differ from some people, I don't think it's her job and as author to be responsible for teaching girls how to do this. That's our job - as parents, as aunties, as teachers, and as members of the community. We should be reading these books with the teen girls in our lives and have discussions about them. BlogHer member Libelletage wrote about reading these books (and others) in a post called Keeping Her From Drugs and Boys.
So my answer to the gaping distance I experienced with my own mother in my pre-teen and teenage years, I have developed a plan. Well, not really a plan. No diagrams, charts or lists. Not yet, anyway, I'll save those for desperation of the high school years. For now my plan is reading together. It started with Twilight, followed by the next books in the series.
It's easier to open the dialogue and to teach the girls in our lives to grow up with the confidence that they don't need a guy in their life to protect them and make them feel special when we can approach it first through a character like Bella. When we can discuss rather than lecture. (Bonus: after reading New Moon you can have the "Why you are never going near a motorcycle or going cliff diving" discussion.) I'd tell you to sit down the boys in your life and make them read them too but I don't think many of them that would be able to deal with all of Bella's angst.
As seductive as the vampires and the romance novels are I think that Brian Bethune's article Love at First Bite in MacLean's answers why the books really are popular.
In short, vampires are to Meyer's achievement as magic is to Rowling's: surface dazzle. It's what's underneath, the age-old crises of growing up, of trying to grasp who am I and what do I have to offer, that hook readers and make them want to live in the authors' imaginary worlds.
Are the books troublesome or terrific? They are both, which is what makes them awesome and why you should read them and discuss them with the girls in your life.