Written by Phoenix native Stephenie Meyer, the popularity of the young-adult series comprised of Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn has reached critical mass. With all of the Twilight film adaptation coming to theaters, Meyer can be left with no doubt of her success. From a first-time novelist to a mainstay on the best sellers list, she has risen through the ranks like a veritable juggernaut.
But why? To figure out why the books were inspiring legions of fans and a dozen fan-sites (including the recently hacked Twilight Lexicon), I read the books myself to see what’s what.
To put it simply, dear reader, I was horrified. Not just by the sickeningly purple prose or the lack of general writing quality, but the books themselves are insulting on every level-as a woman, as a teenager, as a literature student, and as a graduate of the Harry Potter craze. What’s worse is that so few seem to realize it.
Twilight is the story of the so-called “average” new girl Bella Swan (Ha, ha, get it? Beautiful Swan?), who finds herself as the object of not one, not two, but a total of five boys’ romantic designs (because she’s so “plain”, see?). The most important of these is the mysterious, hilariously-Byronic Edward Cullen. Bella plays the pitiful damsel in distress a few times and after 200 pages of thinly written suspense, we learn that Edward is in fact a vampire. Never fear, though, because Bella’s “Adonis-like” admirer is no Nosferatu. Instead, he and his vampire family are so-called “vegetarian” vampires, feeding off of animals instead of humans and inexplicably attending high school (during lunch periods they buy trays of food and stare at each other so that Bella can conveniently get a glimpse of Edward from across the cafeteria). The first novel deals with Bella and Edward’s romance and is capped off by a hastily tacked-on plot designed to shove Bella into the damsel in distress role yet again so that her vampire lover can save her.
Okay, you’re saying. It’s a little cheesy. But why is that so bad?
First and foremost, the books present a female heroine who can hardly take a step without needing some boy to rescue her. In fact, the books represent sexist views in almost every way-from the fact that Bella gives up her ambitions and plans for college to get married to Edward, the fact that she is portrayed as a modern Eve, begging the noble, moral gentleman for sex while he desires to preserve their virtue, the fact that their relationship is dangerously unhealthy, and finally to the fact that nearly every single female character in the book is a hopelessly negative caricature.
The series does not improve with subsequent books, either. In New Moon, Bella enters a self-described “zombie” state when Edward leaves her. In fact, the author oh-so-cleverly inserts blank pages with the months’ names as a poorly conceived plot device for showing the depths of her heroine’s pain and also to avoid having to write the “hard stuff.” Bella turns near-suicidal; she purposely puts herself in harm’s way-going so far as to jump off a cliff-to hear her lover’s imagined voice in her head.
What does this say to readers, bearing in mind that the target audience is the tragically impressionable 12-17 year old girls? That they should fall apart at the seams for months if their boyfriend leaves them? That reckless self-endangerment is okay, so long as it’s to be close to your lover? What a lovely message to send to young women.
The sole bright spot of New Moon is the lovable Jacob Black, a member of the nearby La Push reservation and newly-turned werewolf. It is in Bella’s scenes with Jacob that readers see a glimpse of actual personality, and the burgeoning romance is certainly much more true to real-life teen romances than the lofty ideals of the star cross’d lovers Edward and Bella. But add another half-forgotten plot into the mix and Edward and Bella are reunited, with Jacob left by the wayside like a kicked puppy. Pun intended.
Eclipse. It is in this tome that Edward and Bella’s relationship takes a decidedly worse turn. Edward goes so far as to remove Bella’s engine from her car to prevent her from seeing her friend, Jacob, and even has his vampire ‘sister’ kidnap her from a weekend. Bella is a little peeved at this, sure, but she writes off Edward’s atrocious behavior with the terrifying “he’s just a little overprotective” and “he does it because he loves me”. Reader, I actually felt a little sick while reading this, despite these so-called good intentions (they’re always leading to hell, remember). Not only does Meyer give her two characters an obviously unhealthy-even abusive-relationship, but she romanticizes and idealizes it, and not only with Bella and Edward, but with Bella and Jacob as well.
Jacob, in fact, gets a bizarre personality transplant (lycanthropic dissociative identity disorder, maybe?) and turns into a real asshole in this book. He actually forcibly kisses Bella-twice-while ignoring her protests and actually threatens suicide should Bella refuse him. But not once does the thought of abuse, sexism, or inequality even occur to her main character! In fact, halfway through Jacob’s forced kiss (sexual assault, mind you) Bella actually decides that she’s in love with him. What is this??
I threw down my copy of Eclipse in disgust and I was ready to forget that the books existed until the Twilight-mania began anew in Breaking Dawn. I can’t write this blog just having read the first three, I told myself. In the end, though, partly due to morbid curiosity and partly a result of wildly irrational hope that somehow Meyer would redeem herself, I gave in.
I was wrong. In Breaking Dawn, Meyer gives us an honestly bewildering and at times horrifying close to the series. The several hundred pages are filled with sickly-sweet self-indulgence and a blatant dismissal of continuity and realism. In brief, Bella and Edward get horizontal at long last (but only after they’re married, of course-we can’t have the naughty temptress taking away Edward’s 107 year-old virginity) and Bella somehow gets pregnant. Please, Meyer says, never mind the fact that all the vampires’ body fluids are replaced with their ‘venom’ or that sperm dies after three days, much less a century. Even more fantastically, the vampire/human spawn grows at an alarming rate, so fast in fact that Bella feels it “nudging” her at approximately two weeks of gestation. Now, I’ve never been pregnant but I did take health class back in high school and I’m pretty sure that there’s something wrong with that picture.
I’ll spare you the details of the rest of this horror show. Trust me, the birthing scene is something I desperately wish I could un-see (after the loosely-called ‘baby’ breaks Bella’s pelvis, spine, and ribs from the inside, Edward ends up clawing his way to a surely-unsanitary vampire version of a Caesarian section using his teeth). I’m sorry. I had to share my pain. Bella becomes a super-special vampire with super-special powers and she wins the not-conflict of the not-climax. And don’t forget her nifty ability to go hunting in a forest in a cocktail dress and heels.
Thankfully, the ‘Twilight’ series is over. Not as great is the fact that millions of girls are reading this sexist tripe without a care in the world, obsessing over the “perfect” Edward Cullen and the “hot” Jacob Black, pretending to be Bella Swan and ignoring the unhealthiness of the relationship just as successfully as the character does. What happened that two hundred years after feminist hero Elizabeth Bennet is put down on the page, we get one of the most awful excuses for a female literary hero that I’ve ever seen?
So frankly, excuse me if I bow out of the Twilight mania. I’m going to go sink my teeth into Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and pretend that Stephenie Meyer’s terrible series did not set gender equality back two hundred years in the minds of millions.